Moscow airport: safety cannot be guaranteed

So day 3 in Moscow comes to an end. And in a few hours we’ll be heading to the train station to pick up the Siberian express.

Moscow. First impressions? The Warsaw I remember from the 80’s. The airport was sufficiently soviet looking, grey drab but clean. Customs line? Can’t really call it a line. More like one giant blob of pushy impatient people. This I was actually expecting. Soviet and ex soviet countries have zero respect for an orderly queue. These people in their lifetime remember waiting in line for bread – so can i really blame their ‘ no body helps me but me’ attitude? Surprisingly though, this is the non-Russian/Belarus passport check.

45 min later the blob squeezes through customs, our visas seem in order and we’re fetching luggage. Coming out to the arrivals area we pass giant warning signs in broken english about illegitimate taxi drivers, with very harsh warnings of: safety not guaranteed. noted. its a mob of family members and taxi drivers (most non legit). Although family members do come to greet people at airports in Western countries, the Eastern European countries just take it to another scale. I’ve seen it first hand in Poland were everyone of my 25+ family will make the trip to come see me at the airport, kiss hello for 5 seconds before we pile into various cars where i won’t see 20 of them, and only speak to the 4 or so in my car for the 45 min journey back into town. Its always been weird to me, but its a sweet gesture.

In Moscow we breeze past the throngs of Russian relatives and make a bee line with Jason for the nearest cash point. we’d changed some euros into Roubles back at Heathrow but knowing how expensive Moscow is reported to be, good to stock up on some more while we have the chance. Immediately we get approached by a man in surprisingly decent english offering his taxi services. We smile say no, and turn away. A police officer has already closed in on his position and given him a stern warning in Russian. Cash in hand we find the official taxi desk and ask the women for a taxi to our hotel. Immediately a man approaches us from behind and shows us some sort of seemingly legit looking certificate (a license perhaps?) and confirms the price in english. As the women behind the desk shows no adverse reaction we assume that this is our driver and start to make arrangements. Within 30 seconds though the police officer is on him, scolds him like a child and chases him away. Confused we turn back to the women behind the desk who has shown no reaction to the exchange, and instead simply points to a pricing list. We make arrangements, pay and are told in very broken english to wait 5 min for our driver. This gives us time to watch the half dozen illegitimate driver try to snag a fare. 3 seem hard pressed on snatching the customer as they approach the legitimate taxi desk, but with every attempt, they are chased away by the Police. This cat and mouse game goes on the entire 10 min we wait. Why they’re even allowed to loiter and solicit for fares I don’t know, it seems the Police never let them close a sale.

Our driver finally shows up and grabs our luggage. For a 60+ year old man he moves surprisingly quickly, as i have a very hard time keeping up. Jason gives me an expression of indecision. Leave his pregnant wife trailing behind? or stay with our luggage that is quickly getting out of sight.

It may be a legitimate taxi, but the car turned out to be a 15 year old Renault in rough shape. The driver spoke no English (seems that’s a skill only illegitimate drivers have), but was satisfied with the hotel address we showed him. We settled in the back and peered out the dirty windows as the Russian outskirts, and Moscow suburbs whizzed by. It was an hour and 20 min ride into town. The fuel light blinked the entire trip.