Monday, October 29, 2012

15 hours: a patched-up guide to Moscow International Airport (Sheremetyevo)

What a terrible connection. I just landed at Sheremetyevo airport and my next flight is leaving in fifteen hours. When I bought my ticket I didn't worry about that, as I had an entirely different plan in mind. I had a ten days stop in Moscow all planned out, staying at a friend's who is teaching Italian to Russian students. I did it last year and really had a great time: I still have in mind all that Moscow bizarre stuff and the time-machine-like St. Petersburg charm. If I close my eyes and concentrate I can still feel in my mouth the vodka fire blast and the sour taste of borscht. I would have paid a small fee and the problem would have been solved. Unfortunately the ticket I bought was a super-discounted one and the small fee turned out to be equivalent to half the initial price. Considering that I would have had to spend money for a visa too and that I recently had to face some other unexpected expenses, I had to give up my plan. 
Fifteen hours then. I had time to visit every single part of the airport. I moved around terminals D, E and F, the only ones that can be reached without clearing immigration. It's a very large area: depending on the crowd and distractions it can easily take more than half hour to walk from the eastern side of terminal F to the western tip of terminal D. Moreover, the place has its curious side.
Coming from Venice I arrived to terminal F, the older structure, the same one where I landed the first time I went to Asia, from Berlin, in 2001. It's rather ugly, messy, narrow, gloomy, the layout of the bathrooms is bad, electricity outlets are not easy to find and the smoking areas are not closed (there simply are some columns with ashtrays here and there in the waiting rooms). It also has its pros though. There are some rows of seats without armrests where one can lie down and sleep (the only ones in the whole airport). They are quite uncomfortable though: it's advisable to put something soft between body and surface. There are money exchange machines, free mobile phones battery chargers and it's possible to buy 500cl cans of beer at the vending machines for 100 rubles (about 3 dollars or just over 2 euros). For those who want to enjoy a beer without spending a fortune at the usual posh airport bars/pubs/restaurants there is another option too: some duty frees will sell 330cl cans or bottles for 2 euros. I'm talking about beer because that's what I bought to easily fall asleep onboard the ongoing flight (alright, come on, I admit, also because I like it) but they obviously sell any other sort of drink. Another interesting detail about these stores: they accept actual euro coins. These duty frees are also available at the other terminals, unlike the beer vending machines. I've also noticed that the Burger King at terminal E sells pints for 2 or 3 euros. Here a meal will cost you pretty much the same amount. Another option for those who need to have a cheap bite is offered by some sausage and hotdog stalls at terminal F. Or the packs of potato chips from the vending machines. For those with a larger budget the best places to eat are the cafes and restaurants at terminals E and D: the latter one even has a couple of branches of the Friday's chain. I just ate the package food of my first flight, which I hadn't opened onboard. I'll have a chance to eat a better meal on my second flight (Aeroflot's food is not bad at all) and to enjoy anything I like once I arrive in Bangkok. I bought a few beers with the euros I still had with me. I didn't need any water as that was included in the beer. 
Terminals E and D are new, well lit, spacious and nicely furnished. There are plenty of electricity outlets and the seats are comfortable, even though they all have armrests, something that makes it almost impossible to lie down and sleep, unless you are an experienced contortionist like the Houdini's great grand child of the photo below.

Even here you can still find some carpeted areas where you'll be able to sit or lie down. One wall of terminal E and two of terminal D are entirely made of glass: a detail that will allow who is in the waiting areas to watch the aircrafts maneuvering and taking off, one of my favorite pastimes. These terminal areas are on different levels, if you are moving around with a trolley you can use the lifts, available near the escalators, just follow the signs for disabled people to find them. 
All the bathrooms are equipped with rolls of excellent sandpaper. After a brief analysis of the blood traces that I found in the cubicles I came to the conclusion that the abrasive effect is obtained with a thick veil of diamond fragments. All the girls and those boys who need to take a dump are advised to use the toilets located at terminals D and E, where the size of the shards seems to be slightly smaller. 
If you are a man and you are killing time, try not to get too drunk and take your eyes off your devices, books or the airplanes: you'll spot some Russian ladies who can take your breath away. If you are a woman please ignore this advice and just keep doing what you were doing before. In case you're traveling with your soulmate…try to be understanding. 
Fifteen hours at the airport. Thirty-two altogether from door to door. Still, when the landing gear touches Siamese ground (passengers on Aeroflot flights still like to applaud their tovarish pilot) I have the impression that I've just been transported between different worlds in no time, from the slowness of a cafe in a medieval square to the one of a Thai restaurant where a mustached Buddhist is frying garlic and chili while talking to a beggar who is picking up empty bottles.
Like that, in a matter of few hours, stuffed in a flying sardine can among men with neckties, saddened children and made-up women, and I suddenly realize that I haven't been able to enjoy what lies in between: deserts, steppes, prairies, camels, bears, eagles, churches, temples, mosques, stinking food, spiced tea, beaches, hills, glaciers. I cannot become this bourgeois, not me, not this way, not so often at least. Sooner or later I'm gonna do it overland. I swear. So to speak.

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