Surviving Russia

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Russia is not forgiving to visitors. In St. Petersburg, you're lucky if you can find a street sign. In Moscow there are more than four streets named Tverskaya-Yamskaya which all intersect. In general the simplest things are much harder and take much longer than they should.

All this cannot be better illustrated then by the trouble we've had simply finding the hostels with which we were booked. Fist there was 71 Griboedeva Hostel. One would think it would be located at 71 Griboedeva Street. However, at that location there is an unmarked door to a residential building. Fortunately we met with a friend who had a cell phone, and after calling the hostel we found out that we had to go around to the opposite side of the building, which is on a completely different street, and there we found the plaque telling us there was a hostel there, and instructions to dial up to the hostel's floor number and wait for someone to buzz us in. Why there is not the merest notice that you must do this at the address which is THE NAME OF THE HOSTEL is beyond me. And do they then give you a key or passcard to get into the building, like most other hostels I've stayed at? No, you must ring up any time you want to enter, which wasn't so great at three in the morning when it took the person at the desk about 20 minutes to answer.

However, this is nothing compared to the time we had finding the hostel we're in now in Moscow, the Yellow Blue Bus Hostel. (The name is a play on words between Russian and English -- "Ya liubliu vas" means "I love you".) Once again, we arrived at the address we were given, on the aforementioned Tverskaya-Yamskaya street (and not Tverskaya-Yamskaya Avenue or Tverskaya-Yamskaya Place or whatever the other Tverskaya-Yamskaya streets are). And yet, there was no sign, no plaque, nothing at all to tell us we were at a place of business, not even a buzzer where we could ring up somewhere. Only a lonely keypad where residents can enter a combination to be let in. Taking our lesson from St. Petersburg, we wandered around and around the block looking for an entrance, anything. Keep in mind this is all with heavy rucksacks on our backs. The passing strangers we ask all say there is no hostel or hotel here, this is a residential neighborhood. And there's not so much as a payphone nearby to call up, not that we have the change for one, anyway.

Finally, we wander into a travel agency. They let us use their phone and we call. The woman who answers the phone is not immediately forthcoming.

"Is this a hostel?"

"Yes.

"Is this at such-and-such address?"

"Yes."

"Do you need a combination to get in?"

"Yes."

"What is the combination?"

She tells us the combination.

We return to the building. Again we note there is nothing to mark that there is a hostel there. We enter the combination and go up the stairwell. There is nothing to tell us which floor we're supposed to go to. We try all the doors to see if any are unlocked. Finally, the lady in the hostel apparently hears us trying her completely unmarked locked door and lets us in.

We are very irate.

"Why are you so upset?" Asks the lady.

We tell her we had a lot of trouble finding the hostel.

And then we come to the punch line:

"But it's very easy to find," she says. "It's right by the metro."

We're moving out of this hostel tomorrow to one vetted by Hosteling International, which is what we should have done in the first place. This hostel seems like is being run illegally out of someone's apartment. The rooms are cold, the wifi doesn't work, they charge about USD $8 to use the washer and drier, they also charge for registration with the city (required for foreigners in Russia -- another rant entirely), which was free at the hostel in St. Petersburg, and for all that they're incredibly overpriced. Did I mention that the key to the locker I use to keep my valuables (including my laptop) seems to open all the other lockers too, thereby completely defeating the point of having a key?

Russia is as much a place you visit as survive.