The previous evening I had taken the train to London to meet up with my son in Hammersmith. We’d chosen Hammersmith as it was on the Piccadilly Line and meant we hadn’t far to trundle our large suitcases. After a tasty meal of fish and chips we returned to the nearby underground station for a service out to Heathrow. We weren’t actually spending the night there but from there we could make use of a free bus service to near the IBIS London Heathrow Hotel where we had booked a room for the night. This hotel is on the boundary of the Heathrow free travel zone so it’s worth considering as bus fares can soon add up.
We had stayed at this modern hotel previously and it fitted the bill perfectly for our short stay as we needed to be up at the unearthly hour of 4.00 a.m. enabling us to gain a few hours sleep. After dragging ourselves out of bed, we caught one of the buses to Terminal 5 which all seemed to be crowded with airport workers starting their shifts as the airport was springing into life for the day.
We were able to take advantage of fast track check-in at the BA desk which was very welcome and then also through security although the latter didn’t seem any quicker than for standard passengers. As we had purposefully arrived at the airport early we were then able to enjoy a complimentary leisurely breakfast in the B.A. Galleries South Lounge. Although we were travelling economy we had access to the lounge through the B.A. Executive Club scheme.
We started our holiday in style with glasses of champagne and tucked into a tempting array of breakfast options including bacon rolls and chocolate croissants. The lounge is attractively furnished and spacious with a wide selection of seating and reasonably quiet as few passengers were making use of it so early in the morning.
Time passed quickly and soon it was time to board our 8.40 a.m. BA flight over to Moscow taking four hours. Our A321 airliner was only two thirds occupied resulting in us having an empty seat next to us. Our seat back screens didn’t work very well, but as we were both tired it didn’t bother us too much.
An hour into the flight a trolley service commenced and we were each served a small cardboard box containing a cheese and tomato roll and a cereal bar, together with a choice of hot drinks. Our snacks were small and uninspiring but as we’d eaten well in the B.A. Lounge prior to boarding. we weren’t particularly hungry.
We both managed a couple of hours sleep and then I read a couple of chapters of my new Sophie Kinsella novel ‘Christmas Shopaholic’ before coming into land at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport at 3.40 p.m. local time. Unlike Heathrow, there was a lengthy queue at immigration and even though we were in possession of valid visas, it still took nearly an hour to be attended to. Finally through, our luggage was waiting for us on the baggage carousel so we retrieved it and then obtained a few Roubles from an ATM in the Arrivals Hall (no charge for withdrawing cash).
We were then ready to find the shuttle bus that would transport us to Domodedovskaya Metro Station. Buses depart on a regular basis with the fare for the 35 minute journey costing RUB 150 (£1.82) which is a fraction of the express train and not much slower. The buses are little bigger than mini-bus size so the driver leaves luggage at the bus stop until he has a full load. Before departing, the driver then collects fares from each seat which seems time consuming rather than when passengers are boarding. We paid in cash but noticed a card reader in use which is useful to remember when using the service. Before departing he then piles luggage on board down the aisle between the seats and blocking the rear door. The system seems to work well but is very strange.
On arrival at the metro station we needed to heave our luggage down a flight of stone steps as step-free access is unavailable at most stations. From a ticket machine we bought two single tickets to Sokolniki where we were staying. As it was late on a Saturday afternoon the trains were busy but we managed without problem and transferred to the Red Line 1 at Okhotny Ryad (Red Square). Since my previous visit to Moscow, announcements and signs are now in both Russian and English making navigation of the system much easier. It’s good to remember that announcements with a male voice indicate travel towards the city centre with female voices used for out of town journeys. Likewise on the circle lines you will hear male announcements in a clockwise direction and female anti-clockwise. This system was originally established to aid the blind and partially sighted but is actually very helpful for all users of the system.
After mounting several flights of steps at Sokolniki station with our heavy bags, it was a relief to see our hotel just across the road. We had arranged to stay at the Holiday Inn Sokolniki and on checking in, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that we had been upgraded to a newly refurbished executive room on the 22nd floor.
A powerful lift whizzed us up to the top of the building in seconds but on touching our room cards on the door reader, we found they didn’t work! I stayed outside the room with all our luggage whilst my son popped back down to reception to politely resolve the problem. Apparently, the receptionist had inadvertently written down 2223 on our key wallet instead of 2222 and apologised for the error.
Our room had a fresh, new appearance in light colours with a charming picture of the illuminated arch in Sokolniki Park above the bed. After unpacking and enjoying a cup of tea with our complimentary KitKat chunky, we set off for a stroll through the neighbourhood and along to the vast Sokolniki Park which was buzzing with activity late on a Saturday evening. We spent some time watching Muscovites enjoying themselves on the ice rink – they make it look so easy, but it’s never like that when I set foot on the ice!
From one of the small wooden huts we were tempted into buying a warm corn on the cob each RUB 150 (£1.82) for two. On returning to our room we discovered an ice bucket had been placed on our coffee table containing a bottle of sparkling wine and a plate of eight handmade chocolates. A small card indicated that this was an apology for getting our room card wrong. A very welcome and generous gesture from the hotel as we hadn’t complained but just enquired why the key cards wouldn’t work.
We then spent the remainder of the evening sipping our complimentary wine and devouring our delicious chocolates whilst putting final touches to our plans for the next day.
If you have enjoyed reading this post you might also be interested in the following which explains the necessary steps to obtaining a Russian visa.