Yesterday, (January 5th, 2013) we were scheduled to fly out of London to head back home to Moscow. Our flight was booked for 12:25pm from Heathrow 1, so we had made the effort to book a hotel nearby to allow easy access to the airport to return rental car, claim VAT rebates, check-in and have a leisurely time get through customs, have a look through Duty Free and get a feed before boarding plane.
Our plan was to leave our hotel at 9:00am for 15 min drive to rental depot, followed by 15 min bus ride to airport, so set the alarm on my phone for 7:00am just to make sure we would be ready. Well, in what we should have taken as a sign for all else to follow that day, the alarm didn’t go off, so we awoke about 7:50am hurriedly showered, dressed, packed and loaded overloaded rental car, managing to pull out of hotel as planned at 9:00am. Before leaving I checked with receptionist if the Hertz depot I had plugged into my Nokia Drive GPS was the one at the airport and she confirmed that it was, so off we went on the 15 minute drive to the airport, unfortunately it was the wrong bloody depot, so they gave me the correct details and we set out on another 15 minute drive to the right location, finally finding it but being so rushed to catch the shuttle to the airport that we didn’t have time to query all the extra charges on our rental contract which I am sure were paid for at the time of booking, will need to follow that one up when I have had a chance to check bank statements.
Anyway, we get to the airport fine and in time to check-in so get all that sorted and head through customs where we are told we can sort out our VAT refunds. Jimmy and I head off to the customs office with a wad of receipts and forms from various purchases over the last 2 weeks, (testament to the lack of sightseeing we got to do….) only to be met by some increasingly grumpy woman customs official who tells us we actually need to show her the goods we are claiming VAT back on and that by stamping our forms she is breaking the law, but given that we are like so many other tourists who don’t understand the system and we speak English, she will do it, but don’t expect to get away with it next time. After receiving the precious stamps on our forms we then need to proceed to the refund agent, who will pay you the money due but take a fee from it (this is after the amount you are due has had a processing fee deducted by some other company overseeing the paperwork at the retailer’s end….). So money in hand we were ready to sort out last of duty free shopping and get something to eat before finding out which gate our dodgy little Russian airline would be departing from. Seems the incoming flight must have been delayed so our gate was unknown till shortly before our scheduled departure time. Once it was flashed onto the screen we headed off to our gate only to know be told that they still had to clean and refuel our plane, so time for a coffee.
Angela’s boss had booked the flight, so now seems obvious he booked the cheapest service he could have on Transaero, which seems to fly a fleet of old planes probably acquired after they had exceeded their safe life on other airlines. On our flight to England there was no in-flight entertainment, but in a step up this flight had an in-flight movie, not the on-demand at your seat system you get more frequently these days, but the old screen on the front bulkhead system where the picture quality was scratchy at best. The aircrew handed out earplugs to listen to the movie with, but alas they didn’t fit into the designated holes in the armrests… On the plus side they do provide an in-flight meal, although the quality leaves a lot to be desired, over-cooked chicken and rice, a slice of almost stale bread and some other bits and pieces…..
Seems we were to hit Moscow Domededovo Airport along with some fresh snow as the airport was blanketed in snow and after landing we followed a tractor with snow blade on it clearing a path for us to get to our unloading area, which happened to be in the middle of the tarmac, so down the stairs into the snow, onto a bus and off to the terminal. We are greeted in customs by a young customs officer who would have been right at home in the Soviet era, while she is probably in her 20’s and reasonably attractive she failed to smile even while the girl in the seat beside her was saying stuff to her and giggling while she went about her job. After making sure that we all matched our photos we were let through once again into the Fatherland, without so much as an “enjoy your time here” or hint of a smile. Next is that chaotic baggage hall, which seems even busier this time, grab our bags and head straight for the exit.
We had a taxi arranged for us and while Angela and Molly waited in the warmth of the airport, Jimmy and I searched the carpark area for the right taxi, armed with the car details and number plate we spent about 15 – 20 mins searching before finally finding the right car and confirming with him that we were his passengers, back to grab the bags and off home, looking forward to being able to spread out and sleep in our own beds. We arrive at our apartment around 11:00pm and drag all our bags up to our floor, only to find we can’t unlock our apartment door, couldn’t even get the key into the hole. Hell what are we to do ? By now both of our phones have run out of credit so can’t call anyone who can help and Angela’s phone which has a local Sim, which we could recharge at the local supermarket is almost out of power also, so we head down stairs to ask the concierge for some help, well she can’t speak English and I can’t speak Russian, so that is fruitless. She does in her wisdom decide to come up and see what it is that is the problem and then we head back down to her office, where she brings out a book of all the apartment owners with their contact details and shows me, but our landlord can’t speak English and our means of communication is through his grand-daughter whose phone number we have, but can’t convince the concierge to ring her for us. Now stuck for options at around midnight, I run over the road to our local supermarket in the hope that the 24 Yaca sign really does mean 24 hours, as they have a recharge booth for paying your phone account, luckily they are still open and I can get some more credit on Angela’s phone allowing me to call the landlord’s grand-daughter and explain to her our situation, luckily she is out and about and can get to us in about 1 hours time. In the process of trying to get through to her I ask the concierge to plug the charger cord in somewhere in her office to give me enough power to make the call, in the process knocking her cup of water all over her desk, which I am sure made her even happier that us dumb kiwis had returned. Anyway the landlord’s grand-daughter finally arrives and I take her up to our apartment having worked out what has actually happened.
It seems that while we were away, as it was the end of the month, our landlord called in to get our water meter readings, in the process of locking up he locked both of our exterior locks, the first lock sends some bolts horizontally into the door jambs while the second lock sends some bolts vertically into the door head and floor and at the same time sliding a metal plate past the key hole of the first lock making it impossible to put anything into the lock. We hadn’t been using the second lock as the key got stuck in the lock on the inside and couldn’t get it out so have just been using the top lock which is how the house was locked when we left. We took with us my set of keys, missing the key to the second lock as it was jammed in the inside key hole and gave Angela’s full set of keys to one of her workmates in case we needed them to get in for any reason.
Anyway, our apartment was duly unlocked we dragged all our bags in and the landlord’s grand-daughter left locking the door to the lift well behind her. After moving all the bags in side and wanting to make sure we had our set of keys handy I asked Angela where she had put them, oh oh, they must be in her bag which she can’t find, so thinks she must have left it on the sofa in the foyer, PANIC stations, we are now locked into a building which we have absolutely no way of getting out of. I try to turn her phone on and call Sofia again, but it is taking a long time to restart, finally I get through to her and luckily she had been phoning her mother to tell her everything was OK with the apartment and hadn’t left the building yet, she comes back up and lets us out of the building, so I can go and search for the missing bag which I can’t find. In typical Russian mentality their first thoughts are that it has been stolen and that we will need to sort out new locks, etc, so I tell her that it will turn up and borrow her keys for the night till we can find ours. Angela in the meantime has found her bag, but not the keys so goes down and has a hunt through the foyer finding them down the side of the sofa, so now we are reunited with our keys, have access to our apartment and can get in and out of it once again, so given that it is now around 2:00am us and the poor concierge lady can get some much needed sleep.
We won’t forget that day for a while……