The Bols Experience on the road to Moscow

Getting to Moscow is just painful. Not only is it necessary to spend three and a half hours getting there from London, but it’s three hours ahead which means that however you look at it just about any flight you take means wasting most of the day unproductively in the air. Which is fine if you want to sleep, but not much use on the work front. I think I’ve finally worked out the least painful way to do it, but it involves going to Amsterdam first.

Step one is to take the early flight to Schiphol and spend the day working in the city. Step two is to arrive back at Schiphol about two and a half hours ahead of the eight-something evening KLM flight to Sheremetyevo. This bit is important, because there is a later Aeroflot code share flight with KLM. You do not want this flight. Take it from me. The ‘plane is a zoo, just like flying with the Penquins of Madagascar. Last time they took away my boarding pass to change it and then tried to have me thrown off the flight because I didn’t have a boarding pass. Early arrival at the airport gives ample time to negotiate a seat as far forward as possible. This bit is also critical, because you need to exit the ‘plane at the other end as quickly as you can in order to get ahead of the immigration queue. Failure to do this can seriously effect your mental well being.

Now comes the best bit. Make your way to Holland Boulevard between piers E and F. Here you will find the Bols Experience. It is a cocktail bar where you can get proper cocktails, but all made with Bols. The woman who runs it is a bit of a tyrant. She doesn’t like you to mix cocktails and she doesn’t like you to have too many. In fact, she will stop serving you if she considers you’ve had too much to fly. Try giving her any lip and you also get to instantly regret it.  It’s clearly not her business.

So, have just the two cocktails. Honestly, they are strong and you don’t need any more. Plus a burger which she will bring you. After this proceed to your flight at a leisurely pace, fall asleep immediately you sit down in your seat and in a miraculous feat of time travel, wake up at Sheremetyevo three hours or so later, refreshed. And because it’s half past two in the morning there is no immigration queue – and anyway you’re at the front of it so you don’t care. You can then afford to take a further nap in your hotel room because you are now three hours ahead of London and even if you don’t get up until ten, it’s still only seven in the morning back home.

Café Pushkin – somewhere to be underwhelmed

Everyone raves about Café Pushkin in Moscow. I had the opportunity to have breakfast there a couple of times this week. It sits in a rather unprepossessing location on Tverskoy Boulevard in a turn of the century house. That’s the 19th/20th century by the way, not the last turn of the century. The buildings are not really so old, but somehow exude this feeling of being unloved and badly maintained. There is that peculiarly specific Moscow render on the outside, slightly rough and unkempt, covered up with many layers of paint. An old woman wearing too much make-up to paper over the cracks.

Inside, the first thing that you notice is that it’s really quite dark and dingy. And people smoke in most parts of the restaurant. Which means that if in a delicate state on the morning after the night before, as in my case, you really need to make a beeline for the non-smoking paneled saloon at the front looking out onto the street. Apart from anything else it is light out there. There is a long carved wooden bar off which the various dining rooms branch with dark wooden paneling, helping to underscore the oppressiveness. But the really interesting thing is that with the exception of the aforementioned non-smoking room, it is really dark. So dark and dingy that you feel somehow it is more a place for illicit assignations, a twilight world illuminated by 40 watt light bulbs, which I guess are the 21st century’s answer to the guttering candle flame. Somewhere to meet your mistress for an anonymous breakfast after a clandestine assignation in a nearby hotel the night before.

I really cannot see the point. It’s a low budget Eastern European restaurant with the feel of Moscow in the late 1980s and early ‘90s about it. The food isn’t much better either, greasy and bland for breakfast. The ham and eggs are reminiscent of the old, really old, Warsaw airport café. It was the last stop while waiting for your flight just before exiting through the aluminium framed doorway and across the tarmac to your ‘plane. The airport that you shouldn’t even try to think you remember unless you were there before 1992.

Maybe Café Pushkin has a certain faded charm about it, with its elaborately panelled walls and wooden floors, but it’s all a bit contrived. For those of us that had to live the reality of ghastly food and awful surroundings, then this is a bit of a throw-back and really the restaurants in the Grand Marriott or the Intercon across the street are a much better bet for breakfast. Also it’s got absolutely nothing to do with Puskin, other than it’s near his statue on Pushkin Square.

I would say don’t bother, it’s really not worth it unless you are after some kind of old Moscow Disney-like experience … or you want to people-watch. Now that’s something that this part of Moscow lives up to.