In our last episode, we were tossed out of gate C30 in Copenhagen because our visas would not be valid until the next day, therefore, we could not yet travel to Russia. “The Russians are very strict about this,” the Danish gate woman said. Of course our generation was brought up to be terrified of Russians, so we sure didn’t want to push it. Besides that, we were dog tired. I was secretly wishing for a real nap.
After a few calls to emergency services connected to Viking Cruise Lines, we rebooked our tickets ($481 extra) and checked into the Hilton across the street ($374 extra.) After a long nap, we went to the hotel restaurant for dinner (three sliders, one Caesar salad, three drinks, $117.) Then we took another long nap. Denmark is wacky expensive, it turns out. We will submit reimbursement claims to our travel insurance company and hope for the best.
Things got better. We did get on the Aeroflot flight to Moscow the next day. We were met on the other end by a young Russian driver sent by Viking, who drove us silently through a rush hour traffic jam and offered us each a strawberry candy. Eventually he pointed to a giant yellow building with towers and turrets, bathed in golden light. “The Kremlin?” asked Tom. But no. It’s our hotel, the Ukraina, also known as the Radisson Royal (pictured at the top of this post). It was built in the Stalin years as one of his “Seven Sisters” skyscrapers. He did indeed have seven sisters. The hotel was a jaw-dropping welcome, paid entirely by Viking Cruise Lines. Kudos!
This one was very glamorous: a 39-story Four Seasons-style paved in marble and trimmed in gilt. Miles of molding, brass rails, fresh flowers, carved and painted furniture. It just made you want to put lipstick on.
In the gigantic lobby, you can buy a Rolls Royce, a fur coat, an evening gown, and any number of things made of diamonds. A small percentage of the new Russia are literally nouveau riche, embracing capitalism like a dream lover.
In the lobby a gruff barman made us drinks. (Gruff is a pretty good word for most of the Russians we have run into so far. Moscow makes Paris look like a city of Pollyannas.) Happily trapped in a palace in a non-walkable neighborhood, we dined in the 31st floor Italian restaurant with its 360 view of this big and varied city. We sat near a possible thug who was making deals on the phone throughout his hour-long dinner with his patient girlfriend. We figured he was very rich, because he wasn’t pretty.
As we sat there, it began to snow – a month early. Fat flakes twirled against the black sky, beyond the huge ornate windows, and it was suddenly very Nutcracker. A precious fantasy. Sometimes getting there is a struggle, but at last, we had landed well.