Actually I'm not really in Rostov-on-Don, but I'm pretending I am so I can use this site's handy map feature to better portray my route. I'm actually in Sochi now. We'll get to Sochi later. I was in Rostov-on-Don (Rostov-na-Danu in Russian, though everybody just calls it Rostov) a few days ago. Although it seems like an eternity - as things tend to seem when they've gone disastrously, almost comically, wrong.
It all started in Moscow. My arrival was almost eerily smooth. I landed, made it through customs without so much as a second glance from the passport control officetress. My bag made it through all my tight connections and was waiting for me on the carousel. I immediately bought a plane ticket to Rostov for about the same price a train ticket would have cost, earning myself a major time savings right off the bat. The only catch was I had to switch airports. No worries, I had about 8 hours, which gave me time to head into Moscow, check things out a bit and do my email. I navigated a train into the center, then flawlessly negotiated my way to Kievskaya Train Station on Moscow's stupendously extensive metro. I was even able to pre-check my big bag to Rostov at the train station. Within an hour I had a working Sim card and had found a cafe with wifi so I could check my email, post a few lingering Philippines blogs and get ready to head south. Amazing.
Until, the minute after I posted my previous blog posting from said cafe, I moved to gather my belongings and found that my camera, or rather Karin's camera, which had been in my computer bag, was gone. Stolen. Nicked. Pinched. From right under my nose. I was in the cafe for three hours and never once moved my ass from my chair. Somebody had taken advantage of my concentration on my work, and my complete lack of suspicion that there might be thieves lurking in this branch of the upscale Kofe Khauz chain (where, in typical Moscow fashion a simple coffee costs about 6 freaking dollars) in Moscow's Kuznetsky Most district, and in truly professional fashion lifted $1300 worth of camera equipment from right under my nose. Wow, that sucks. I was so happy I had elected to bring Karin's fancy new telephoto lens to do justice to the mighty Caucasus peaks I'd soon be frolicking in! Wise move!
LP insurance should pay for it (I hope). But that's beside the point. A decent camera is pretty much essential to guidebook work. Beyond being useful for photographing stuff you can't be bothered to write down (like menus and train schedules), I use cameras to back up my notes (by photographing pages in my notebook) and, of course, to take photos of my journey, some of which I'll hopefully later sell to LP to supplement my income (I was able to do this very effectively on the Ukraine book last year). So, while LP insurance may pay me back for the camera, my potential income from selling photos is gone for good, unless I pony up for another really good camera - unlikely as imported electronic equipment costs roughly twice as much here it does in the US, where I'll be in a month. Unless I can find one that "fell off the truck." Hmm, maybe I can even buy my own camera back at a discount. Wouldn't that be a hoot.
One potential snag in getting insurance money is that I don't have a police report. We waited an hour for the police to get there (without question the first time in a decade of travelling around the former Soviet Union that I've summoned the police to come to me, and I wondered how smart it was). When they finally got there, they said I had to go in person to some special department. And that could take hours. Screw that, my plane was leaving in 2.5 hours, and my train to the airport was departing in 25 minutes). Not taking my chances with Moscow's notorious traffic, I took the metro again and made my train with not a second more than 10 seconds to spare. A break! Maybe things were turning around!
Not quite. At Vnukovo airport, I arrived at my gate only to be informed that our plane was having technical difficulties and that, most likely, the flight would be cancelled. They would have an answer by 8.30 (flight was scheduled for 7:45). So we waited around, me wondering if I might blow my entire budget on my first night in town (even hostels in Moscow cost $100 a night, I think. OK, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but no way I'm staying in a hostel after a day like this). I frantically texted Giggles - aka Dave Diamonon, a friend from my Kyiv days now living in Moscow, along with a few others, e.g. Max Yacoub, Jake Rudnitsky and Mike Sito - hoping to mooch a place to sleep for the night. Then, as I was waiting for a response, a miracle. The plane was flying! I was as ecstatic as one can be upon learning that one's mechanically flawed Russia budget airline carrier plane is flying! Ooorah! And so we flew. And so I ended up in Rostov.
Fast-forward two days to Monday, June 9. I'm in the lobby of Rostov's second fanciest hotel. I'm lying in a heap of broken glass, concrete and blood flowing out of various points on my body.
How did I end up thus? We'll save that story for next time.
(sorry, aforementioned map feature not working yet)