March 4th - St Petersburg, bathed in brilliant sunshine. After a grey and cold week in Moscow in December this was a welcome change. It was still cold — several degrees below freezing — but we were determined to see some of the sights in between meetings.
We walked for miles around this beautiful city and visited The Hermitage, the Peter and Paul Cathedral and St Isaac’s Cathedral. And we revisited a few past experiences with the residents. On our last trip we discovered that there was a divide between older Russians who had lived through the Soviet regime and the under 30s. The younger residents were much more relaxed towards foreigners. However, even though we were wearing fur coats, hats and winter boots, Russian middle-aged women had Jane and I pegged as foreigners within a nanosecond and instantly challenged us to a weird kind of 'pavement chicken'. They looked us straight in the eye and forced us by sheer willpower to move out of their way and onto the treacherous impacted ice at the edges of the pavements.
We also suffered a couple of financial disasters, paying ridiculous prices because we weren't on the ball, but we put it down to experience. We left St P vowing to return in the summer.
March 8th - Ekaterinburg. Oh dear - whose idea was it to get away from Moscow and St P to experience the 'real Russia'?
We were joined here by Paul Berrington, our partner in this ridiculous escapade — sorry, 'carefully thought-out strategic joint venture', and decided it was probably his fault we were spending three days in the 'Wild East'. Ekaterinburg is the place where the Romanovs were killed and is where Europe meets Asia. After that there's not much to say. Well, there are a few ancient wooden buildings side by side with new high rises. The place is bitterly, bitterly cold and has the widest roads we've ever seen. We decided they were designed that way to get the tanks down…
We opted to have dinner in Gordon's, an ‘authentic’ Scottish restaurant and home to the famous (apparently) Doctor Scotch, not to mention Jane's nemesis: the Waitress from Hell.
There was some hilarity reading the menu; the English-language version had mysteriously higher prices than the Russian one. By now, however, we realised we were going to get ripped off at every opportunity. I ordered McRay's Lucky Hunt, the pronunciation of which is not to be undertaken lightly after a few pints of beer. The waitress decided it was perfectly acceptable to serve three people only two meals and Jane was the one to go hungry. In the end we shared my meal, but when they brought the wrong third meal and charged us for four it was time to make a tactical retreat before fisticuffs ensued. On a more encouraging note we did use our time in Ekaterinburg to hone our skills in taking on the Russian ladies in the battle of the pavements.
Ekaterinburg is the fourth largest city in Russia. On this evidence we’ll give the fifth and sixth a miss.
March 10th - Moscow. A welcome relief and familiar territory after Ekaterinburg, which will probably never be graced by our presence again. We had a lovely three-bedroomed apartment with a supermarket just around the corner. We checked out its summer range when we popped in: barbecues, flip flops and beach mats. It was eight degrees below zero at the time.
By now we were starting to feel like natives and Jane had perfected her icy stare so that middle-aged Russian women were diving to the frozen edges of pavements wherever we walked. We'd also got the underground system sussed (and could even translate some of the words).
By this time Licensing@Russia loomed large, so it was down to business and to welcome some familiar faces in the form of Jane Garner and Richard Latter who joined us for a soirée of cheap white wine and frozen pizzas chez nous. A culinary triumph. Whether or not the show, or the trip, will convert into firm business we will have to wait to find out. In any case, if we do make our fortunes from that part of the world it will most likely be thanks to revenue from millions of pairs of licensed knickers. But that really is another story…
We certainly enjoyed our Russian adventure and we’ll certainly be back. I just wonder if Vladimir Putin is ready for us...