I arrive at the Radisson before 9am, ahead of all my colleagues. But there are people who know what to do with me and, more importantly, coffee. The conference room is looking good, too. In due course Julia and Maksim arrive, followed by the delegates. I'm handed a small receiver with an earpiece through which I'll be able to hear the Russian speakers translated into English. I'm the opening speaker, after a brief introduction, and we're soon underway. My talk over, I regain my seat and the conference continues. It's now that I realise the value of the translators. In 30 minute shifts, they translate the speaker's comments in real time. Without them I wouldn't have the foggiest idea what's going on.
During the lunch break I have to do a video interview - again the translators step in to help - and then we're into the afternoon. A couple of the speakers are a bit rant-y and at one point the translator resorts to "blah, blah, blah", much to my amusement, but the organisers, sponsors and audience seem well satisfied. I, on the other hand, have a flight to catch and Moscow's traffic to contend with.
After a brief diversion to secure more Rubles - I told you it was expensive! - I'm ready to leave for the airport. I'm pleased to see that my driver is Roman, who picked me up on arrival. I'm less pleased to see that the snow has turned to icy slush and the traffic is horrendous. Most of the jams seem to be caused by accidents, some of which look quite serious. Seemingly oblivious to the danger, Ramon serenely browses the internet for alternative routes around the obstructions and writes my receipt while driving.
We arrive without incident and in good time for my flight, which is no more than a third full. I safely negotiate the meal, which is described as "meat pasta" or vegetarian - the steward is unable to tell me what kind of meat so learning from recent food origin issues I opt for veggie. I watch the Hitchcock movie, which is not as bad as I expected. And then I'm home.
Looking back, I'm so glad I took the extra days to explore Moscow. It was a fascinating insight into a nation that on the surface aspires to be European but gives the sense that, just below the surface, has a seige mentality and an "every man for himself" approach to life. The people I met were unfailingly pleasant and hospitable, but when push came to shove - as it literally did on the Metro - no prisoners were taken and no quarter given. I've been impressed by the skills of craftsmen that can recreate architecture and interior finishes from medieval times and turn the rather turgid ideals of a soviet society into inspirational art, and frustrated by red tape that makes a simple transaction into an endurance test. I wouldn't want to live here, but I've enjoyed Moscow and would like to visit again.
On my arrival back at Heathrow I learn that a new Pope has been elected. Ironically, I overhear this news in a conversation between two stewards, both so camp that I'm certain the new pontiff would not consider them deserving of the church's blessing.