It was bright, though not sunny, at 4.45 am when I came down from the room with the luggage! Geniya and Bek were already in the car, revving it up and making some last minute checks before the long drive. As I was cleaning the windshield Bek conveyed using his translator software that they would guide us out of Samara on to the highway and that we could be on our own after that. It was good news and bad – good, for we could be faster to our destination than we have been in the past few days; bad, because Geniya and Bek felt that we were complaining about them to Ali. Anyway, in a few minutes we were out of Samara city on the highway to Moscow. The sign board said 1068 kms to Moscow and Google Maps indicated over 14 hours to get there. I tested the Navigation software installed on my Android Phone and found it inactive. So much for being on our own! We kept looking out for directions to Mockba and M5. That was good enough and we never lost our way. The first couple of hours we had Geniya tailing us despite the higher speed. In fact he was with us at the first fuelling point and breakfast – we had bulls eye and ham with bread. Thereafter, we kept steadily losing him in the heavy traffic. By the time we stopped for lunch at about 2 pm Geniya was not in sight at all. I got the lady at the restaurant to speak to Geniya and discovered that he was about two hours behind us.
Lunch was a huge affair. We had stopped at a nondescript Café. There was hardly anyone there. The lady, who seemed to be in charge, was chatting with a guy, who later turned out to be the Chef. The Menu had bright pictures along with Russian descriptions along side. The pictures helped us choose what we wanted but the lady suggested we like something else. In the end we left the choice to her for otherwise the order process would take the whole day! First she brought a plate of deliciously pan fried eggplant, straight from the fire. Aqua was needed to soothe the burning path the first helping took down the gullet. By the time we were through half the portion came a plate of chicken roast. It was too tasty to let it remain in the plate. There was hardly any place left to fit in the humongous pieces of Beef Steak that were dramatically brought to our table. The lady, by now, had taken a fancy to us, posing for photos and even getting some neighbours and the Chef to come over and chat. We took the steak in slowly and washed it down with a cup of coffee.
Since the Navigation software decided not to cooperate with us I had few options left to get to Hotel Sputnik, where we were to stay. One of the options was to hire a taxi from a suitable location to pilot us to the hotel and the second was to seek assistance from Dattan Nair, who was coordinating our programme in Moscow. The second option I considered first on the advice of Ali since he said that taxis would not be available to be hired from the roadside, except within the city. Dattan is the contact introduced by Alex Alexander in Almaty. He immediately swung into action when told of the requirement. First he directed me to remain on the highway till I reached the Ring Road. Next he arranged with Suresh, a Malayalee, to come to the beginning of the Ring Road and pilot us to the hotel. I moved cautiously for another 50 kms before being told by Suresh to get to a fuel station and let him know our coordinates. Fortunately I found a large BP fuel station with a coffee shop and turned into it. Luck was when a couple of English speaking Russians offered to help. They conveyed our location to Suresh, who told us that he would fetch us from there. While waiting for him we had a cup of coffee and caught up on social networking.
Suresh arrived in an hour and we were once again on our way. And in the next half hour we were in the hotel. It was close to 11 pm. When we turned into the parking lot we found Geniya and Bek strolling around!! We had succeeded in making them move fast! Suresh spoke to the Indian restaurant in the hotel and arranged for drinks and dinner, despite it nearing closing time. We quickly checked in and reached Durbars restaurant on the 1th floor of the hotel. The magnificent sights of the lit up city almost diverted us from the pangs of hunger and thirst. Well, almost. Roy, the Supervisor and Amber, a smart young waiter, kept us plied with short eats and Vodka in adequately large measure. We took in the Vodka in batches of double larges. I lost count after the first two rounds. The lamb and everything else – forget what was placed before us, except the refills of Vodka – was delicious (that, I remember). The restaurant, and three others in the hotel, is operated by Raju Nair, who had arrived Moscow nearly two decades ago. He apparently had given instructions that the food and drinks would be on the house! Can’t say that I slept on a guilty conscience.