Turning 30 felt like a milestone. Whilst I can see remember my 18th (awful) and 21st (rather amazing) birthdays, the rest all blur together into a haze. As a non-drinker, it did not bode well for my future that I could not remember the last 8 birthdays, but luckily medicine is always improving. 30 felt like one that should be remembered. Having been to the 2 most expensive resorts in the world – North Island and Laucala – in the last 7 months, there was only one thing to do: go to Russia in a £50/n hotel. This would cure some hubris.
After staying in Ashford Castle, Ballyfin and The Peninsula Paris, the pre-birthday journey was coming to an end in, naturally, The Connaught. If anywhere was going to make me feel good about myself it would be a hotel I’ve stayed in 110 times. And that they did. After doing all things Connaughty in my Connaught Suite, I woke up at 7am to realise I was now not only in a different age bracket in all those online surveys you fill in, but even with my creaking knees and bad hip, I was still slightly too comfortable and enjoying too much luxury. How to fix this, I thought? Let’s head to Russia. A mere 9 hours of solo traveling on my birthday should make this a pretty memorable day.
With it being too early for hunger to have kicked in, I headed to Heathrow pre-breakfast. For the first time of being inside Terminal 4 I was not flying Etihad, so had to settle for the Sky Team lounge. How nice it looked, on first impressions, but then I saw the pitiful food selection that looked like I was in a war camp. I started to immediately regret not stealing the entire fruit bowl from my room. Even the flowers in the hallway looked quite tasty compared to whatever they were serving here. Yet alas, this was to bring me down to earth, for life had been too good. So far, so good. Everything was shit.
Better still, the flight was delayed by 90 minutes. Few things are less enjoyable as sitting in a small, contained space, not moving and waiting for something to happen. It did however give me time to review Aeroflot’s business class product. My summary: it’s ok. Come back next time for further airline insights. After waiting around for a period of time that may have been longer than time itself, off I set to Moscow. 4 hours later, followed by a 2 hour layover and I boarded my flight to Nizhny Novgorod, where I could enjoy some infamous, good ol’ fashioned Russian hospitality.
This journey was meant to make me be more humble, yet that was far from what was happening when at every opportunity the Russians rushed me away from those in economy, like they’d been infected with ebola. Even though on both my return flights to Nizhny Novgorod I was the only person in business class, they still provide a separate business class bus, so I didn’t have to wait the entire 3 extra minutes that likely would have been involved.
Just after 10pm I arrived in Nizhny Novgorod and walked outside to enjoy the -3C air temperatures that made my hands feel they would be permanently damaged. I’ve always been told I have the charisma of someone with an frozen soul, but now I have the entire look to go with it. After ordering an Uber and making the hour journey, I arrived at 11pm and settled into my new home: a 3 star hotel. Fantastic, not even a doorman. In fact, nobody. After sniffing around I eventually found another fellow human to check me in, where we conversed about how awesome it was for me to be checking in on my 30th. Only kidding, they didn’t care. I was given my key, so headed to the 4th floor, walk down the corridors of death and into my wonderful abode.
The room had the joy of a funeral parlour after a major natural disaster. Whilst by myself, I could be certain that I would not be alone and could at least make some friends with whatever creatures I found under, or in, the bed. Impressively, I found amenities such as curtains that closed, but even at night somehow let all the light in; a sophisticated temperature control, which was either on or off (I really, really do not want to think what misery took place after hitting off); and a shower that stood about 5ft high, so you cannot even use it to spray away your tears.
I slept like a nervous child in a haunted house, that had just been made aware of the concept of death. 7am felt sufficiently long enough within my room to venture outside for breakfast. Even in 5 star hotels I have seen some pathetic attempts at buffets in my time, but this was a 3 star hotel in Russia – they knew how to lower standards. The choice was between inedible or slightly edible, but only if you are a rat. I went for the Cornflakes, that tasted a bit like a cardboard box a homeless man had lived in for the past 3 months – actually a lot better than I expected.
Seeing that I came all the way to this rather obscure Russian city, I suppose it made sense that I should actually do something. Shortly after enduring a few bites of breakfast, my tour guide arrives. What to do? What could I possibly do? Well, I suppose there was one thing nearby that seemed worthwhile.