After an extended delay, we are finally coming to you live from Khanty-Mansiysk, host city of the World Chess Cup. The trip here, despite being intra continental, has been arduous. An extra day in London was used to the full, and Manuel eventually picked Fi and I up from right outside Big Ben, next to Westminster Abbey and just beside a statue of Winston ‘Pug’ Churchill.
Usually, such an impractical pick-up would attract the attention of the London bobbies, but fortunately there was a massive protest going on at the same spot, which distracted from our rendezvous. Apparently, England wants its own parliament (having the chief seat of the British parliament is not enough). Tough talk from a nation that refused to recognise Irish, Scottish and Welsh anything for x amount of years (and let us not recall India, Hong Kong or even the US).
But I digress. The amended itinerary meant we only had half a day in Ekaterinburg before the domestic flight. We made good use of it, however, and to be honest, despite the cold shift, it really is a beautiful city. Around one and a half million people inhabit this large Russian city. It’s quite picturesque, with many statues, churches, parkes etc, and the famous ‘Temple of the Blood’, a cathedral marking the execution spot for the last Tsars.
The domestic trip was quite an experience. As you might expect, there wasn’t much written in Roman letters in the domestic airport, but I’m getting quite good at pronouncing words written in Russian text (though knowing what they mean is another matter). We also found a fantastic lady from Utair, our carrier, who was very enthusiastic about the chance to practice her English with us. While the plane was tiny and the usually anal safety procedures weren’t exactly followed (seatbelts, mobile phones, and upright seats optional), we made it safely and relatively painlessly.
On board our plane was Sergei Movsesian, a 2700 player I met a while ago in the Czech Republic (where he now resides). His English is flawless, so the bus ride to the hotel was a good chance to get the inside scoop on the town. But the big star-gazing moment came in the hotel itself, when Fi and I shared a tiny lift ride with none other than former world champion Anatoly Karpov (non-chessplayers: think Andre Agassi, but with more hair). When we got to our room and I told Fi who it had been, she was surprisingly excited – “We met a famous chess Russian!”. The celebrity spotting continues, as breakfast saw us jostling for eggs with Tiviakov, sharing the coffee pot with Ivanchuk, and getting translation assistance with the Ukranians Efimenko and Elijanov. (You’ll have to forgive my spelling – the internet is sparse here, so I’m pre-blogging ‘offline’ without spellcheck or google).
The hotel is pretty basic, but very warm (it was -11 degrees when we arrived) and has one English channel, where we can get our fill of Britney Spears and Robbie Williams music videos. Outside is amazingly beautiful, with perfect white carpets as far as we can see from the hotel window. Right now, we’re about to go exploring and hopefully get to the accreditation site in preparation for the opening ceremony tonight. It’s nice to finally have our feet on the (cold) ground at our destination, and start getting on with the reason we are both here: snowball fights.