We had been drinking vodka in the bar at the Intercontinental Hotel: the kind of place which was once very opulent and fashionable, but rather run down over the years and now exuded a certain sense of faded grandeur.
"My great grandfather," the big Russian said, suppressing a belch, "Now he was a proper hero."
He put a couple of old photographs down on the bar, the actual printed-on-paper kind. In this age of ephemeral pictures stored electronically, it was something of a commitment - not to mention an expense - to use pulped wood fibre just to represent one image.
I picked up the pictures. The first showed a young soldier from some war a hundred years ago, in a heroic pose with a young woman looking adoringly up at him. There was some lettering in Cyrillic which I didn't understand.
"A recruiting poster from what in the West you call the Second World War," he explained, "But the woman in the photo is my great grandmother."
I turned my attention to the other image. It showed a handsome young man in cold-weather military uniform.
"And that's great grandfather. Hero of the family for generations. I heard endless stories about the old man when I was a child."
"Very interesting," I said noncommittally, wondering where this conversation was going.
"I always wanted to be a hero," he went on, eyeing the full shotglass on the bar in front of him, "But now that I am one, I have to wonder what all the fuss is about."
"You're a hero?" I replied, slightly incredulously and hardly slurring my words at all. I sipped at my own drink.
"Sure. A real medal and everything. Hero of the Rebellion," he sniffed, adding in an ironic tone, "Second Class."
"Of the Rebellion?" I spluttered, almost spraying the bar-top with iced spirits.
He picked up his glass and raised it in a silent toast.
"Yeah," he grinned, "It's quite a story. Do you want to hear it?"
Of course I did. I signalled to the bartender for another round of drinks and sat back to listen.