Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A cycle across Moscow by moonlight

Red Square at 2am.
Last night I cycled around Moscow from dusk until dawn, and it was a fantastic way to see the city. Masha has two bikes, kept in her father's garage the other side of the city, so we went to pick them up and set off about 8pm. It's been quite a few years since I've ridden a bike, I don't think I've really cycled since I've been able to drive, about 9 years, but the saying about 'once you learn' is true, it just took me a couple of miles to get my confidence back. I didn't know which direction we were heading in or through which neighbourhoods we rode, but as an experience it is probably my highlight from Moscow, despite my legs and arse feeling sorry for themselves today.

A couple sit in one of Moscow's many green spaces at dusk.
The sun doesn't set in Moscow at this time of year until around 10pm, and it stays light enough for another hour, before the final breath of day sinks into night around 12am. We had a few hours cycling in sunshine, the low sun casting nice long shadows with a warm golden light draping itself across the city. We cycled through many parks, Moscow seems to be abundant with well kept green spaces, and past the Novodevichy Convent, before hitting the river and following it westwards.

Novodevichy Convent
 We sped along the banks of the Moscow River, before weaving through a sports park, full of cyclists, joggers, roller bladers and many others taking part in outdoor pursuits, and past two huge stadiums, built during the days of the USSR for showcasing their sports. We continued along the river, before crossing a bridge, and climbing the steep banks the other side to bring us out near Moscow State University in a sweat. Moscow State University is a mightily impressive building, and I could've have gazed upon it for hours. It's like a slightly gothic Senate House in London, but three times as big, and as a building it really makes a statement, and can be seen from pretty much any viewpoint in the city.

When we started building polytechnics, Stalin had already finished this: Moscow State University.
Just at the end of the mall from the university, was a large open space where many young people were gathered. There was music from car stereos, people gathered drinking and many more swirling by, with a really good atmosphere. We stopped to take in the panorama of Moscow which can be viewed from the hill the university sits on above the river, before watching some break dancers entertain the gathered crowds.

The view across Moscow, with the river on the left, and the sports stadiums we cycled past on the right.

11pm and still some light hangs in the sky.
We cycled east, back along the south bank of the river, through more parks and along promenades, past an old Russian space shuttle, sat overlooking the river. We crossed a bridge to head back to the northern side of the city, before heading through the city centre, towards the Kremlin and Red Square.

One of the many bridges for cars and trains that cross the river.

The Kremlin sleeps while traffic continues to stream by.
We rode into Red Square at about 2am, feeling victorious. It was pretty much deserted apart from in one corner a group of teenage girls were singing a pop song whilst someone recorded it on video. Red Square has witnessed many harrowing scenes in it's history, this was just one of them. I then wanted to head back towards the river to get a few last shots. I was conscious that I didn't want to make Masha hang around too long whilst I indulged myself, and was already incredibly grateful for this opportunity. At this time of night, I was taking 30 second exposures, so each frame takes over a minute as the camera takes a while to process the image afterwards, meaning I couldn't just snap away.

The Kremlin (left) and St Basil's

Looking along the Moscow River, past the Kremlin towards the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (left).
Moscow by moonlight.
The ride home from Red Square took an hour. The city was deserted, save for the people of the night. I always love this time of day (or night) in big cities, when everything is quiet and still, it all feels very soft. The road sweepers and pavement people are out, preparing the city for another day of hustle and bustle, wear and tear. Late night kiosks are open with lonely looking individuals, snoozing inside or others milling around on the periphery, unthreatening but I'm always unsure of their purpose. We rode along deserted freeways, through underpasses, huge intersections and sleepy neighbourhoods. We quietly drifted by a humming powerstation, and industrial areas that smelt like the barrel of a rifle. Just as we entered our own neighbourhood, a husky laugh rang out from the darkness, and two men, similar age to myself, came running towards us stark bollock naked, arms and dicks flailing. I interpreted it as more of a drunken dare and prank by some harmless men, than a sexual offence, if it's possible to judge a naked strangers character in the dark streets at 3am. 


  1. ...I'm getting your monies worth out of this trip Ben: keep the pics and narrative rolling as I'm signed up for duration now. Us armchair virtual travelers/voyeurs of the real world - what are we like! BTW - the naked men sound like they are from the Welland Estate on a good night! Safe travels - Andrew...

  2. You sure the naked guys weren't in the midst of a PCP binge? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuLoDATRigQ