Sunday, 1 July 2012

Midnight in Moscow

After 35 hours of gentle swaying through eastern Europe, the train finally arrived at midnight in Moscow, and there was still a murmur of daylight in the sky. I wandered out through the station to look for the things I needed: money and the Metro. I found the Metro straight away, but it took a little longer of exploring different avenues to find an ATM, and my card worked at the nervous second attempt. I then lugged my rucksack back to the Metro station, and indicated I wanted one ticket to the woman at the counter. My couch-surfing host had texted me the name of the station I needed to find so I thought this would be simple enough. The difficulty lay in that I really cannot read cyrillic text. Half of the letters are familiar, but then I'm thrown off course by the mutated other letters, leaving me to look for patterns rather than sounds. I'd imagine perhaps it's like a heavily dyslexic person learning to read, or the effects of something like ketamine giving the user a wobbly brain, where the sights are vaguely recognisable, but you are unable to make sense of it: an alphaket. Anyway, despite my difficulties I managed to negotiate my way under the streets of Moscow without mistake, and emerged into the night at my intended location. I still didn't really know where to go. I called my host but I didn't really understand her directions as I had no reference point, I couldn't read the signs and the road names were too dark and high up to read without my glasses, buried in the belly of my bag. I wandered down the street a little, when I heard my name called from the other side of the road: it was Masha, my host.

We made our way to her apartment block, an old building set in a series of tree filled courtyards. We drank some green tea and chatted a little, before bed called, and I was fortunate that I had my own room  as one of her housemates was away in Italy.

The next day, after breakfast of coffee and pastries, which were sweet but had a slight earthy taste, Masha took me on a tour of central Moscow. We took the Metro into town, and then walked the rest of the day. I'd ran out of tobacco, and although I am full of intentions to quit whilst I am on this trip, I'm not quite ready yet, so we popped into a store along the way.

Food store in central Moscow.

St Basil's
We continued onto Red Square, walking past the walls to the Kremlin, the physical heart of Russian power, Lenin's mausoleum (which was closed at that time of day), and down towards St Basil the Blessed's, the famous onion domed cathedral, which looked a little like a gypsy wedding cake decorated with iced gems. Maybe it was just because it was a Saturday, but there were dozens of newlyweds in Red Square and further along by the river, in white wedding dresses and suits, having their photographs taken. Having photographed many weddings myself recently, I found this quite interesting and was curious about the Russian traditions. One such tradition as that couples place a padlock with their names inscribed on one of the bridges, and there were thousands on seemingly specially designated spots.

We walked over a bridge across the Moscow River, which afforded great views down into the city. I always like bridges in big cities, as you usually get great uninterrupted views and there's always interesting sights on river banks. We went into an art gallery for an hour, housing some of the finest pre-revolutionary Russian art, dating from early medieval religious paintings to early 20th century stuff. I enjoyed it and there were some really great pieces in there, but there's some pavlovian response in me that I can't help but begin to yawn in galleries. Book shops always make me need a piss. Explain that one.

We walked back through the city centre, stopping for some green tea and for Masha to run an errand, before walking back out of the city centre, through a series of parks, to take the Metro back to where I was staying.

View from the bridge.

A bride on the bridge.
The wedding padlocks.
Moscow city centre felt very safe, with lots of tourists and police constantly smoking cigarettes on duty, something you never see at home. I only heard English being spoken, by an American, once all day, and I think the majority of the tourists were Russians. It's a very white city, ethnically it doesn't seem to be very diverse; I only saw one black person all day, and I wasn't counting but this one lady's presence was more notable due to her ethnic isolation and the general absence of apparent diversity. Moscow does have lots of people who look like they originate from the central Asian countries, the 'stans', and they mostly seemed to be working in the lower end jobs and service industries. Every capital needs it's migrant work force for the jobs that a lot of the locals consider to be beneath them. Moscow does have more than it's fair share of really beautiful women. The kind that make your heart groan when they float by; their delicate faces and pornographic figures make you utter an internal 'Jesus Christ' every time. You'd become rigid with lust were they not as frequent on the street as the rag-and-soot pigeons which litter the pavement. Many seemed to be with boyfriends far their genetic inferior, wearing bad t-shirts tucked into bad jeans, with bad haircuts on their heads and bad shoes on their feet.

Back at the apartment Masha's flatmate cooked a really nice Uzbeki dish of chicken, rice and salad. The hospitality extended to me has been fantastic and I hope to someday repay the favour. The neighbourhood seems to be really nice, with old apartment buildings set in a series of courtyards with nice big trees and parks with play areas in the centre. It has a strong community feel, something you rarely find in the UK. One thing that did remind me of home however, was the modern, more expensive looking apartment buildings nestled in between the old ones, which had fenced off courtyards with better play equipment, protected by security guards so that the poorer children could not play there or interact with the wealthier kids. This sight always annoys me.

The two sides of Russian women.

City centre fountain complex.

A cigarette kiosk in central Moscow.

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