So, Moscow. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but it grew on me, slowly. We spent less time pursuing the usual tourist things this time, and more assembling supplies for our four days on the Trans-Siberian, which took us out of the centre of the city and into the parts Muscovites experience. Our first day, after getting off the sleeper from St. Petersburg at 8am, we were forced to wait several exhausted and grumpy hours to check into our hostel, which led to Day 1 being something of a write-off. Day 2 took us on a quest to find outdoors shops to acquire some insulated mugs and a pocketknife; we succeeded, at the cost of a fairly amusing pantomine performance of ‘no, a smaller knife than that… no, a bit bigger…’ with the Ukrainian shopkeeper. (Russian outdoors shops appear to be slightly less about the hill-walking, and more about the enormous guns and, for some reason, metal detectors.) We did take in Gorky Park on our way, though, and found it beautiful – forest paths, lakes, cafes, a tree-walk, and an entire squadron of ping-pong tables. In the evening, we ate at a vegetarian Indian restaurant that seems to serve as a counter-cultural hub, listening to an American argue vociferously with a Russian about the impact of the homophobic laws on the Russian arts. (‘The Marlene Dietrich exhibition was such a success, but the Greta Garbo one isn’t going to come here now!’) Walking home, we got drenched to the skin in a thunderstorm.
Our last day was grey and consistently rainy. We did our duty as tourists; the bus tour, a walk around the Kremlin, St. Basil’s cathedral., the GUM department store The city has obviously had significant money invested in it in recent years, and gives off the vibe of being a modern European city much more strongly than St. Petersburg and its faded grandeur. At the same time, it gives off the sense that it, like London, has acted as something of a black hole, sucking in all the money from the surrounding country in a way that has left it resentful. Construction is everywhere; architecture has been preserved; parks are green and pleasant; things glitter; every Western designer has a glossy boutique. It could have been a London on its best behaviour (and with comparable prices for everything). But both of us had started to get tired of our whirlwind tour of cities and museums, and weren’t sorry to pack for Siberia.