Travel Journals

Moscow, big bold beautiful

Been 35 months since my last trip to Moscow and this time I am in transit. Yet. Funny how the memories come gushing back like a fire hose.

First visited Moscow in 1980 just before the Olympics – while I was living in Paris. My biggest nightmare then was that the police would detect a device placed in my back as a result of a surgery and they would pull it out thinking I was hiding something. That did not happen. But the memory left with me was clinical, black and white, long queues, shortage of supplies, ugly breadbox apartment buildings with naked light bulbs, no curtains, all in all a very manicured tourist experience through Moscow and St Pete. After 2 weeks I was glad to be gone. With stories.

Fast forward 26 years and I got asked if I would go on an international assignment to Moscow, great career opportunity. Further fast track: after considerable soul searching I took the role. Did not know a soul there, somewhat apprehensive, worried about being lonely, but still said yes. After all I had done this in a few countries before and never ever regretted.

Did not look back. Loved Moscow. Who wouldn’t?

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Comparable in stature to the best of the best like New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Rio, Istanbul, the city had a unique character – a soul.

Moscow was now transformed into this city where not only were there no long line ups but one could get anything they wanted at their doorstep 7×24. Pizza, piano, pets, anything including x-rated ahem. 

I lived on Tverskaya which is the Main Street, impossible to cross due to traffic 7×24. Was it safe? Yes, I never ever had any issues. Loved the apartment the moment I saw it. Lovely high ceilings, courtyard, a nice iron gate and in the middle of Moscow. Walking distance to the Patriarch pond, Pushkinskaya, the metro system which was like an underground art gallery, gardens, parks, shops, great location.

Some people have the perception of Moscow being grey, cold, inaccessible. The opposite is true. A walkers paradise, wonderful array of things to do, and yes the people are sometimes shy due to language issues but once you break that barrier, by and large you find warm and really lovely people. Isn’t that true for anywhere in the world?

Moscow streets are like Paris or Stockholm streets. You just want to walk and walk and walk. Almost 900 years old, it is a mentor to a young city like St Petersburg, which is less than half its age and anyway tried to model itself after Louis 14th. Moscow is organic and binds the east and west. I say this not only because much of its population is immigrant from places like Georgia but even as one visits the Kremlin and its churches it is so evident that the traditions are a real mix of east west orthodox contemporary.

The Kremlin. There’s an aura about it. When one approaches it, something inside speaks and appreciates the grandeur. Like the Vatican or the Shwedagon or Petra, a landmark extra special.

Then there’s all the arts, opera, music, libraries, a city filled with people with a literary appetite. Of course there’s the Bolshoi, a globally known theatre and ballet company but there’s also the Tretyakov gallery which I can only describe with a sigh – such incredibly rich art. Could I just not live there?

Then of course one has the restaurants. The most elaborate most expensive most over-the-top places one could imagine. The Torandot cost 50 million USD. The list goes on. People so rich no one dresses up, no one tries to impress. In fact the joke is that if you see someone coming out of an unimaginably expensive car and if they are sporting a high end Zegna suit, chances are they are the driver. The owner will be in torn jeans and a t-shirt. Remember they don’t have dollar stores they have million dollar stores.

The bathrooms in the hotels and restaurants are more elegant and likely more costly than any place I will ever live it…just saying.

My favourite spaces to hang out were the rooftops of the Ararat, or watching Christ The Saviour Church from across the river, or gazing at the Kremlin from the Ritz-Carlton terrace.

Biggest gift I received in Moscow were lifetime friends like Alexey, Bryan, Ewan and Julia, along with several wonderful work colleagues I have kept in touch with, we have a special memory, hence special bonds.

The most memorable event was skydiving, which was a “dare” since I am terrified by heights.

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Like any city it has its “underworld” and its downsides. I do not see the world through rose coloured glasses but needed to somehow document the perspective of a foreigner which was very positive. 

Moscow has left a real mark on me and I will always have a soft spot for it. It has much to offer: the old and gold, plus the glitter and glamour.

Visit it. Do not judge it from the outside. Trust me you will love it.