Dancing In The Street

Trip Start Sep 26, 2006
Trip End Jul 29, 2007

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Flag of Russia  ,
Saturday, September 9, 2006

The train crawled into Moscow on Saturday morning, and first impressions are not good; rows and rows of grey tower blocks in various states of repair, not helped by the leaden skies and the miserable-looking people stood at the slightly dilapidated commuter stations as we approach central Moscow.

However, second impressions are better; the train arrived, and after saying goodbye to the Germans, and getting another apple from teacher; I strolled out of the station, looking for my friend Kit, who's been living and working in Moscow for the last five weeks. Bits of the station and the surrounding area looked a bit shabby, but actually very clean and tidy. Muscovites seem to have more civic pride than, say, Londoners or Parisians. In three days here I've hardly seen as much as a discarded fag butt.

Kit picked me up in his big 4x4 (de rigueur in Moscow it seems, but justifiable given the winters) and we headed back to his flat. He lives in the Moscow equivalent of Kensington and, beyond a very anonymous (shabby even) fašade, he has a fantastic flat. His company pays for his apartment and Moscow rents for half decent places are astonishingly expensive; which leads to my third impression; there is some SERIOUS money floating about in this town. Conspicuous consumption is most definitely in.

After dumping my gear at Kit's, a quick breakfast at the nearby boulangerie (!), then off to see the sights. First on the list is obviously Red Square and the Kremlin, and after a 10 minute walk, we're there. Saturday shoppers are out in force, and like other cities with severe winter weather (Montreal for instance) a lot of the shops are underground and accessed through the Metro network, and you tend to use the Metro underpasses to cross streets. Jaywalking is frowned upon, and the City Police love nothing more than hassling people for minor offences, because it's a good way to supplement one's income, if you know what I mean. Some people, both locals and foreigners are convinced that road signs and markings are deliberately ambiguous to allow the cops more opportunities to pull people over, and I've certainly seen it happen quite a lot in a short space of time. But I digress, Red Square. We approached from the direction of Tversakya street and the one of the first things you see as you approach the entrance to Red Square (rebuilt as an arch now; the Soviets knocked down the arch to make it easier for tank access in the May Day parades), is a statue of Georgi Zhukov, the most successful Soviet general of WWII (or the one with the best PR anyway), mounted on a horse, trampling on a Nazi Swastika. One thing I'll say for the Soviets, as I was to see later, they do some good statue.

Into Red Square itself; the square is smaller than I expected, as is St. Basil's, and Lenin's Tomb was closed, so we went for a wander around the outside of the Kremlin, which is much larger than I expected. At the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we watched the guards goose-stepping about and trying to look suitably martial, but they just kind of looked like nervous kids in ill-fitting uniforms. If there was a World "Guarding Stuff" championship I don't think the British Guards would have much to worry about.

On from the unknown soldier, and we were treated to a Russian Army band doing some kind of jazz, and what I can only describe as some seriously enthusiastic dancing from the local Darby & Joan club. It was brilliant!

Another feature of our wander around the Square and the Kremlin, were wedding parties, and more wedding parties, and yet more wedding parties! It seems its lucky to visit the square and the tomb etc. and young couples, who are frankly strapped for cash, effectively have their wedding receptions' whilst walking around the outskirts of the Kremlin. Their friends bring along the booze and encourage the bride and groom to enthusiastically snog each other's faces off. Ain't love grand? I think I counted about 30 wedding parties before I gave up.

We then wandered along the river past The Cathedral of Christ The Saviour, a huge Onion-domed, marble and gold roofed monster of a church, that despite looking as traditionally orthodox is only about 10 years old. Stalin knocked the original down and wanted to build a massive statue of...himself, and by massive, I mean bigger than the Empire State building! Interestingly, the foundations kept sinking (leading pious Russians to claim it was God's judgement on the Commies), so for 40 years it was a swimming pool before the recent rebuilding. As we walked past, pilgrims were queuing to get in, and I think it was easily the longest queue I've ever seen, and I've queued for season tickets on the Tube!

Down at the river there's an amazing statue, "The Monument To Peter The Great" (see pic). Its massively over the top, and apparently Muscovites hate it, but I quite like it because its completely unlike anything else.

We kept walking, wandering past the old British Embassy, and then looping back up towards the centre of town, and all the time I kept noticing the Benzes and Bentleys all over the place, usually being driven at speed with an escort car following; they seemed to be able to do what they wanted; some of the escort cars had blue flashing lights, but they weren't police (the real police were too busy hassling people in Ladas), apparently you can buy the right to use the blue lights, and pretty much get away with murder. Interesting statistic; in the last week of August there were 220-ish traffic accidents in the Moscow area and 26 fatalities! Having been a passenger, I'm not surprised.
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