First thing to say is how confusing it was being in Moscow pouring with sweat, next to the traditional sights like St Basil’s Cathedral in the Red Square or the Kremlin’s Assumption Cathedral. No fur-wrapped and red-cheeked tourists warming themselves with vodka-filled hipflasks, here. Instead, there’s been no rain for 2 weeks and the weather has been unrelentingly and ferociously hot at 40 degrees. This is not usual at all, and makes it difficult to explore the town. It does mean I get the chance to find out more about the people staying in the hostel as we all shy from going out into the street, including a middle aged Japanese guy riding his motorbike from UK to Japan, a Dutch teenager hitching his way round Europe and Russia, and an Iranian businessman. The centre of Moscow feels like a totally cosmopolitan city, with similar lifestyle and shops to Paris, London, NY. What is distinctive is the extent to which there is almost no reference to the soviet era.
1. Attending an orthodox service, with three young women (with their heads covered) and two men singing in a-capella response to the priests. The Orthodox fathers look dignified and grand until you realise behind the full untrimmed beard is a twenty year old. The rituals – different genuflections, kissing and prostrating before different icons, groups of priests chanting from behind the tabernacle – all make for a hypnotic experience.
2. Going to the Gogol bar and the Sisters Grimm Restaurant on Stolichaya street and hearing what a bunch of German foreign correspondents have to say about Russia and central Asia.
3. Visiting the Kremlin and Red Square complex.
4. Spending an hour at Patriarch’s pond – the location of the opening scene of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita – magical at dusk.
5. Walking for an hour at 4.30 am through Moscow back to my hostel (in the light). The equivalent of walking from Victoria to Bank in terms of distance and the number of lit national monuments viewed.
6. Viewing the Russian equivalent of the changing of the guard, whose choreography reflects more than a little Cleese-ian influence.
7. Icons – everywhere and absolutely beautiful. The Kremlin cathedrals are crammed full and the Tretyakov museum (full of rather mawkish 19 century art otherwise) has a spectacular collection.
8…and finally, how could I not feel welcome in a city where the first thing I see coming out of the station half asleep on my arrival is: