First of all, I’ll apologise for not posting last week; I was in Russia from Thursday to Sunday, and didn’t have enough time between sightseeing to post anything worth reading. However, I saw a great deal when I otherwise would have written something, and I thought I’d dedicate this entry to the places I’ve been and the observations I made on the trip.
This entry will basically be a range of different photographs I took around the city (this entry may be more of a photo album than anything else, but I have to do something with these images!), to give you a flavour of what the country looks like today. Bear in mind that I only saw Moscow, and other parts of Russia will be undoubtedly very different, although nevertheless, seeing the city in the flesh told me a great deal about the nation; not only was the experience very interesting, but it shed light on multiple attitudes and stereotypes I’d come to adopt about the place.
So here is a short history of my time in the Russian Federation…
After arriving in Domodedovo airport, I stayed here, in the Moscow Leningradskaya hotel. Now owned by Hilton, it was originally built by Stalin as one of the leader’s ‘Seven Sisters’ (seven towers to decorate the Moscow skyline).
As you step out of the hotel, you’re greeted several railway stations built to connect different faraway locations, such as Belarus or the city of Saint Petersburg. Here are a few shots of these stations, each of them grand and significant.
One thing you quickly notice is the casual presence of communist imagery, which nobody has removed since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Small architectural details on these buildings, dating back to the Soviet times, suggest that the USSR has not vanished entirely. Perhaps the ‘spectre of communism’, which overthrew the tsar and built the world’s first socialist state, has not quite departed Russia…
…on the other hand, perhaps it has:
Another aspect of the city which I found astonishing was its series of underground railway stations, which were also constructed when Moscow served as the Soviet capital. In the 1930’s, rather than building an average underground rail system, Stalin decided to build a network of ‘palaces for the people’, constructing an array of subterranean estates of granite and red marble. Thanks to Koba’s project, Moscow now has a fantastic metro!
Here, statues of both soldiers and civilians litter the station. Regarding the statue portrayed, it is considered good luck to touch the dog’s nose (a ritual which students are known to practise before exams, apparently).
The ghost of Lenin still haunts the Moscow underground.
“For Lenin, the teachings of Marx were right because they were true.”
Marshal Zukov guards the gates of Red Square with a hand gesture that appears somewhat repressive, but apparently is just culturally Russian (you’ll see the same gesture made by the statue of the soldier if you ever visit the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin).
If you look closely, you’ll see that the horse is actually stamping on the Swastika with its bizarrely-straight front legs.
The red star below stands over the Kremlin Wall’s Spasskaya tower.
Above is one of the two variations on the sign of the cross that I’d noticed in the country. Apparently, the slanting bar represents a ladder (the idea that one may step up to heaven or down to hell), and the additional oblong is representative of the original cross, which allegedly featured a plaque marked ‘Son of God’.
Here’s the other variation, featuring the crescent. The unofficial explanation for its presence is the idea that the moon beneath the cross symbolises victory over Islam, but the real one is that the moon is in fact not a moon at all, but a boat, representing the arc.
Finally, I give you the street outside the Bolshoi Theatre, under a downpour. This is almost definitely the wrong time of day for the rain qualify as such, but I learnt of an interesting Russian expression whilst walking through the rain in Moscow: when it rains whilst the sun is shining, it is referred to as ‘mushroom rain’, because these are apparently the optimal conditions for growing mushrooms in the forest.
If I was to summarise my trip, I could draw several conclusions from it. As I said previously, it certainly changed my attitude towards the country and the culture, alongside the previous ideas I had about the city. Before visiting, for example, I expected a somewhat cold and soulless city. I anticipated a very interesting journey, and hoped to see fascinating, but perhaps not beautiful sights, based on everything I’d heard about Russia. After seeing the place, however, my opinions have changed completely; I was struck by how modern, how stylish, and also how gentle the city was. With the wide streets, leafy parks and a surprisingly quiet and empty city centre, you could be in Prague or Paris. To put it into context, I visited Berlin last summer for a similar kind of holiday, which felt colder, and, in a way, harsher than Moscow did. Out of the two, I felt that Moscow was the prettier city.
Another aspect of Russia which I had braced myself for was the stereotype of unfriendliness sometimes associated with Russian culture, though I certainly didn’t find there to be any truth behind such a view. In fact, everyone I met seemed polite and happy to help, and it actually proved relatively easy to buy tickets or order food through interracting with the locals, despite the obvious language barriers. Unless my experience was an entirely unique one, I can tell you that such a stereotype is incorrect, and that life as a tourist isn’t nearly as hard as it’s made out to be. Just remember to count the number of stops on the Metro, because, if you can’t speak Russian, you’re likely to forget the name of your station!
To cut a long story short, these two days have been fantastic, and to any potential travellers, all I can say about the city is positive. I hope to return someday, and would definitely recommend visiting.