We dove into the clouds, and into blue skies again. Then dove again into more clouds, then again some more.
When land was finally visible, it was all white and grey. It may have been only a 5 hour flying distance from sunny Dubai beaches, but already it felt like another side of the world, another time.
I was there for business, but made sure to take 2 extra days to explore the city that still perplexes the world, the city that has been on my bucket list for many years.
Morning came and it was time to head to the office.
I put on my thermal everything, backpack, snow boots and walked through snow, in the dark (sun came out at 9am) and joined the many people who did the same everyday. It was quite windy, quite cold, quite dark… But the buildings were a great view for my 30 minute walk.
Day in day out during my working week, I witnessed many forms of Moscow climate. All cold mind you. Walked through snow, ice, melting ice pavements and ofcourse wind.
Taxis were not really an option, quite expensive and take much longer than walking due to working hour traffic.
If you must use a taxi, the best option was to download the app Get.Taxi. And the subway, but that’s a different story we will get to before the end of this post.
First thing on my tourist to do list was to visit the ever famous St. Basil Cathedral. It’s home is Red Square where the Kremlin has been erect since 1495.
I have been dreaming for years to see that monument, and all the research and Google pictures in the world did not prepare me for the awe it induced in my heart.
Also known as Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, it is rumored that Ivan the Terrible who commissioned it had the architect blinded, so nothing more beautiful can be created again.
But then again, it is rumored that this is merely a rumor and as rumor has it, the architects went on to build again many years later.
After I got my eyeful of the beautiful almost fairytale like monument, I looked back to explore what else the Red Square has to offer.
There was the Kremlin ofcourse, which I entered a couple of days later, Gum, the high end mall and a market/fair area smack in the middle of the square.
How odd I thought.
There was an ice rink, merry go round, little shops that sold souvenirs, traditional pastries and drinks.
Thought to myself, if the Tzars of the olden days knew there’s a merry go round in their front yard they would be quite unpleased. But maybe not.
The area definitely has a long diverse history.
The Kremlin area may have started as slums, but it moved on to greater things.
Walking the Main Street of Moscow “Tverskaya” was one of my favorite things to do in the city. Watching people was also on top of the list of things I did. Some of the men and women were glamorous in their furs, fancy shoes and hats, seemingly oblivious to the snow and ice. The others, the ones I saw in the subway, early morning walks to the office and hurrying up and down the streets, were not as fancy. One of my colleagues said to me “Russian women are too busy to be beautiful”, and in those women’s faces I could see all the turmoil that is the Russian economy at this time.
On the subway a reoccurring site was a couple sitting side by side, the man playing games on his phone, and the woman holding long receipts and doing calculations on her phone. It says a lot about the Russian male/female dynamic.
I am in no place to speculate, so ofcourse I asked around. Women in Moscow are known to be ambitious, tough and grabbing the world by the erm, let’s say reins. The men were lazy. Not to generalize, as I did meet some wonderfully ambitious males in Moscow, but it’s always interesting to hear the perspective of the locals.
Now back to the touristic part of my experience. In 2 days I managed to visit:
The Kremlin inside and out, Red Square and St Basil Cathedral a couple of times, St Chris Cathedral inside and out, the still under construction Financial District, Gorky park, attend a ballet, Moscow State University, Novodevichy Convent, Arbat street, a couple of the most beautiful underground stations, Pushkin state Museum, GUM high end mall, the inner streets of downtown and a little bit more here and there.
Needless to say, I think I am close to mastering the art of “Speed Tourism”, the perfect skill for a frequent business traveler. I will share a how to guide for that topic in a future post I promise.
I like getting lost. As I did many times in Moscow’s inner streets due to the fact that it snowed on my phone while I was Google mapping my way around. I highly recommend you treat your winter walks in Moscow just like a diving expedition, and use waterproof cases!
Friday night we went to one of the pubs around Patriarchy Pond. From the conversations overheard from other guests there, I could tell they were all fellow corporate employees. Everyone was happy, dancing, singing to the top of charts I heard in Dubai, South Africa and San Francisco.
We are all one. In our differences, we still smile and dance and cheer with the same spirit…
I promised a glimpse of Moscow Subways, which are tourist attractions on their own. Here is a list of the ones you must visit: Mayakovskaya,Elektrozavodskaya, Prospekt Mira, Arbatskaya, Kievskaya, Novoslobodskaya and Komsomolskaya.
They are alot, but they are worth the trip, if you want to see the busiest museums in the country. Every day about 10 thousand trains run over 12 lines of the system (327,5 km and 196 stations) with the minimum headway of 90 seconds. Yikes!
Living in Dubai, culture and arts are not available consistently in the high doses I need to maintain my desired intake, so visiting the Pushkin Museum of Fine arts was the next stop for me. And it was glorious. From ancient Egypt to Michelangelo, it had it all.
It was an impossible feat to get ballet or opera tickets. That says alot about a society. Any place that has a full house at any given day of the week, no holidays needed, to every artistic event, is home to a truly culturally superior society.
My concierge managed to score a front seat to a new contemporary ballet called Tatiana. It is based on a character from Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. It was nice, but I must admit I am more of a fan of classic ballet. It just doesn’t feel the same to watch dancers in jeans and night gowns. What caught my eye in this experience was the very young girl sitting beside me. She was in a red sweater and jeans. She came alone. During intermission she pulled out a book and started reading and taking notes. She was learning Italian. The second act started and she put away her book.
The highlights of the next day were going to the Moscow State University, and Vorobevy Gory observation point and the Novodevichy Convent.
The view from the observation point didn’t show much of the historical monuments, but was a clear representation of Moscow life. Factories and residential buildings, the river and under construction Financial District.
My fellow observers on the deck were as follows: A school trip, with teachers in costume which I found delightful but did not really understand. Young soldiers who were not from there as they dressed differently than the forces seen across the city, and were giddy with excitement taking pictures of eachother. Two obviously Russian young men in uniform calmly looking over on to the great city(picture above). In my mind I could hear them recite the National Anthem “From the southern seas to the polar lands, spread are our forests and fields. You are unique, one of a kind, Russia…”
And next was an attraction that was recommended to me by the nice lady concierge from the hotel. She did not tell me what is so special about it, but she said “you will like, I know”.
And like I did.
The picture here is of the convent itself, which has been erect since 1524. It is also known as the New Maidens Monastery. Through history, it was home to many ladies from Russian Royalty. It made an appearance in Tolstoy’s War & Peace, and Anna Karenina. But what intrigues me most was the point in history when Napoleon’s army tried to blow it up, and the nuns saved it from destruction. I wonder how many beautiful stories of female strength and perseverance these walls saw? I wonder…
What I did not see coming was the pathway towards the convent.
It is a cemetery.
The eternal resting place of Russian royalty and more recent public figures. And it was beautiful. Fresh flowers lay beside the carefully carved statues, the only thing left of the grave owners, alongside their legacy. If you had only one day in Moscow, do me a favor and visit this place.
So much history, so many stories that demand to be told, that is what I felt as I walked by each grave.
An old man walked down the path, holding a single long stem red rose. His face was stern, which I am sure hid the warmth in his heart for the person whose grave he was visiting. If only walls could talk. Life is short, and someday I hope an old man with a stern face will bring a long stem red rose to my grave, hiding the warmth in his heart for my long gone soul.
We are one. We may grieve in different tongue, but our tears taste the same…
Playlist in my ear, me and my driver rushed down to Gorky Park to catch the final rays of sun.
I ran into the park, and straight to the skating rink. Standing on the boardwalk, watching the swish and swoosh of the experts trying to avoid clumsy skating hand holders, it was quite clear how this exact location inspired the Scorpions to write the song “Winds of Change”. I followed the Moskva down to Gorky Park, just like they did in their song, and I too, felt the winds of change.
For every time we travel, every time we take a step into the unknown, we get a little more acquainted with world, and it becomes less of a scary place.