Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sorry, but I Moscow now.

As seems common with perhaps the entirety of Europe, Russians are quite poor drivers. My initial taxi trip to my small hostel was a foreboding sign of Russia. I'd describe the chaos of Moscow by saying that they drive like Canberrans would if there were no speed limits posted anywhere, every lane was single lined, and pedestrian crossings were merely a suggestion. So with the rain beating down heavily and my driver doing 110 along the highway into the city, I got my first glimpses of Russia.

The architecture seems divided into two classes. The first is the Gothic/Baroque classical architecture, and the modern buildings imitating them. The second is the poured-from a mould concrete Soviet style buildings. These trap the eyes with the colour of dirty concrete, which gives most of the city a grey oppressive feel. The most notable examples of these are the seven Stalin skyscrapers (Named the Seven Sisters) across the huge city. Giant dirty brown pillars spread across the city, really. Russia as a whole is trying to leave behind the USSR and their dark history, but all around their legacy is too plain to see.

Sure, the musuems tend to skimp over the purges and crimes, and focus on the glory of the Red Army. There's a suprising amount of Royalist material in various places, and even some pride in the wonder of the Tsarist reigns. That's old Russia, though. Old Russia is being rapidly devoured by the New Russia, what it wants to be. Mcdonalds and Dior and Apple are some parts of New Russia. Sushi, the noveau delicacy of the noveau riche, is part of New Russia. It's the most expensive city to live in nowadays, and it also houses the most billionaires-  a far cry from the Soviet days. The people don't smile frivolously or laugh in the streets- keeping instead a grim taciturn face for most occasions.

Yet the city isn't all misery and consumerism. I was lucky enough to walk the streets during the 864th anniversary of the city. There were performers in the streets (A cover ABBA band and lady Gaga rip-off being the standouts there), and thousands of people walking along the closed streets, soaking up the rich atmosphere as the city came alive. There were parades in Red Square, and celebrations for new Russia in front of the tomb of Lenin. The contrast between the old and the new and the older is what makes Moscow such an interesting place. It isn't the most catering place for tourists, and the cost of food is enough to make one say very bad words, but it's a huge city with centuries of experience.

The best things I ate were street stall food (Hot dogs in crossant bread.), and the best museum was the Red Army museum, though the Pushkin art museum deserves a mention for blocking my attempts to get in on four occasions- once by presidential motorcade, even. Most mysterious coffee was a Romano- an expresso shot served with two slices of lemon, and worst meal was water with chicken stock. Yum.

Ah, and one of the Churches is named after Saint Basil the Fool. That has to be worth something.