Perhaps paradoxically, something I love most about London is that its location makes it a perfect launching pad for adventures abroad. Back home in Canada, the country options for a wallet-conscious traveller in need of a weekend away can be counted on one finger (hellooo Amuurrica!) But here in London, the options are pretty close to endless. This past (extended) weekend, my travels took me to Moscow, and I hope you don’t mind me deviating from my blog theme to chronicle a bit of them here.
As an international relations student, so much of my studies focused on Cold War history. Compared to the global threats coming at us from all sides today (terrorists! cyber warfare! the next pandemic! *hides under bed*), it seems to my 21st century mind like a simpler time: two empires, one evil (at least, according to Mr Reagan). But for all my interest, that era was such a tiny blip in a history as expansive as Russia itself. It strains the brain to think of the diverse leaders who’ve at one time or another ruled the country and its people: from Ivan the Terrible, to Catherine the Great, to Tsar Nicholas II, to Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Gorbachev, Putin – the list spans centuries. What’s fascinating to me is that during the particular period when I was born, going to Moscow for the weekend just wasn’t done by Western bloc-ers. As I landed last week, 20something years later, I couldn’t help but think of how quickly things change, how fast walls fall, and how seemingly permanent states of existence are often proved to be anything but.
Moscow, at first sight (and at second, and third, and fourth), just screams IMMENSE. Massive, imposing apartment buildings can be seen for miles (thank you, Stalin). The Kremlin (‘fortress’), situated off the vast Red Square, is a ginormous, fortified complex, big enough in my opinion to have several postcodes. The famous Moscow metro platforms are spacious and ornate, indicative of the importance placed on public spaces by Soviet governments. I found it curious that while the city gives off this overarching impression of gray concrete, if you look a bit closer you see elegance and beauty almost haphazardly placed – a colorful, gold-adorned Orthodox church here, a mint green and pale pink facade there (this is where a book Moscow architectural history would come in handy – you can just imagine the change the city has seen in the last century alone!)
Finally, the people – ohh, those Russians. The cold, no-nonsense, non-smiling stereotypes exist for a reason, but honestly, how giddy do you expect people to be in -20 weather? Fur was out in abundance (in one metro carriage, I was at a loss to find someone without a speck of it somewhere on their outerwear). It amazes me how a population can be so fashionable in a constant state of slush (with impeccable boots. A reliable source informed me a public shoe cleaning machine is never hard to find). English, as I was warned, was surprisingly scarce, so my interactions with the locals were frustratingly limited to ‘toilet? spasiba!’ But watching parents at the Russian Circus, chasing their hopped-up-on-cotton-candy children around and laughing at clowns’ subtle innuendo, you had to think – families on an afternoon out in Moscow aren’t visibly different to families in London and families in Toronto. Pretty sure most people knew that on a subliminal level during the Cold War, but they had to wait for those crazy world leaders to get there by themselves eventually. Glad they did, if for the very selfish reason that a couple of decades later I was able to visit for a long weekend.
That’s it for tonight I think – more to come!