Days 14 to 20, 14-20 Sept 2017, Moscow, 3592 km from Dublin.
Want to hear the gods laugh? Well, tell them your plans.
My plan was to spend a day or so in Moscow, then to St Petersburg to see the architecture but mainly to spend 2 days in the Hermitage. Then back to Moscow for a day or so and then to Kirov and then on to Yekaterinburg. Well, the blisters I got in Warsaw continued to get worse and after my 1st day in Moscow I decided to see a doctor and have them checked out again.
I saw a dermatologist at an American medical centre and she informed me that I have a yeast infections, spread from a toenail apparently. She recommended a conservative approach instead of surgery. This consisted of me being off my feet for the three of four days. If this doesn’t work then surgery would be necessary. Feck, feck, feck. This wasn’t on my plan but I accepted it almost immediately.
Fortunately, I knew something would put a spanner in my plans or that I would miss a train or something so I arranged that trip in small trips with the idea that, should anything happen, I could cancel the next few trips and consolidate these into a longer one. This I did by cancelling St Petersburg and Kirov and going from Moscow to Yekaterinburg and waiting for the old timetable to coincide. This worked smoothly and I even got to spend an extra day in Yekaterinburg, a city I liked.
Thank goodness I took out comprehensive travel and health insurance before I left. It cost €215 for 90 days and I thought I wouldn’t need it. It covers me moving into a fancy hotel for several days to recuperate plus taxi fares to go to meetings etc.
So, naturally, as always, I’m making the best out of it and scooting around on buses and trains, now and again, to see this amazing city. However, despite my best spin, Moscow and St Petersburg have really been a bit of a wash out. However, I’ve no doubt I’ll be back in Russia again and it’s not very far from Dublin anyway. Next time I might fly or maybe fly to Berlin and catch the sleeper train to Moscow.
I arrived in Moscow on 14th and left on 20th so I was there for a whole week. I could barely walk for most of that time but could get around for 500 or 700 metres at a time if I took paracetamol to deaden the pain. Of course, this prolonged the healing process but I had to get out. I spent the first 3 nights in a private room in a great hostel just out of the centre of Moscow. It was clean, friendly, good location and very good value. Only downside was that my room had no windows and was small. I stuck it out as long as I could and when the doctor advised rest, I decided to move into a fancy hotel as the insurance company would pay for it. So I for a taxi from my hostel to this really nice hotel right bang in the middle of the city. I spend 1 day recuperating but the rest of the time I was like a little mole travelling around the Moscow metro system and surfacing randomly at various stations to find a coffeeshop and take in the atmosphere.
The Moscow underground system is outstanding. The stations are palatial. I got a lot of pleasure just rambling around the stations and enjoying the art and craft and history of the place. Apparently the guy who designed it said something along the lines that the bourgeoisie built palaces for themselves; we build palaces for the proletariat. They truly are palaces and the standard of workmanship and materials is very good. I won’t go on about them but here are a few YouTube clips to give you an idea
Moscow is an extraordinary city, nothing at all like I was expecting. I use that phrase a lot, don’t I? It’s incredibly strong and dynamic. Thinking about it, it has recently transitioned from a totalitarian communist society and prior to that, a savagely feudal one. The ordinary people of Russia never really had a chance. It’s not so many years since glasnost and perestroika and the start of a form of democracy. Just look at what’s happening in the USA and they’re still fighting over a civil war that’s been over for a few centuries. And also Ireland with the main political parties polarised along lines of a civil war that ended in 1923.
What struck me most was not the fact that it has the world largest numbers of billionaires or its population of 16 million or so. Not even the amazing architecture. What’s intriguing, to me, is the naked sense of power visible in the streets, at least in central Moscow. There’s a great number of huge BMW and Mercedes-Benz limousines racing around with blue lights on the roof flashing and siren blaring. They seem to be everywhere and to be a law into themselves; parking on pavements and travelling at great speed. Also different to what I’ve seen in other countries is the number of people in uniform. They seem to be everywhere, as well. There’s a police force who patrol the metro and train stations. They have great uniforms and a sense of pride in wearing them. They always seem to travel in groups of 4 and seem a world removed from the neighborhood Garda. The street cops don’t look very friendly but not sure if that’s just my projection or not. I asked a few for directions and they weren’t forthcoming. Could be because we couldn’t speak each other’s language!
I know a city centre is not representative of a whole city but again there were a lot of enormous men in tight suits who stood around in clumps in front of doors and beside the limos. Not people you want to mess with. Not at all.
There’s an English speaking AA meeting in Moscow and they hold meetings every evening. I went to several because I enjoy the sense of fellowship as well as having access to an instant friendship network. There were a lot of Russians there who had lived abroad or in relationships with English speaking people and more comfortable with English speaking meetings. I met a guy at one and we went for a coffee afterwards and he gave me insights into modern Russia. Or at least, a different viewpoint. I realise I would have to have many conversations with many different people, as well as some knowledge of the language, to have a real understanding of the place. I remember how long it took me to get a real sense of Holland when I lived there and spoke the language a bit.
One thing for sure, I’ve fallen in love with Russia and sure I’ll be back here again.
I finished writing this a week after I left Moscow and the images are becoming a bit kaleidoscopic now. I feel like I’m twittering, a bit like Mavis in Coronation St, so I’ll stop now. I need to get back again there again.
My next stop is Omsk and I’ll write a bit about that soon.
As always, please feel free to comment.