Having been in Moscow already quite a few times for business and leisure, I skipped the tourist trail. The city was the last stop in a major metropolis for some time, and I had to work my to-do list of relatively unsexy things like laundry, haircut, get a Russian sim card, buy road maps of the Urals, various purchases etc. The Mini got checked up, incl. a new damper and straight tyres. The Russian roads are taking their toll. The guys at Avtodom also washed the Mini, who was shiny like he hasn’t been for a long time. Ready to show off in this bling city, that has the highest Maybach-density of any city I’ve seen so far. Probably the same is true for the G-Class and maybe even Bentleys and Rolls Royce. The amount of luxury vehicles on the streets was just stunning.
Summer in the city was a real surprise, in the best of ways. I had never been here with 30C+, sunshine all day and only a few hours of darkness during the night. Strolling around town, by foot and with the Mini, I got to see different sides of the city. Life on the streets, people getting out the summer outfits and enjoying the weather. During the day, but even more so at night. Long walks around the city center took me also back to known places, that I could see in a different light – literally. Strolling the Kremlin at night, there were birds singing in the trees, giving the atmosphere of a park or forest, in the heart of this 12m inhabitants mega-city. From a new park that opened recently on the banks of the Moskva the views at night were spectacular.
Moscow blocks are relatively big, but there is a whole own life inside most of them. Once you cross one of the gates, you can find small villages with its own streets, car parkings, cafés, barber shops, businesses, florists, language schools, car repair shops or the like. There are numbered sub-blocks, and even local cab drivers get lost in them, day and night. So did I, several times.
Of the little tourist program that I did, the Gulag History Museum was an experience to visit. I’m not sure if the freezing temperature was just an excessive courtesy on a hot summer day, or if they wanted to simulate Siberia. But touring the exhibition gave me a lot of background info on the Gulag system and the network of camps. Stories of inmates were very interesting to read, especially as many of them were Bolshevik revolutionaries themselves. The museum was one of the few attractions so far that had a relatively large amount of English translation of the exhibition. The next day on a way to a bookshop I passed by the Lubyanka building, from where Muscovites joked that you could see Siberia during its Cheka/KGB times. In front of the building, across the street, there was a memorial for the victims of repression, with a stone from the Solovetsky islands.
During the heat, the city of Moscow, on top of the daily cleaning activities on the streets, deploys tractors and trucks carrying water to sprinkle the roads. When I first saw them, spraying the water high into the air, I thought there’s a party going on, and people were getting a free shower on the streets. It would have been a very welcome, Bronx-style refreshment in the heat.
What makes driving in Moscow complicated if you’re not familiar with the city is that to get from where you are to a place straight in front of you, many times the road is not straight ahead. Crossing major streets, turning around in traffic most of the time require major detours through underpasses or side roads. In 2013 I remember getting lost all the time. Now Google maps navigates the situation rather well, but it takes a lot of time for detours.
Construction was going on everywhere. Instead of cleaning up or demolishing Soviet legacy, the city seemed to just build over it. New facades, new roads, entirely new high rise glass towers are everywhere. The Seven Sisters seemed small in comparison, and less scary. Modernity will eat this city in the next decades probably.
Friday night was Mendeleev time finally, one of my favorite clubs ever. Behind a black curtain in a small Asia noodle takeaway restaurant on Petrovka street, the stairs take you downstairs to an award winning cocktail bar, that provided me with a steady supply of delicious Negronis for the night. Compared to clubbing in my recent hometowns, there is no show-off/pseudo-VIP attitude like in NYC, and also no testosterone and drug laden, aggressive machos like in Barcelona, that require bouncers on every corner to guarantee security and create a tense feeling. The crowd was very curated and most importantly enjoyed the fine electronic music with passion, danced lively and drank with style. No tourists around. Tempus fugit, and when I got out the day had started. I opened all three windows of the Mini to soak up the first hours of this day on my way back to the hotel.
The next weeks will take me to the countryside, mountains and deserts. Before Istanbul at the end of July/early August no big city is on the route. Before leaving Moscow, a concert night at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory was the cherry on this Moscow cake. Mozart, Mendelsson and Bizet directed by Yuri Bashmet, but most remarkably a violin performance by Sergey Krylov that earned him the most flower bouquets by the audience. A very civilised grand finale to this summertime Moscow stop.