MOSCOW WELCOMES US with the warmth and first blooms of Spring, and the festivities of the celebration of the ninth of May—the day of victory of the Second World War.
After charming, provincial Charleston, any European capital would look huge. So does Moscow: The Kremlin with its museums, and Red Square with its sloping terrace, which, as I walk on it, makes me feel like I am crossing the globe. Across the street is the Bolshoi Theatre, with the world’s best ballet, where we will see “Giselle.”
Our group of seven is staying in a newly renovated hostel, a 20-minute walk from the Kremlin. We occupy a 4-room apartment with kitchen in an old building with almost two-foot-thick walls on a quiet street. Each morning we have a Russian language class, then breakfast, and then we head out to tour Moscow till late in the night (early morning). The students are delightful company: curious, interested to learn, easy, punctual, polite, and always in a cheerful mood. I will go to sleep at midnight with my earplugs, knowing that they will be laughing and eating Russian sweets and snacks in the kitchen till 4 in the morning—as I used to do with my friends 20 years ago.
According to the “Vastness of Russia” newspaper, 80 percent of Russia’s money is circulating in Moscow. 80 percent of all the decisions are made in the capital. 80 percent of Russia’s cell-phone subscribers. 80 percent of Russia’s homeless. Over 50 percent of the foreign exchange balance. And 50 percent of all imported cargo clears customs here.
Even without knowing the numbers, it is obvious that there is a lot of money in Moscow. It is considered the most expensive city in the world. Its population looks more mixed and contrasting than I remember even three years ago. The latest models of expensive cars are stuck in traffic. A young black man speaks Russian with no accent while giving away free newspapers at the entrance to the metro station. Asian men are mowing the lawns and working construction jobs. A lot of young women in high heels are wearing stylish European outfits. There are chains of fast food restaurants with expensive, tasty food. Moscow looks to me like a cosmopolitan Russian-style city. It will keep us busy and dizzy for 5 days.
After that our destination will be a town the size of Charleston: Saransk—the capital of the Republic of Mordovia. Just a night train southeast of Moscow.
(Thanks to Megan for these great pictures.)