Views of Moscow
What made Moscow memorable was the people. Never before have I met people so open and willing to have fun with strangers! But then again, I don’t think I’ve ever given strangers the chance. Thanks to Melody’s boldness, I found myself dragged along wild and magical ride through Moscow, where each time we saw the city skyline we experienced it a little differently. In St. Petersburg, we were tourists. In Moscow, suddenly we had friends.
View of the City #1: Tourist
In the morning and afternoon of our first day in Moscow, Melody and I hit up all the tourist locations. We took a metro to Ploschad Revolutskii, the stop nearest Red Square, and walked down a long street dotted with cathedrals. After climbing a hill in a park, we stopped and stared at our first view of Moscow. In the distance, we saw St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin; behind us was a cathedral with a scaled dome that reminded us of a rainbow parrot. It was beautiful, but I felt nothing special. It was just like the beautiful architecture in St. Petersburg. Even when we walked into Red Square, finding ourselves surrounded by excited World Cup fans, I felt no rush of excitement. I was jaded already, and was annoyed with myself for it.
View of the City #2: Beauty
Melody and I met our host, Alice, and her co-worker, Tanya, after dinner. At this point we had been awake and traveling around Moscow for 16 hours, and were starting to feel it. Nevertheless, we mustered up our energy to reunite with Alice—who we had met briefly in the morning—and see Moscow at night.
“I want to take you to my favourite sculpture in Moscow,” said Alice. “Probably, my favourite in the whole world.” It was 9pm, but the sun was just starting to hint at going down as we walked through a ‘Love Garden,’ full of locks with names promising eternal commitment, on our way to her statue. We spent a haunting fifteen minutes gazing at and walking through ‘Child Victims of Adult Crimes.’ That piece deserves its own blog post, but for this one, I’ll just say it put us in a contemplative mood. I was touched that Alice would share something as personal as this with us.
Then we walked down the river as the sun set in earnest, painting the sky and clouds a soft pink. The river shimmered slightly, and to our left we could see the walls of the Kremlin and the domes of St. Basil’s again. But this time, it took my breath away. The skyline I had seen earlier had an ethereal beauty, shrouded in growing shadows and pink-orange clouds. For the first time, it hit me that I was in Moscow.“I love bringing people around, to see their faces,” Alice said. “It makes me experience it new again.”
View of the City #3: Magic
We continued walking towards Red Square, then turned right into the park Melody and I had visited in the morning, almost ten hours before. There, we met Alice’s friend Elena, whose long thick brown hair and delicate features made me think of a fairy. Alice and Tanya went to take a smoke break, so Melody, Elena, and I climbed the stairs to a kind of viewing stadium that had confused me. What was there to see?
When we reached the top, I saw the Moscow skyline again, the sun almost gone by now. Fairy lights strung around the edges of the Kremlin and the State Historical Museum lit up the scene, and in the distance I saw the Central Business District. Perhaps it was Elena there, talking about the forest near her home, but this view felt mystical. With fewer people at the top with us, it was also somewhat private. We watched the lights turn on in silence.
View of the City #4: Life
On our first day, Melody and I had taken shelter at Holder’s Coffee before we met Alice in the morning. Melody, being the adventurous person that she is, asked for the barista’s number. So on Day #2 in Moscow, after another long day of sightseeing, we met up with Anton around 8:30pm. He was tall and slender, a student in Moscow who described his hometown in Kazan as “f@#$ing awesome.” With him, he brought two friends—Sasha, also from Kazan, and Nita, who Anton had just met that day.
We had no plans, so Anton dragged us up to the roof of a nearby building. “We will stay here and watch the sun set. And then there will be lights,” he said as we puffed up the stairs. I swear there must have been 13 flights of stairs. “Hurry up! We will miss it!” he yelled at me, who was unfortunate enough to be in front. I picked up the speed, and burst onto the roof. I was greeted by the same skyline we had seen three times before, but I remember this one completely differently.
For the next hour or so, the five of us hung out on the roof, listening to Russian rock music, eating crackers and bananas, and watching Sasha try to take the perfect photo of everything. The sun turned a violent scarlet-orange as it dipped behind the skyscrapers. The city looked like it was on fire, with white sparks jumping up every time someone turned on a light in the city. I couldn’t believe I was on a roof with three Russians I had met only yesterday. We were unironically wild and free…
“We’re making up for all that time we spent studying in junior college!” laughed Melody. We twirled on the roof as the night lights went up.
Later, when darkness had truly fallen, we rented bicycles and cycled through Gorky Park. With the night wind in my face, we sped past pedestrians alongside the river. Spotlights shone on a white marble building to my right, and I stood up on the pedals. Moscow was young, pulsing with life, a streak of lights in my peripheral vision.
View of the City #5: Strength
On our last day in Moscow, we walked for miles and miles through Red Square and the Arbat before we finally decided to go to Victory Park. The metro spat us out into a vast courtyard more than a kilometre long. As we walked, exhausted, towards the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, we slowly traversed the years of Russian involvement in the war. 1941. 1942. 1943. (“Only two more years!” encouraged Melody) 1944. 1945. When we hit 1945, we stood at the base of the most stunning memorial I have ever seen. A man speared a dragon emblazoned with Nazi swastikas, the head drooping and severed from the body. Above them stretched a monument that looked solid, but upon further inspection was carved with intricate scenes of Soviet citizens in the war, with names of cities and dates to demark major battles. As we walked through the memorial, surrounded by stone, we noticed skulls, crosses, soldiers’ helmets, bullets, and bombs carved into the pedestal. After we emerged from the tunnel-like memorial, the Moscow skyscrapers stood proudly before us. For the first time, I looked at the city and its people as survivors—proud and strong, indomitable, a city that had suffered but would always rise again. This time, the skyline portrayed a grave strength.
St. Petersburg was beautiful, but even though I was only there a few days ago, the days already blur together in my memory. But Moscow stands out, as I remember my time there through faces. Alice. Tanya. Elena. Anton. Sasha. Nita. And, of course, Melody—we travelled to Moscow together, instead of just meeting up in St. Petersburg. It should be obvious, but leaving Moscow it hit me that all the best stories are about people.For all the wonders of nature and breath-taking inventions of humans, it is still the stories about people who move us. I’m not someone who seeks out strangers. But maybe I’ll try harder from now on.
Left to right: Elena, Avery, Tanya, Melody, Alice. At a World Cup street party.