Moscow a cold exterior with a warm heart

The pungent carriages arrive in Moscow 4:42am. I’ve told my hotel (Godzillas 2) that the train arrives this early and informed  can I check-in. With this positive response I struggle through the barrage of rather scruffy “taxi drivers” and take the 30 minutes walk laden with my back-breaking (now broken) rucksack. Guess what no response from my accommodation which will be explained later.

I notice a certain posh looking 24 hour coffee shop “Coffee Mania” and so settle in there around 5:30am. The coffee is good but too strong so I have to ask for hot water, strangely it’s served with lemons. The croissant is microwaved into oblivion; I ask why and receive shoulder shrug, welcome to Moscow home to the 1980 Olympiad. In contrast the Eggs Benedict is a triumph which is weird after the sadistic treatment of the French pastry.

Around 7:00 am I head back to the hostel. still no response. After 15 minutes a woman with a face like a flat fish opens the door. I smile and say “Godzillas 2” before moving into the gap she’s vacated. I am then subjected to a torrent of abuse, more Killer Whale than flat fish. I give a stern one finger, sit on this salute, and head up the stairs to the hostel entrance. There’s still no response but miraculously I have a wi-fi signal from another coffee shop on the corner. I managed to email the owner. 10 minutes and apologies later the American manager arrives and we discover the Russian night watchman has done a runner even though he’d been informed of my arrival. My room and the off-suite WC and shower facilities  are delightful.

Later that morning I discover that in Moscow cars give yo right of way, major pedestrian crossings have timers and that not all Muscovites are miserable. Moscow is also open for construction with renovation work and new building schemes happening in all directions. The weathers a bit dowdy so I decadent to photograph Red Square and to wait for more clement weather. I visit GUM the showcase Victorian Galleria opposite the Kremlin, its beautiful but lacks soul but not Seoul. Koreans were present, how did I know? The uncivilised screaming and whaling alongside the two-fingered photo salutes. I return to my hotel despondent, will this exemplify my time in Moscow, these posses of Asian tourists?

Day 2 I head back to Red Square where I chatted hypocritically to some Chinese from Hangzhou. Further off Red Square in Alexander Gardens some other older Chinese tourists were standing forever in front of some guarded flame. I notice the incredulous Kremlin queues but was ecstatic about my ability to breath air free of fag ash in the adjacent Park areas. Passive smoking is so passe.

At the end of this utopian paradise my aim was  to head north-west following National Geographic instructions. In front of me is another fine example of communist planning, a six lane superhighway. At the other side of this impasse is the Metro but there are zero crossing points. I have to walk the full length of the Kremlin to find the only crossing point (as I come to expect) is another metro entrance. Thank you Stalin and all who’ve followed. You may have had firepower but you’d no f****** brains! So advice for anyone visiting Moscow buy a tank. Secondly away from the gorgeous smoke free zones you have to enjoy passive smoking! Don’t complain their cancerous fumes are provided free for your enjoyment. The number of wrinkled female smokers is only exceeded by the number of designer shops. The beggars outside Louis Vuitton and Gucci are there to make you feel even richer when you leave with your sparkles

I ventured inside the beautiful metro system for the first time and a lovely lady offers me assistance, otherwise I would have been lost. For me, and I am well versed in metro systems, this us the hardest to navigate. I made it to the start if my National. Geographic walk and what a shit walk, not recommended! I wandered off piste which was much more rewarding. Eventually I basked in the winter sunshine in Pushkin Square before heading south, down yet another boulevard designed for tanks, towards the Kremlin and the Bolshoi.

In the evening an amiable drunk tried to make a friend of me by offering  a 5 a side team of whiskers and boy Saturday AM I knew it. His bear hugs were also freely distributed. I read in the KyivPost that as the economic crisis sweeps through Russia, a dangerous trend is emerging in this heavy-drinking country: the rise in consumption of potentially lethal moonshine, medical alcohol or even cleaning products. I also read that they blame alcoholism on the integration of Mongolian genes. According to the World Health Organization, one-in-five men in the Russian Federation die due to alcohol-related causes. Prohibition is not on the agenda. I’m told Putin has cancer in his spine, its incurable but there is a doctor in Milan who maybe able to fix him. One can only assume that the cancer has spread to his brain.

The next day it was a bit nippy but I’d already decided to head to Gorky Park down south by the river. It’s the capital’s central park, with more than 40 000 visitors on weekdays and 250 000 on weekends and public holidays. The official jingo says that “Since 2011 the park has been setting new standards, becoming Russia’s first world-class park and a space for recreation, sport, dance and outdoor games. It does now offer Free entry, Wi-Fi coverage, new zones of “contemporary design”, a well thought-out events programme and regard for people have transformed Gorky Park into an epicentre of life in the capital, making it one of the main points of attraction for youth, adults and the family alike.” The reality is a little different 50% is “under construction” but they are construction a modern art centre called the Garage and the skateboarding areas were vibrant.

The 119 hectare park was established in 1928 and took the name of M. Gorky in 1932. Avant-guard architect K. S. Melnikov was the main architect of Gorky Park, who in the late twenties of the 20th century designed the parterre that stretches from the entrance to Neskuchny Garden. Nowadays Neskuchny Garden and the Vorob’evy Gory wildlife sanctuary are part of Gorky Park. It’s not a winter destination but if you visit in Spring onwards I can see it will be a great place to while away and afternoon

My main affection for Moscow are the metro, its marble corridors, arches and wooden escalators, its piped classical music and sleeping attendants. I liked the people who opened up after initial coldness (keep smiling). My disaffection is about the over-inflated prices and masses of designer shops, tedious.

It was time to fly out to Prague, at the airport I had free WiFi and smiling staff supplemented by a wonderful Russian sausage. The announcements in English are superbly clear and Korea please note; they tell parents it is their responsibility to make children behave so that they don’t spoil other passengers experience of the airport. Sooo civilised!

The Aeroflot staff were extremely pleasant but it’s tour de force was the in-flight catering. As you know curved edges are fashionable note the Samsung Galaxy S6 but should this extend to insipid tasteless bleached white bread butties? The woman in front of me had the largest cold sore in recorded history, it covered around 30% of her lips. Uninhibited she tried to exchange tongues with her boyfriend most of the way. Disgusting!

I’m in Prague!


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