Shirley White

Apart from a jar of Marmite confiscated from my suitcase at Manchester Airport (was I a terrorist suspect?) I had a relatively stress less but very tiring journey. I finally arrived in Moscow after the trauma of the visa experience, which incidentally is all part of the Moscow adventure and another story I have written.  I was exhausted and tearful at seeing my son waiting for me and couldn’t quite believe I had finally made it. My son, has been living and working in Moscow for 18 months.

I am now sitting here in the magnificent Lounge of the St Regis Hotel in the centre of Moscow. This is an amazing city, I am overwhelmed with it. Lucky that my son is escorting me everywhere and knows the city and can even make himself understood in the Russian language. I tell him not to lose me on any account, though this evening he has abandoned me for 2 hours as he has a business appointment. I feel quite vulnerable though, sitting here alone, now too old to be of any interest to anyone.

Moscow goes on forever. Where does it begin? Where does it end? Yesterday, we sat and had cocktails on the top of Moscow’s International Business centre – a half a kilometre high – with panoramic views of the whole of Moscow. I couldn’t see a beginning and I couldn’t see an end to the city. I have been here 2 days and already seen World heritage sites:  RED SQUARE; THE KREMLIN;  LENIN’S TOMB; TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN WARRIOR, with its everlasting flame, as well as JESUS THE SAVIOR CATHEDRAL;  ST BASIL’S CATHEDRAL; so many cathedrals, all with their distinctive bright gold onion shaped domes (so God can easily see them, I was told). All the beautifully restored Soviet structures easily spotted with their bright glaring colours and spotless facades. I have seen Stalin’s 7 Sisters; 7 massive sky scrapers, built during Stalin’s communist era, surrounding the inner city.

I’m sure that I have already walked at least 15 kilometres without my walking pole, which I unfortunately left in my friend’s car at Leeds Station. There are no disabled people anywhere to be seen. Where are they? Are they kept hidden away from view? Scratch the surface, they must be somewhere. I have been obviously noticeable clutching a heavy gent’s black walking umbrella which I purchased from a ‘Zara’ in a western-style expensive retail shopping precinct, solely for the purpose of helping me walk (no Pound Shops or Primark here).

For 2 days we have tried to find somewhere in Moscow that sold walking sticks or similar. No Luck. Nowhere do they cater for people with walking problems. The purchase of the gent’s umbrella heralded the onset of an electric storm whereupon it came in extremely handy. The roads turned into rivers in the space of 30 seconds. We were the only ones with an umbrella.

During my short time here, I have travelled on the world’s most beautiful Metro, at least a dozen times, up and down so many escalators, down to the depths where I have alighted into a wonderland of breath-taking works of art, magnificent chandeliers, murals depicting the history of Russia, mosaics, grand statues, stained glass panelled windows, soaring arches, exquisite, coloured tiling. The magnificent Moscow Metro has 200 stations and 12.000.000 people travel on this wonderland daily. Stalin in 1935 ordered the architects and artists behind the project’s construction to create something which glorified this vast community. Some of the stations resemble cathedrals, palaces, rather than pragmatic transport hubs.

No litter to be seen anywhere in this city. No discarded coffee or empty food containers. I have seen no fast food outlets anywhere. No one gorging on food as they hurry through their day.   This city is spotless. You probably get arrested if you drop litter. But on reflection I haven’t noticed any police in this city either. They will be hidden from view, surely?

What did I expect? I didn’t expect such omnipotence, wealth, colour and cleanliness. I feel quite privileged to be here. Everyone at home thought I was either mad, stupid, certainly brave, travelling all this way, alone and at my age. But I needed to see what sort of a life my son was experiencing in Moscow and never one for missing out on an opportunity. My son and a business friend appear, after I have had a free glass of champagne, compliments of the hotel. I think management were getting a bit concerned about me. Later my son and I are taken out for a meal to what I gather is one of the best restaurants in Moscow. Ivan is a wealthy business man, cultured, intelligent, charming and handsome. My son gives him English lessons. The conversation is quite intense as he explains Russian culture to me. I enquire about disabled people. He tells me there are lots of unresolved issues but on the whole Russia is improving with their humanitarian issues. He is very proud to be Russian, and is very interested in my first opinions of his country. I am very impressed with him. After our meal, Ivan escorted us round his beautiful city at night time. We see Red Square, The Kremlin shrouded in thousands of  lights. A sight I shall always hold in my memory.

Moscow residents live in large monotonous housing blocks. The inner-city ones look luxurious, but the hundreds of urban sprawl Soviet apartment blocks are ugly and remind me of some inner city high rise flats in Britain. Wealthy people own dachas, summer homes outside the city, but more and more are being converted into all year-round residencies.

My son rents a ground-floor apartment with a gated entrance, and although it is considered a luxury dwelling, I found it quite basic and badly designed. Relatively cheap compared with prices in the U.K. though. Moscow is thought to be a very expensive city, but perhaps relative only to Russian salaries. From his perspective, my son thinks living here is much cheaper than the U.K. I agree with him. Two meals with drinks for the equivalent of £12. Petrol 45 p a litre, a daily metro ticket for 35p. His apartment costs £500 per month. Electricity £3 a month. Gas £4 monthly, at a fixed rate.  I would have loved to have travelled away from the city though, to see how poorer Russians citizens live and exist in the outer urban and rural sprawl.

This is a very green capital with 96 parks and 18 city gardens. However, the numerous ring roads have 10 broad and congested lanes. There is traffic, traffic, and more traffic. Some pedestrians use small scooters or skate boards to get from A to B. I Thought this was a good idea. No way would he want to drive a car in this city.

Another day.

I am alone again, drinking coffee, waiting for my son. From this busy small restaurant, I am watching Russians hurry on by. Life in the centre of Moscow, mid-day. Sullen Russians, no one smiling. Disgruntled unattractive males (Ivan, the exception). Disappointed, beautiful elegantly dressed females, no one appears to smile in Moscow, Oh and I don’t see any obese people here either. We eat pancakes for lunch. Pancakes with assorted and delicious fillings, from salmon & asparagus, cod in spinach sauce and of course honey. Later, my son receives a text from one of his students he has just left.  “Do you have any male English friends you can introduce me to?”

After lunch we become tourists on a two hour trip on the River Moskva, seeing  more of  Moscow’s  magnificent architecture from a different perspective. The next day we decide to do the KREMLIN tour. Disappointed. Thursday is the day it is closed, my only chance. Friday, we are flying up to St Petersburg, 403 miles further north on the Baltic sea by the Gulf of Finland.

ST PETERSBURGH. People from my age group, remember its old name; Leningrad.

What can I tell you about St Petersburg? The Russian Jewel, beautiful in its own right. This is a very different city. We take the proverbial red tourist bus and stay on for the whole journey deciding on our 2nd time around where to hop off and where to hop back on again. The city seems largely frozen in time, with rich culture, colours and incredible light which dazzles and delight us. The Winter Palace, St. Isaac’s Cathedral; Saviour of the Spilled Blood; The Pushkin Museum; the Alexandra and Rostral columns dominate the skyline. We stroll along historic canals by mansions and gold baroque palaces. The Hermitage Museum beckons, but we would need days there to appreciate it, and still want more, and I am far too weary. I keep stopping for rests. Anywhere suitable, while my son, yet again, takes another photo. The long black heavy umbrella has accidently been left in Moscow.

On Sunday, our last day, we travel over to Vasilevskiy Island via their distinguished Metro, different in as much as doors open straight from the platforms on to the trains, as if walking into a lift, apparently to stop people committing suicide. Quite bizarre. We travel deep down under the river Neva which separates the island from the city.

Peter and Paul’s Gold Palace and Fortress is another World Heritage Site and dominates the island. The sheer grandeur of the place never ceases to amaze. Its history haunts us. Later, we choose to stroll back to the city over one of its historical bridges; The Palace Bridge. But we are still a long way from our hotel. Weary, I had already purchased another long umbrella to aid me in my walking, which when opened up displays the beautiful buildings of St. Petersburg. This is my souvenir of the city, I was grateful for it.

I flew back home the following day, insisting on help through the long journey home. I was met at Moscow Airport by an aid and a wheelchair. I was treated with respect and comfort all the way back to Manchester, including during a change of planes at Cologne. First on the plane, last off, no discomfort, jumping long queues through security and passport control (well I am an elderly lady with a damaged spine after all!). But Oh!, what an amazing experience I have had and I feel satisfied that my son is absolutely fine, making a satisfying life for himself and surprise to behold even speaking a little Russian.

Jason White 13.11.17 © RussiaKnowledge

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