я люблю москва (ya lyoublyou Moskva) is Russian for "I love Moscow!"
Moscow is one of my favourite cities in the world. Of course this is only one person's opinion but I have seen a decent number of cities and Moscow ranks high on my list. I'm not sure where it ranks but it might fit comfortably somewhere between Halifax and Seattle. People may argue that I haven't seen other European cities aside from Vienna and St. Petersburg, to which I reply by saying "Shut up." This is my blog.
Last summer I wrote an Ottawa POV (point-of-view) so now I'm going to give you a Moscow POV.
Moscow has attitude in abundance. It is a ballsy and rude and aggressive and incredibly sarcastic city, and this is one reason I love it. It's like the New York of Europe. Traffic in Moscow is non-stop, day and night, and with 15 million people (officially...there may be an additional 3-5 million illegals in Moscow) all jostling to carve out a piece of life for themselves, a collective attitude is formed that makes me smile every time a taxi driver yells at me or a drunk guy passes out on the sidewalk or a grouchy babushka pushes me out the metro doors with her oversized purse.
Babushkas are dangerous creatures. A babushka is a Russian grandmother, and following the Second World War, dangerous industrialization in the Soviet Union and high rates of alcoholism and cancer, most men in the past didn't live beyond 55. This means that there are millions of old widows roaming the streets of Moscow, barking at anyone they don't like the look of.
It is difficult to blame these small, round, squat old ladies with kerchiefs wrapped over their heads. They grew up in incredibly difficult circumstances and lived very hard lives. Since the fall of the USSR in 1991 chaos seems to have run rampant in Russia and these old ladies are simply trying to survive. They will, however, savagely beat with their big purses any unsuspecting passenger who doesn't give up his seat on the bus, or physically shove you out of a line at a ticket counter, or simply start shouting at you for no reason from down the street.
I should mention that babushkas are incredibly sweet grandmothers to their own families, and, with high unemployment, army obligations and rampant alcoholism rendering many fathers useless in family affairs, often form the rock around which family life functions. Every Russian loves his/her babushka, but remains wary of anyone else's.
Red Square and the Kremlin are the most famous landmarks in Moscow and for good reason. Situated in the dead center of the city, the Kremlin is an awe-inspiring fortress city-within-a-city. Surrounded by a massive red wall, the towers of 15th-Century churches peek up alongside 18th-Century government buildings. Large Muscovy spires adorn the Kremlin wall while gardens and statues ring the outside to the north and east and the Moscow River runs along it's southern side.
Red Square takes up one whole side of the Kremlin wall, anchored at one end by the Resurrection Gate and at the other by St. Basil's Cathedral. Opposite the Kremlin wall is GUM and the Church of the Annunciation. Stepping onto Red Square always takes my breath away, regardless of how many times I do it. It never ceases to be one of the most beautiful and aesthetically pleasing man-made areas in the world, and it reeks of Russian history and culture. I highly recommend visiting Red Square in the early evening and then sticking around for sunset, when soft floodlights light up St. Basil's and the red walls of the Kremlin.
The highway that circles Moscow, the M-Kat, is a 108-km long circle of motorized mayhem. The traffic jams that occur on the M-Kat far exceed even those of Seoul or Tokyo. Trying to get anywhere in rush hour can take 4 or more hours! Nobody seems able to drive very well, either, resulting in confusion and chaos and pure, utter hell on the highway. After midnight the going is much smoother, but during the day I would highly suggest avoiding buses and taxis and opting instead for the metro and the elektrishka to points outside of the city center.
Moscow is famous for it's nightlife, earning it the nickname in the early 2000s of "The Wild East". Moscow conjures images of insane nightclubs with spectacular light shows and jaw-dropping women and rave music pounding while alcohol and blatant sexuality pour freely. A lot of that hedonistic nightlife has since vanished but some traces of it remain. In addition, there is still a fantastic night scene in Moscow. Clubs open and go under rather frequently, to replaced by something completely new.
Expect to have a really good time in Moscow at night. I was never much of a club person, missing out on the scene almost entirely as a 20-something due to being a broke student, then a pot-head, then traveling to Asia. I have always had a phobia towards dancing but here in Moscow those personal barriers have been broken down. I love going out in this town. The women are incredibly approachable and even if they aren't interested in chatting they know how to turn a potential suitor down with charm and sensitivity. I don't mention the men in this case for two reasons: I haven't hit on any men at a nightclub, and men in any nightclub are usually approachable. My experience with Moscow women at Moscow nightclubs is that, once they hear me speaking English, they come up and talk to me. For that matter, so do the men...
If the nightclubs are among the best in the world, then the prices reflect that. Going out in Moscow sometimes requires taking out a mortgage to finance one's libations. One Saturday night out on the town usually means waiting two weeks for my next pay in order to go out again. In addition to 290 rouble beers (nearly $9), 500 rouble cover charges and the cost of buying drinks for two or three super-sexy slavic girls you are bound to meet, there is the cost of getting home. My colleagues and I live outside of the center so by 4 am we are looking at 1000 rouble taxi rides home.
In addition to the cost of enjoying Moscow's night life, there is the threat of being turned away by feis kontrol; large men in leather jackets who control who is good-looking enough and rich-looking enough to enter a club. I have posted an earlier entry about feis kontrol so I won't get into it, but being 'feised' from a nightclub can ruin an evening. Two weekends ago Quagmire, Wonderpants, Ms. Australia, Gem and I, along with A&A (a new male character I'm introducing now) and his Russian girlfriend Blondie and two British girls, Tash and Kat, went to a fancy nightclub on the roof of a massive shopping mall. This club shared the rooftop with two other clubs, one of which had glass windows through which we could see half-naked go-go dancers on tables while laser lights danced across the room. The place was packed, and a guy with a friggin' MP-5 submachine gun was standing at the door! That was the most extreme feis kontrol I have ever seen. Unfortunately we didn't go to that club...
Another downside to Moscow's nightlife is that there isn't a "downtown" core in Moscow. Every nightclub is situated randomly throughout the city, making it difficult to bar hop, and nearly impossible once the metro has stopped running (around midnight).
One Last Moscow Positive:
The simple fact that I am in Moscow, Russia, is a positive enough. I yearned to come here for a year before I finally made it. Like I said at the start of this post, the overall character of the city is fantastic. No other city has a personality like Moscow and it can be shocking at first but it grows on you very fast. This city doesn't suffer fools gladly but it does reward the adventurous with untold ethereal riches.
One Last Moscow Negative:
There isn't one. I love this city. If I had to come up with another negative it would be that Moscow forces a certain lifestyle on the person willing to let themselves get absorbed in it. If you let it, Moscow will suck you in until you are lost, even more than Bangkok. People who come here on one-year contracts stay for years without even realizing it, and have a difficult time tearing themselves away. The city, with it's mix of beauty and crudeness, sensuality and violence, charm and aggression, leaves an enduring mark on the traveller. Even more so if a babushka hits you with her purse.