Thanks go to TImofey, his father, friend Asya, and to Natalia at the B&B Assembly for giving us a taster of St Petersburg – and that’s all it could ever have been in two days. There is just so much to see and do, that you could never even scratch the surface in so short a time.
We left St Petersburg on the Nevsky Express bound for Moscow.
The train takes 4 hours 30 minutes.
The scenery is forests and lakes for most of the route. Little villages, which are no more than a collection of wooden houses, some fairly tumbledown, flash by. The couple sitting across from us in our compartment polish off a bottle of vodka. We’re issued with a little lunchbox, with the driest looking sandwich I’ve ever seen. We’ve no vodka to wash it down so I just leave mine.
As Moscow approaches the little wooden houses start to look much less tumbledown, and new luxury houses are being built – clearly we are in the wealthier suburbs. And then the scenery changes completely – the countryside becomes a concrete jungle. Mile after mile of tower blocks, depressingly oppressive in their scale. It’s a 1960’s modernist architectural nightmare. It’s when you see the scale of these estates (we would have called them schemes when I was growing up – it’s probably no longer politically correct to do so, but you’ll get the picture), that you realise the scale of this country and the size if its population. Moscow’s population is officially 12 million, unofficially it’s reckoned to be several million more.
We arrive at Leningradsky Station.
Angus Colvin, one of the tutors from the British Higher School of Art and Design in Moscow, is there to meet us with his wife Yanna. Thanks to the two of them for our first experiences of Moscow. From the station we dash along a few streets on foot and down into the Metro. This is an underground system like you’ve never seen. Down and down the escalators take us, arriving in a grand marble hall, with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The platforms are full of Muscovites and we crowd in amongst them. The train arrives – old rickety box like wagons which we pile into and we’re off at break neck speed down the track.
We’re going to a party which a couple of Gus’ colleagues are having at their flat.
We haven’t had anything to eat and Yanna suggests we grab something en route. Gus mentions that there are takeaway food stalls outside the Metro station. We arrive – there’s a pile of rubble and a bulldozer where we’re told the day before the stalls had been. Apparently a lot of these stalls just spring up unofficially and every so often the city authorities decide just to take them out – not very considerate if you haven’t eaten anything since St Petersburg.
A quick drop off at Gus’ studio where we’re staying, and then it’s off to the party.
And what a venue for a party.
There are seven skyscrapers, known as the Seven Sisters, which dominate the skyline of Central Moscow. They were built in the era of Stalin – an elaborate combination of Russian Baroque and Gothic styles. They are ugly monolithic monsters of buildings, but at the same time ridiculously beautiful. It’s in one of these Seven Sisters that the party is being held, in a flat on the ninth floor.
In the main reception room there is a grand piano, walnut encased book cases brimming with volumes of leather bound books, a writing desk with a felt top, luxurious leather sofas – the wall mounted television is the only concession to modernity.
Clearly the elite of the Soviet regime had lived in this building, and this flat had belonged to a Russian General.
One of the hosts, David drew back the curtains, and opened the windows. We stood looking down the Moscow River, St Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin in front of us, the large skyscrapers of the new financial district in the distance. This was one of the moments in your life when you feel that tingling on the back of your neck. The view of this vast city lying before us was simply breathtaking, awe inspiring. Here we were in one of the world’s greatest cities – this is Moscow, and we were here at last.
I only wish my Jane could have been standing here with Craig and I.