20 May 2012
Ben Pentreath

Just when you think you’ve seen enough weirdness to last a lifetime, Moscow would get weirder. Ruth, from the office, and I, went for a 36 hour trip to meet our new clients for whom we’re designing a house in woods about 2 hours from the centre of the city – if you’re driving that is. I feel like we spent most of the journey trapped in an enormous, snaking, gridlocked traffic jam that ensnares the city centre and environs in a way that makes driving into the centre of London feel like quickly popping in to your local village in Dorset. And conversely, when the traffic isn’t gridlocked, it rushes along through the city centre – in 4 or 5 or 6 lane urban motorways – at such crazy speeds as to mean two sides of the street are completely isolated from each other, were it not for the eerie, granite-lined, dimly lit network of pedestrian subways.  No – traffic did not feel like Moscow’s strong point.

Such were the timings of our diary, and the fact that our hotel (embedded deep within the World Trade Centre, and its complex of shopping malls, restaurants, deserted corridors, and bizarre design, almost but not quite retro-chic) was in a behind-a-security-curtain zone of a its own, we had literally just a couple of hours in the city itself. We went to Red Square, of course; where the walls of the Kremlin could be the very definition of the word forbidding; where St. Basil’s Cathedral and the tomb of Lenin seem to provide little more than a backdrop to hundreds of thousands of photos proclaiming ‘I was here’; and then walked back along wide and increasingly deserted boulevards lined with some of the grimmest soviet-era apartment buildings that I have seen in any city anywhere ever.

Of course, first impressions don’t really count; I am longing to know more about the Moscow beneath this surface; I know that we had no more a view of Moscow than you would have of London than if you had visited Trafalgar Square or walked along the Euston Road for an hour.  I was itching to veer  left or right and follow my nose down interesting looking streets, longing to get off the main drag of tourist tat or depressing grey boulevards lined with dull and dusty austerely classical buildings. That will have to wait for another trip. Just for now, can I say how nice it is to be home!

4 comments on this post

Emily Barrysays:

It is worth digging deeper – try beyond the garden ring, up towards the Conservatory where there is a maze of streets with food/cooking related names and a really different style of builing – lots of old embassies, cafes and museums including the great Art Nouveau Gorky House museum. Or Patriarch’s Ponds to see where the Devil popped out in the Master & Margarita or Chisty Prudy. And there used to be a sort of plane burial ground, quite centrally though I can’t remember exactly where.

My knowledge is a few years out of date and I’m with you on the traffic but it is an amazing place. I lived there for a year and now also live between rural Dorset and London!


How interesting to read your first impressions of Moscow… there is nothing else like it in the World, it is a completely unique city, from my experience… Highly recommended reading is John Steinbeck’s “A Russian Journal”, published in 1948. Enjoy!

“I am longing to know more about the Moscow beneath this surface”, you said, and it prompts me to suggest this delightfully entertaining novel, whose hero is Moscow itself, the city as it is now: Happiness is Possible, by Oleg Zaionchkovsky.

I always enjoy your posts and the excellent accompanying photos.

We went to Moscow 30 years ago, and then it was really grey and quite scary at times.

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