Stories from Mother?
This week my husband and I have been visiting a friend in Moscow…
Having grown up in the Cold War climate, the mental pictures I’d devised of Mother Russia are about as accurate today as my ability to locate all the former Soviet states and their capitals on a map. But I’m quickly refining both.
Our visit has coincided with the national celebration of Victory Day (the end of WWII), so the city is extra-especially bejeweled. A poignant moment was seeing swarms of families take to the street carrying signs with photos of their veteran loved ones.
We all mourn our
No doubt you’ve already seen images of iconic Red Square – stunning architecture like St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, Lenin’s Mausoleum, and the State Historical Museum – but you are probably less familiar with the “Seven Sisters.” These skyscrapers were built over ten years spanning 1947-57 under Stalin’s rule, and are strategically located across the city so you can see at least one Sister from almost any vantage point.
Over the years, these impressive (and somewhat foreboding) Sisters have served or been converted into opulent hotels, government buildings, the Moscow State University, and even low-income housing. One was set up to house all the artists, musicians, and poets together. You know… the revolutionaries whose ideas could be dangerous if allowed to spread!
At the time of construction, they were the tallest in all of Europe, a distinction which was retained by the main building of MSU (#1 in image above – lower right corner) until 1997. This same Sister is fronted by gardens of glorious tulips currently in full bloom where Russian ladies strike model poses for Instagram selfies, near a popular overlook where sunsets are savored in sips like the gourmet coffee from vendors who sell from the back of their vans.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union (Dec. 1991), Moscow has developed a vibe that rivals other cosmopolitan cities around the globe, and thanks to hosting the 2018 World Cup, its cheap and efficient public transportation (serving 10.7M passengers per day) was renovated with markings in both Russian and English to aid tourism. The buses are even wheelchair friendly, with ramps that fold out to the sidewalk for easy and fast boarding. Not everything is accessible, but it’s still a far pace ahead of Athens and Venice, let’s say.
Almost every restaurant in town can offer you a menu written in English, and I can solidly attest that people are more friendly and helpful than anywhere else I’ve traveled. “Muscovites take good care of each other, perhaps because of a longstanding distrust of the government,” someone here suggested.
Possibly you know my favorite part of any travel is FOOD. I would not have remotely expected to find such a variety of dining experiences. So far we’ve gobbled English Pub grub, authentic Greek, classic Georgian (the country, not the state), smoothies, and daily ice cream. When our hostess asked what I wanted to eat next, I joked, “Shawarma,” and less than an hour later we were seated at a hip and trendy Jewish restaurant.
My head is swimming with story ideas, sparked by nuggets of truth and fantasy. But most of all, I’m rewriting my mental model of Moscow, no longer the “fatherland” of Czarist Russia, or the “motherland” of Soviet-era proclamations.