I arrived in Moscow late afternoon, and headed to the hotel without any traffic issues. Moscow in the end of February was still covered with snow, and white air from people’s mouth seemed the winter would not end anytime soon. The hotel was right in the heart of the Moscow city, which was noisy at the time due to a protest. The protest was against the central governed about a sudden death of Boris Nemtsov, Russia opposition politician after his criticism on Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. Yes. It is the country which is normally depicted as a Mafia, corruption, spy by ‘democratic’ countries. Its strong characteristics, normally shown by Russia’s leader, excited strong curiosity from the rest of the world. So, sometimes beauty in Russia is not recognised in a normal context due to its political stance.
The temperature was -7ºC during the day. My cheek soon became red and the hands froze quickly. “It’s really cold.” I said to a hotel receptionist as a greeting. “It’s Russia.” He greeted me back with an awkward smile moving one side of his lip up, which is typical Russian’s inexpressive face. “Moscow is a big city, so I would like a tour guide.” The hotel receptionist said he would contact me soon after arranging one of the guides available. In the meantime, I was waiting for the receptionist’s call in the room drinking hot latte. 10 minutes later, the telephone rang. The receptionist said a tour guide called “Anastasia” would be introducing the city next day by a car with a driver. He informed me of further details such as the time, pick-up point (which was a hotel lobby), and the tour locations in a machine-like accent, and ended a call bluntly.
For some reason, I get tired easily when I am under a cold weather. Not sure, if it is only me. It is perhaps because I used a lot of energy to warm my body up to keep the body temperature. After a glass of wine, I went quickly to a bed for the next day. It seemed I slept very deep in a long time. My memory of the night was jet black, and the next phase was an alarm call next morning.
Next morning, Anastasia welcomed me with a smile, though she looked very tired. She looked like in her late 40s, and had jet black hair like the darkness I saw the previous night. Her coat was thick and a dark purple with a glittering green, which looked over 20 years old. She introduced me to the driver called “Dmitri” standing outside smoking. He was wearing a grey beret, and black coloured artificial leather jacket. Contrary to Anastasia who was small and skinny, Dmitri was big and stocky that seemed like a middle-aged guy drinking a lot of vodka. Yes, typical Russian guy in my head.
Anastasia quickly showed interested in me travelling alone. “Are you travelling alone?” “yes. I often do this.” “Why Moscow then?” I explained I wanted to be in touch with some sort of history of Russia, especially communism. Anastasia nodded. The car passed the former KGB headquarter nearby my hotel, and I got all excited. Dmitri laughed loudly.
The first place Anastasia took me is Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Located along the Moscow River, a Russian Orthodox Cathedral stands beautifully. The sunny weather made the architecture of the cathedral even more impressive. Anastasia explained the church built to commemorate Russian victory against Napoleon in 1812. However, it was once demolished by Stalin to build the Soviet Palace, which never materialised due to Nazi invasion. After demise of the Soviet regime, the current cathedral was rebuilt.
In front of the cathedral, the big space spread out. The sunshine was warm enough both I and Anastasia stood and looked over the Moscow River and appreciate the good weather. Anastasia said “is it your vacation?” “Yes. it is. Hadn’t had my own time in a long time, so, this is much needed. By the way, the cost living in Moscow seemed quite expensive.” Anastasia sighed. “Yes, it is too much for ordinary people. Inflation becomes worse, though the wage is frozen for quite some time.” I carefully asked about her opinion about the government. I know people living in Russia or even Singapore do not have much freedom of speech in terms of the government policies. Anastasia said “Putin is a gift of millennia”. I did not comment anything on it. She knew I would expect something more, so added, “Putin is a great guy and bring Russians together. Though, he is not a bad person, the government is.”
We moved to a Sparrow Hill where I could see a view of Moscow city. Winter in Moscow was grey and strangely quiet. It is very strange that 30 years ago, this country was where I couldn’t step into. The flora was different. Big, tall, thick trees stood fiercely. We ended up Lomonosov Moscow State University, the tallest education building in the world. The star sign signifying the Soviet system was glittering proudly. Come to think of it, Russia produced the greatest novelists, scientists and artists. It is still the same. I wonder how Russian universities educate students, and had a thought I wanted to take a class some point.
As a history expert, Anastasia must have wanted to show me the greatest part of Russian history. She proudly explained how the grand statue looked like. It was built to commemorate 300 years of Russian Navy. However, the statue from the beginning courted myriads of controversies. It is nominated as the ugliest statue. Anastasia never commented on this, but how Russia’s greatness was represented by the statue. Lonely Planet also made a point commenting “”Questions of taste aside, Muscovites were sceptical about the whole idea: why pay tribute to Peter the Great, who loathed Moscow and moved the capital to St Petersburg?”
Anastasia looked at me with her tired eyes and asked “do you have any questions?”. I answered “No, no, not for now. it is really cold by the way.” Anastasia smiled and said “It’s Russia.” To warm up our body, we entered a small that gave off an awkward smile as if the unexpressive Russian face for a cup of hot coffee.