One of the most prevalent questions encountered so far has been Moscow or St Petersburg, which do you prefer? As the title of this post alludes to one is based on the premise of beauty and the other power. One built as a symbol of aspiration to leave the other in the past only for revolution to reach out its cold fingers and re-establish the elder one as the seat of power and control. Basically Moscow is busy and dirty, everyone in a rush to get shit done and money made.
Which do you prefer the subtle intricate grandeur of the Cathedral of Our Savior on Spilled Blood or the gaudy familiarity of St Basils?
One that I will give Moscow though is their metro system. First reason is that there are maps inside the stations, and signs so that it is possible to find the correct escalator that will take you to the transfer tunnel and not be the exit one that deposits you on the street requiring another fare to remedy your mistake. Another really great feature is that at the end of the platform where the engine stops is a clock that counts up from zero once the train departs. I have heard it said that this displays the negative disposition of Russians in that it shows by how much you missed the last one by rather than the more hopeful how long you have to wait until the next one arrives, but as I can think of no occasion when I saw it tick past the three minute mark there is not much room for complaint. Like St Petersburg the stations themselves are grandly impressive on the largest scale with plenty of splendid friezes and mosaics around the place. Walking through the completely marble lined, chandelier strung tunnels connecting the various stations I couldn’t help but wonder what the people thought in the years after it was built in the 1930s especially compared with the likely poor conditions they lived in themselves. Was this a feature that confirmed the feeling of a ‘special destiny’ that was a tenet of the Marxist-Leninist ideology? If so then it is impressive that the leadership managed to use the same idea behind aristocratic opulence on those who less than a generation earlier had risen up against this.
Another good feature about Moscow was that the uniforms had chilled out a lot. Especially after my encounter on arrival into St Petersburg and because for most of our time in the city our paperwork was not in order we had been especially wary of people in uniform trying not to talk within earshot and expose ourselves as foreigners. This made for a lot of silent walks as it seemed like something near twenty percent of the male population was uniformed. Eventually it became apparent that not all uniforms mean that the wearer has any authority as they may just be at some military college, be of the military, be a security guard, be in any sort of official capacity at all. They really dig on the full outfit, medals and of course a really high hat. Or maybe the more relaxed feeling in Moscow was just that as we were staying around the corner from the old KGB headquarters were just unable to differentiate them.
As we are gradually settling into the country and displacing fear and suspicion (mainly just of people in uniform other things are starting to fall into place like being able to order things in shops. This definitely helps as more often than you would think this is done at the counter away from the produce and so you have to remember not only what you want, what it is called in Russian and then try and phrase it all correctly. On the train in from Helsinki we had all been trying to use the time to learn the Cyrillic alphabet and becoming hugely discouraged at the seeming impossibility of this necessary task. However even a couple of days into our time here it was becoming nicely familiar mostly just by walking around and reading all the signs to the point where ninety percent of the letters no longer required thinking about. It does make translation somewhat time consuming when you have to go through each letter, think about that then move on to what the word might mean. A nice surprise has been that once the initial phase is worked through many words are just the same or obviously close to the English equivalent. A combination of reading and speaking has led to the discovery of some great chocolate which we call face chocolate despite the reason why I initially ordered it was because I could read the brand.
To round out our time in the city we explored two of my favourite themes of the trip in Soviet Realism and the aforementioned ‘special destiny’ as represented by monuments or stupidly large building projects. I may have to move on with this as I doubt that the Cosmonaut monument and ultimately named All-Union Exhibition of People’s Economic Achievements will be beaten in the general awe inspiring stakes.
In an elegant upwards sweep, the Cosmonaut monument perfectly encapsulates the excitement, drama, and achievement of space exploration. Rdoc is still going on about the amazingness of it and he is right. Soviet leadership thought that what was needed to show off the might of their Union was a huge park to host elaborate agricultural, industrial, social and scientific expos. Seriously the place is huge, the grounds are bigger than Monaco and the Vatican City combined and strewn throughout are huge star topped pavilions designed for all the various glorious produce of the people, like the one dedicated to rabbit breeding.
“Bread for the hungry! Land for the peasants! Peace for the people!”
Tags: architecture, Church/cathedral, market, metro, monument/memorial, Moscow, Russia, St Petersburg, Travel