Moscow! After 2 weeks learning Russian culture through visits to progressively larger cities, we have finally arrived in the capital, in all its pomp and ceremony.
To be the capital of a country covering 6,000,000+ square miles requires something special. And Moscow has it. In spades. Think Paris on steroids and then add enough glittering cuppolas to give a magpie an aneurysm. This still doesn’t do justice to its scale and eclecticity (I’m allowed to invent words, it’s MY blog!)
To orientate ourselves, we had scheduled a walking trip in the historic heart of the city – Red Square, The Kremlin, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – you can probably name most of the stops without ever having been. It still doesn’t prepare you for the views though. Our guide happened to be a qualified and practising anaesthesiologist who just ran tours for fun when not in A&E!
When we enquired whether we should see Lenin’s mausoleum she gave me a brilliantly pragmatic response. “Why waste time queuing – it’s just skin.”
Later that day we decided that we would rub shoulders with Moscow’s high society at a ballet performance at the Bolshoi Theatre. I won’t pretend that, without a programme, I could understand the story-line but I’m at least 60% sure there was one. All I know was it was pretty to watch. (I’m available for work as a critic of the arts if you are a major newspaper editor reading this).
The morning dawned on the day Ophelia was to return to HK and I was to start flying solo. To cheer myself up after her departure I headed to the Kitay-Gotod area and stumbled across a gig in a small bar I the area. The first act, aside from having as much charisma as a wet sock, were quite talented. Cue the second act. I’m still processing what happened next. The publican stepped up to announce the next act and the doppelganger of Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber takes the stage and sits at the piano. As he starts to play (facial expressions of a maestro, output of a demo button on a cheap, ’80s keyboard) I realise the publican has not left the stage. And then it happens. If Zed from police academy and Meatloaf had, somehow, defied the laws of biology and produced a love child, this was him. Song after awful karaoke-warbling song followed until I could stand it no longer and ran away, ears bleeding.
After packing my bags and dropping them at the station for Saint Petersburg, the next day I explored several parks and museums, also taking in a boat ride of the Moscow river. To fill some idle time I decided to try a local shooting range. I starting have concerns when I was led down into the bowels of the earth into what looked like an old brewery cellar and was asked to sign a poorly photocopied form (all in Russian!)
I chose to fire a Glock 35: a handgun during .40 calibre bullets. After a minute-long safety briefing from my instructor, basically amounting to “Don’t shoot me but feel free to shoot anything else.” I prepared to fire.
Wham! I have fired rifles before as part of our school’s cadet force shooting team but I was not expecting the recoil from a much smaller gun. Whilst I’m glad of the experience, my imagination was going wild and I couldn’t help but think, constitutional our not, there is no way in heaven or on earth that I would ever want to own anything so plausibly lethal.
The day ended with a slight hitch – turns out tickets for trains on March 23 are not valid on May 23. Only business class tickets left. My inner accountant despairs. My inner snob rejoices!