The Road to Red Square

Being the fourth part of The Moscow ChroniclesI  Follow the links for Part 1 - Moscow Calling , Part 2 - Taksi! and Part 3 - Night in the City

I awoke bright and early the next morning.  Well, it was relatively early for me and I’m never all that bright in the morning, but I did my best.  I staggered down to the dining room which was somewhat gloomy, which rather matched my mood.  The gloom was a consequence of the fact that it was below street level, with the only windows high up on the wall, looking out on the pavement above. This was exacerbated by low-level lighting and the relatively short Moscow day.  I grubbed around in the gloom and managed to cobble together something vaguely approaching a Full English.

I wasn’t entirely surprised to find none of my colleagues in attendance.  They all had their work to do whereas I had the day at leisure.  The question was, what was I going to do with it?

On my way back to the room, I picked up a tourist map of the city and noted approvingly that the sun was attempting to shine.  My original intention was to have a mooch around in the general area of the hotel so that I could have a better idea of my immediate surroundings.  I hadn’t been able to see much when I arrived the previous night.  Therefore, wrapped up well against the -5C prevailing outside, I ventured out into Moscow.

It was, by now, a bright and beautiful autumn day.  I had a look at the Moskva River and then, gathering a little more courage, crossed the river by the nearby bridge and had a look at the exterior of the hotel before crossing back and then ruminating about what to do next. 

My hotel from across the Moskva river

I decided, given that it was my only chance to sightsee, that I really should be adventurous and try and see some of the more famous sites.  From the tourist map it seemed to me that I should be able to reach Red Square if I just kept the river to my right (see map below, hotel is circled in the bottom right hand section)

The only problem with this was that there was no scale on the map, so I had no idea of what distance was involved.  The simpler option would have been to take the fabled underground, but I had little in the way of currency and even less in the way of courage.  I decided to walk.

On reflection, I really should have read some of the advice printed on the back of the map.  The very first thing it says is “Moscow drivers are quite aggressive.  Please look for and use underground passes wherever possible and be extra careful when crossing streets”   Well, fancy!  I found this to be true in relatively short order.

The main problem with being a pedestrian (at least in 2005) was that Moscow seemed to have a rather lackadaisical attitude with regard to pavements.  On many occasions I found that the pavement I was confidently striding along, just disappeared leaving me standing in the direct line of traffic, which seemed to see me as providing good target practice.  This often happened when you were trying to work your way around the strut of a bridge or the sharp corner of a building, which meant that your appearance in the road was somewhat like the Demon King in pantomime.  I rapidly learned to peer carefully around any such corner and be prepared to duck back very quickly if there was anything coming in the opposite direction.  It was also quite usual for road works to suddenly make what little pavement there was completely impassable, with no alternative provided.

I had started the journey in a state of some wariness, largely connected to being a stranger in a strange land, but also because all of my impressions of Moscow to date had come from 1960s spy films and it was difficult to shake off the vague feeling of being a marked man, particularly when every car seemed to have my number on it.  This odd feeling of being in a 1960s spy film was further enhanced when I noticed, on the opposite side of the river, a series of army trucks making their way along the road laden with armed soldiers.  All of a sudden, this did not seem like any other city, anywhere in the world.  I later discovered that the rationale for the troop movements was that the authorities were anticipating demonstrations objecting to the imposition of a new public holiday, in replacement for the traditional holiday normally held the following week.

The Road to Red Square

What with playing chicken with the Moscow traffic and the troop movements across the river, I was in a fine state of apprehension by the time that I finally reached the bridge leading to Red Square and the Kremlin.  I was also conscious of the fact that I had walked considerably farther than I had originally intended.  Nevertheless, before me were the impossibly colourful spires of St. Basil’s, looking like something Walt Disney might have dreamed up in one of his wilder moments.

St. Basil’s

I wasn’t sure whether I was disappointed, or not, to discover that access to Red Square had been shut off for the same reason as the troop movements I had previously observed.  I leant against the railings of the bridge and contemplated the Moskva.  At that moment, there was a tap on my shoulder and I leapt about six feet in the air.  This rather amused the young Russian couple behind me who simply wanted me to take their picture with St. Basil’s in the background.

By the way, if you think the quality of my ‘holiday snaps’ in this article isn’t up to much (and I would agree) that’s because all of the pictures I saved from my trip have inexplicably disappeared from my hard drive (cue the theme tune to ‘The Twilight Zone’) and I’ve had to rely on my one and only print of the thumbnails of those pictures.  Curiouser and curiouser!

The bridge on which I jumped a mile (with Red Square in the background)

Watch out for more from The Moscow Chronicles coming soon!  You can find a lot more from Philip here