The Empty City

Nothing makes you want to stretch your legs like five and a half days on a train. We sprung from the wagon amid the unloading of duffel bags full of Chinese cigarettes and cheerfully navigated the Lenin-lavished Moscow metro. Compared to Chinese characters, cyrillic seemed a modest challenge and soon enough we were pronouncing the various signs and commercials along Arbat Street (whether we gathered their meaning was a different story).

In my experience, every place is inseparablely viewed in light of where you’ve just been. Three years ago, having arrived from Bangkok, I was stunned by the cleanliness of Athens. Whenever someone mentions the reputed filth of that city, I shake my head, “Oh no, the air in Athens is pristine and the metro is spotless.” Having arrived in Moscow by way of China, I was struck by it’s emptiness. There are no people here! Look at me walking down the street without getting elbowed! Look at me finding a seat on the metro! For years to come I’ll think of Moscow as The Empty City.

And what a beautiful empty city it is. It was such a pleasure to see European architecture again. I was so taken with the details of St. Basil’s Cathedral, GUM shopping center, the dramatic churches of the Kremlin and scores of other lesser known buildings that I have vowed to study architectural styles or at least purchase a very heavy coffee table book on the subject.

Moscow has been a pleasure from the cobblestones of Red Square to the proliferation of Places of Science and Culture but there’s no time to linger…we’re almost home and Radek needs some pierogi.

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