Moscow at a million miles an hour

What time is it? Dawn, looks like.

Where am I? The core of the Cold War.

Where am I actually supposed to be? At this precise point. This sleeping on a train malarkey is pretty good.

The driver from the hotel picked us up in the dawn hours after our overnight train journey from St Petersburg. The hotel had asked which coach we would be travelling in, and the driver knew exactly where on the Leningradskaya Station platform that coach would stop. He had positioned himself and a trolley with military precision within millimetres of the very door we opened onto the Moscow morning. I was impressed. He whisked away the suitcases, bundled them into a very sleek and shiny car, and proceeded to drive us through central Moscow at a speed approaching that of sound.

Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building: one of the seven Stalin skyscraper sisters

Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building: one of Stalin’s seven skyscraper sisters

I could barely see the buildings as they whisked by. I wanted to see them. I had wanted to visit Moscow since I was a child. One of my history schoolteachers had been a fervent communist and had spent lesson after lesson giving us slide-projector shows of Bolshevik uprisings and wheat-harvests. In those far-off days, no-one seemed to mind what people taught in history lessons. I emerged from my education with a deeply ingrained knowledge of five-year plans, and a complete ignorance of the fact that most of the world was not actively scheming for the workers to own the means of production.

Now I was here, in the place I had long thought of as the crucible of justified socialism (St Petersburg was Russia’s capital city under the tsars, but Lenin transferred the government to Moscow). It did feel odd to be viewing the crucible of socialism from the back of an Audi with a chauffeur, however.

I feared that our chances of arriving at our hotel alive were marginal, and my first sight of Red Square might also be my last. However, I was further impressed by our driver when I realised that everyone in Moscow was driving at a million miles an hour. He veered round roads at supernatural speed without breaking into sweat while we collapsed into small pools of panic on the back seat.

Needless to say, we survived. It was, however, a memorable Moscow baptism.

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