I’ve been to a variety of rough and ready cities in Asia and Africa, but I think largely due to preconceptions and geo-political history; Moscow felt like one of the more exotic cities I’ve visited.
First thing, the city is big in and lets you know it. Not like Manhattan or Tokyo where small streets and density of life make you feel like you should be able to get around the whole thing on foot. No, Moscow has HUGE streets that flow like rivers, and require you to go underground to get to the other side. The result is that walking feels like an epic journey and there are long stretches where there is little along the side of the street because there aren’t pedestrians or slow trafic that would stop. As a result, it reminded me more of Houston than of a capital or major European city.
Of course there are any number of cultural things that make the city stand out as different from everywhere else in the world.
- Fashion is it’s own unique thing with guys split between military and metrosexual and 90% of women wearing ridiculously high-heels.
- There are police everywhere, and it looks like lots of fashion derives from the cops – including the heels worn by women officers.
- Architecture and monuments all over the place remind you of deep soviet history. Things like the Foreign Ministry (below) are clearly Stalinist, but something about them invokes art deco for me. It makes for a very stately and imperial feeling place.
The list of striking things goes on, but the sum total is what really matters: a city that feels unlike any other I’ve visited. The fact that the only similitude I can draw is to middle-America urban sprawls makes it feel even more bizarre (especially as you watch an Hummer cruise down the streets). Isn’t this supposed to be diametric opposite to America? Yes, it is very different, but after a while it feels the differences aren’t as great as we imagine them. Rather they have been magnified in our minds by a protracted contest for global dominance.
So I highly recommend that any American who has a chance, head to Moscow and prepare to leave everything you were told for the last half-century be challenged by the fascinating place you encounter.