First impressions

After a long journey – which probably seems a little longer because of the 4 hour jump ahead – I’ve arrived at the hostel I’ll be staying at for the next three weeks.

It was a bit of a stress getting here actually. Most Moscow metro stations don’t feature their names on the tunnel sides – like London ones do – so to figure out where you are and where you’re heading requires listening carefully to the somewhat dodgy tannoy system. And what’s more, outrageously, it’s not in English. But to credit the Moscow metro, it is (a) stunningly beautiful  (there’s even a website devoted to the best stations) and (b) refreshingly cheap (a standard fare costs 28 rubles, about 55 pence).

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Trubnaya Station

When I emerged from the bowels of the underground at Trubnaya Station, I snapped this photo. It’s only on an iPhone, so apologies for the poor quality.

The snow, evidently, remains. But little of it is as pristine as this white stuff. Apparently there hasn’t been much new fall recently. Much of the winter fall is now greyed with exhaust fumes or piled high on street corners mixed in with asphalt – just to dispel the impression that I’m enjoying a winter wonderland out here.

I visited Moscow almost exactly six years ago, on a school trip. Of course you’re unlikely to pick up certain things about a town when you’re simply being hurtled from one place to another under supervision; but with that qualification, here are a couple of observations about how things have changed.

First, no more Cool Britannia? I distinctly remember last time, 2007, seeing Union flags all over the place: t-shirts, ipod-cases and the like. Thus far I haven’t seen anything remotely British; this thought was prompted, in fact, by an English ‘Pub’ across the road – the ‘Union Jack’ – which is now boarded up. The receptionist here said that as this particular part of town has become more prosperous, local workers and residents have moved upmarket. Apparently ‘Britain’, at least when it comes to drink and gastronomy, is a byword for mediocrity.

Returning from a supermarket this evening I passed a new French bistro – which presumably is scooping up custom from those classier Ruskies who couldn’t hack ‘Union Jack’. The menu is in French and it serves a variety of wines starting from 300 rubles a glass. The people inside certainly looked like they could afford the expense. In pre-revolutionary Russia the Imperial Court preferred to speak French over Russian, even after Pushkin has demonstrated that the slavic tongue can be just as sophisticated as the Gallic one. Language, and specifically the French language, was the tool through which the moneyed and landed classes differentiated ‘us’ from ‘them’. Of course one example of a new French bistro which takes itself a bit too seriously shouldn’t provoke comparisons with Tsarist Russia. But the obscene degree of wealth inequality in Russia – a country which never properly had a chance to develop a civil society – should.

I’ve got a couple of days free before my work placement starts, and so, once Cherwell chores are done tomorrow morning I’ll head into town and have a gander.

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