Moscow with Zoya and Andrei
18 June 2019
Monday 17th June
Our free day in Moscow. Zoya and Andrei came to meet us at the hotel. She hadn't changed much since I last saw her during our visit in 2006, when I was here with Cathy and Duncan. I hadn't seen Andrei since 1998, when his grandmother brought him to visit us in Edinburgh. A young teenager then, he is now a teacher of English and French at a school in the city. It was so good to see them both again, and reminisce about the earlier connections.
After a coffee in the foyer we took them up to show them our room. We all agreed it was probably the biggest hotel room any of us had ever been in! Andrei was suffering from a summer cold, which made him cough a lot, so he took some medication and on we went. At Zoya's suggestion we decided to go and have a look at a new public park across the river from here, so close we could see it from the window of our room. But because of major roadworks on the bridge the footway across was difficult and dusty, but we made it anyway. The park has a spectacular cantilever platform which reaches out over the Moscow river, to give people a great viewpoint of the Kremlin, and St Basil's cathedral, which must be one of the world's most unique buildings. Inside it is not one church but about nine, each underneath one of the onion domes, and all tiny. It is a museum now.
Andrei told us that it was built in the 16th century at the command of Ivan the Terrible. Him again! He chose the greatest architects known at the time to design it. When it was complete he summoned them to him and asked if they could ever design such a beautiful building again. Misreading his motive for asking this, I guess, and mindful of their reputations, they answered that they could do so. Ivan then ordered them to be blinded, so they couldn't ever design anything again. This man really was terrible.
We took some photos of each other, then Andrei used an app to summon us a taxi at a fixed rate to take us to Zoya's flat where she had kindly invited us to have lunch. On the tenth floor of an apartment block overlooking lots of trees and a spectacular view of the cityscape, including some apartment blocks designed by her son, Sergei, Andrei's dad, who is an architect. We didn't meet him this time, and I remember from last time that his English is not good. Just like my Russian!
Zoya produced some photo albums of her trips to the UK with Andrei over the years. There were photos of my family in there that I had never seen, Zoya with Abby and the children at 3 and 1, photos with Cathy and Archie in Largs. Strange to find these in Moscow, somehow, but Zoya has always meticulously documented her journeys with photographs sorted into albums. Puts me to shame, I have all the photos, but in a bit of a muddle. Some dark winter I should catalogue them properly!
Lunch was excellent, salad and cheese and chicken pie made by Zoya, with fruit, and everything washed down with quantities of a very nice vodka, and later tea! Zoya is an avid collector of fridge magnets, silver teaspoons, and anything to do with the UK. She showered us with gifts before we took our leave, and finally admitted that she is now 89 years old. Still going strong, if slightly slowed down by problems in her right knee which need injections from time to time. She was and still is an inspiration to me!
Andrei felt he was beginning to develop a fever, so we asked him to summon us another taxi and recommended he headed for medical attention and rest. We hope he will be able to come and visit us some time soon, and see a bit of the highlands, rather than the central belt which he already knows quite well. We said goodbye and thanks to Zoya with many hugs, and climbed into our taxi for the trip back to the centre.
Booked in this way, by someone who knows how the system works, our 8km journey back into town cost us 400 roubles, or approximately £4. If we had hailed a taxi as obvious foreigners, I suspect it would have been much more. This was borne out by a conversation we later had with Steven, one of our TSR fellow passengers, who spoke to a man who had been charged 2400 roubles for a trip from just acoss the river back to the hotel!
Back at the hotel, there was some time before dinner, so we went for a riverboat cruise, lasting one hour, up and down the central section of the Moscow river. It was lovely, sitting in the warm sunlight, looking at the Kremlin's walls, the Peter the Great statue, Gorky Park, the Tretchikoff Art Gallery, from the boat.
As we walked back along the riverbank pavement we couldn't help but notice the various forms of transport that now infest the pavements in this city. There are rental bike racks everywhere, costing 150 roubles or £1.50 per 24 hour period. There are electric scooters, stand on them and scoot, no effort required. There are electric monocycles, mini segways, even an electric unicycle. People on electric scooters sometimes had a child in front of them, great fast transport. But it all made being a pedestrian a little difficult, as even bikes do not risk going along the streets here. Traffic has no speed limits and is often amazingly fast for a built up area. On the plus side pedestrian crossings and traffic lights are really well organised, with countdown timers telling both drivers and pedestrians how long they have to wait until they can cross, or move on at a junction. This is a good idea we should have at home.
Back at the hoteel we spotted Steven sitting on the terrace so we joined him for a beer and then dinner.
Our last night in Moscow before our trip to St Petersburg in the morning