Even by Russian standards Moscow is a whopping big place. With a population of more than 10 million people and a written history that goes back almost a thousand years the city sprawls across 879 square kilometres of the East-European plain. The land is flat and, perhaps because it offers no natural barriers to expansion, the city has grown outward rather than up. The few high-rises scattered across its skyline stand in splendid isolation among an expanse of square, functional, six- and eight-storey stone buildings. From its beginning as a hunting lodge on the Moskva River it grew into a fortified city or Kremlin, which is still the geographical and cultural heart of modern Moscow. Over the centuries the city expanded outward and, like the growth rings of a giant tree, its succession of ring roads define the various stages of its growth from the 12 th century to the present.
It took two solid hours for our bus to get from the airport to our ship at the River Terminal in Moscow. “You were lucky,” Tanya told us as we made our way aboard the Kirov. “It’s a holiday. Everyone has gone to their dachas in the country so there’s not much traffic. It’s a good time to see Moscow.”
Tanya, an energetic woman in her 60s, grew up in Moscow, lived through the Soviet era, witnessed the collapse of communism, and adapted to life in the modern Russian Federation. She will be one of our guides during our three days in Moscow. Three days! It would take at least three years to even begin to see Moscow. Faced with 2,500 historical monuments, 70 museums, 50 theatres and countless cultural and educational institutes we obviously had to make some hard choices. But, with some help from Tanya and fellow guide Victoria, we elected to spend a full day at the Kremlin ( Pique Aug. 14 issue), a morning at the Kolmenskoe royal estate, an afternoon at the State Tretyakov Gallery, an evening at a performance of Russian folk music, and a full day just poking around the city with Tanya and getting her perspective on life in Russia’s capital city.
“Moscow is the largest city in Europe” Tanya tells us as we head out one of the four-lane freeways on our way to Kolmenskoe. “The official census is 10.4 million but there are at least another five million non-registered people living here. And they don’t come for the weather,” she adds, “nine months of expectations and three months of disappointment. They come for work. Moscow is a city of job opportunities and people are leaving small towns and farms to move here. But Moscow is expensive — $6,000 a square metre for a small walk-up flat.”