Moscow spins towards the future
There's no need to read Tolstoy, Chekhov, or Pushkin to understand the Russian soul in Moscow. Just walking in the city will do that for you, as you gaze upon its monuments and works of art.
There is a clearing in the forest where the Moskva River roars... this is the first perception of Moscow, from an airplane window approaching, from afar, one of the three international airports that surround this gigantic megalopolis.
The second image comes from War and Peace, not the original 1865 Leo Tolstoy novel, but the 1956 King Vidor version, with Henry Fonda teetering on the window ledge, his back to the void, swallowing a bottle of vodka... He is Count Pierre Bezukhov at a party in St. Petersburg, despite the advance on Moscow of Napoleon's Grande Armée of 200,000 men. It's humanism and pacifism that teeter here, their backs to the void. It is the history of Russia.
Third image: the taxi taking you into Moscow. It's a wild free-for-all on these huge highways, where the emergency lanes serve as additional channels. You see, during these gigantic traffic jams, a little of the Moscow Oblast region, a hyper-industrialised basin where metallurgy, refining, the chemical industry, mechanical engineering, and food-processing plants compete for space in one of the most densely populated regions of the Federation.
You will not find many birches in Moscow. Tolstoy writes: ‘Russia is not in Moscow, it is in the heart of her children.' Time to get to your hotel, in the centre of Moscow, where the charm has in no way dissipated. It's a strange charm, yes; due to the over-active nature of this huge city one feels feverish in its legendary decor, where even its beautiful metro is both palace and fortress ‘the People's Palace' as Stalin put it.
Since the end of the state-run restaurants and hotels, the city has quickly revolutionised its culinary and tourist offerings, which are constantly evolving, making any guide more than 18 months old hopelessly out of date. Here, information on the ground requires ceaseless renewal. The best way to understand Moscow is on your feet, so let's start in full pointe position, on our tippy-toes at the Bolshoi...