Moscow Stories and Tips

Walking in Moscow

While traveling, I am an inveterate walker. In my view, it is the only way to see a foreign city. Walk. Walk until you can do nothing but collapse in late evenings when returning to your hotel. Walk until the balls of your feet are blistered (but be sure not so much that they are tender the next morning.)

Some city maps are deceiving. For example, Beijing, on paper, looks like it is a manageable labyrinth on foot--that is, until you learn that traversing a block might take a half hour. Moscow, however, is a walker’s city. It is the perfect combination of maze-like lanes and broad views. For example, from Red Square to the Arbat is a half-hour walk that winds through lanes bordered with begrimed yellow buildings; the Chekhov museum, Tchaikovsky conservatory, and Vrubel mosaics are all treasures to discover before all roads spill out onto the New Arbat, a garish, proud avenue that rivals 42nd Street. Forking off to the southwest is the Old Arbat--a tourist ghetto, indeed, but a decent place to haggle a bit and, if alone, meet fellow English-speaking travelers.

A Moscow winter poses interesting challenges to the walker. The combination of snow and cobblestone creates a slippery ground, yet I noticed most Muscovites have mastered a few techniques for staying upright. First, there is the one-knee bend: try to imagine a cross-country skier braking on a downhill slope--this is an essential move for keeping yourself bruise-free. Second, there is the wide base approach: this will reduce the likelihood of a tumble but it drastically slows you down. Finally, there is the cartoon scramble, which demands that if you lose your footing, you kick out and in and wildly throw your arms around in order to regain your balance. Truth is, people fall, yet that doesn’t keep most from moving about.

A walk across the Bolshoi Kamenny Bridge is essential, particularly in a snow squall, when an atmospheric white veil emphasizes the illusiveness of the great buildings around the Kremlin. The graceful golden onion domes of the Assumption and the Annunciation cathedrals sneak up from behind the unyielding Kremlin walls. Christ the Savior Cathedral is a big white ghost to the distant left. Set beneath the masts of a monumental ship, a statute of Peter the Great beckons westward--although apparently immortalized in a moment of departure, the frozen figure of Peter the Great is oddly consistent with a city sodden with snow and ice. Even the ice on the Moskva River seems permanent, visible through gaps in the bridge’s iron guardrail adorned with Soviet stars. The air here makes the cheeks smart and eyes water, but pausing for a moment is worth a brief sting, for the sight of the Sofia embankment is an eternally grand view of Russia.

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