After preparing for months, here I am on the plane. The first stop is Moscow. Thinking about what would come next, especially about Mongolia, Tibet and Nepal, I didn’t have great expectations for my journey’s first days, and anyway not as much to really get excited. But, as often happens while travelling, I had to admit I was positively surprised.
I thought two days in Moscow would be too much for someone as me, not a fan of urban atmospheres and rhythms. Truth is they weren’t enough by far. I am not talking about the many attractions one can visit. As beautiful as they are, the Red Square, Lenin’s Mausoleum, the Kremlin, the colourful Saint Basil Cathedral, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour with its red gold domes and everything else don’t take too much time to visit. What really fascinated me in Moscow was walking through the neighbourhoods crowded by huge grey buildings and observing the town’s less evident side, or roaming in the Arabat area and enjoying Moscow’s creative side, its exuberance expressed by tens of street artists – painters, singers, musicians and poets – or walking in the many parks, as VDNKh‘s (yes, that’s its real name) to discover the relaxed side of an ever moving city.
As most other capital cities, Moscow isn’t Russia, or at least shows just a side of this huge country. In the local folklore, Ivan is a popular character in many stories and tales. He represents Russia itself and his bravery allows him to overcome incredible challenges, achieving respect and esteem from those other people (foreign countries?) who blamed him at the beginning.
Another interesting aspect in Ivan’s stories is the environment. At the beginning he isn’t but a farmer or a do-nothing living in the countryside, but the many adventures which will show his true valour happen mostly in town, and in the end he always ends up becoming Tsar or achieving part of the kingdom and moves into a palace. Truly, if the country’s pride lies in the palace and in towns as Moscow, the real Russia also lives in farms and countrysides.
The differences among the two environments are very strong and you can notice them as soon as you get out of Moscow, heading to the historical towns known altogether as the Golden Ring. Even if towns as Vladimir, Yaroslav and Sergiev Posad are still quite large, the feeling is completely different. In small towns as Rostov Velikiy, where the grey buildings are replaced by traditional wood houses, the slow pace of daily life gives the feeling to be even further from the big capital. And there is Suzdal, but it is hard to explain by words this incredible place, where it seems there are more cupole than inhabitants, arising over the placid river, among trees and flowery fields and dusty roads sided by colourful wooden houses.
Although Suzdal and the other small towns’ rural atmosphere is really charming and relaxing – and it is what I am really going after from my journey’s eco-friendly point of view – I have to admit I will miss Moscow’s dynamism and I truly sorry I already left.
Until soon, with the account of my journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway!