Day 30 – Wednesday 24th of July – Moscow (0km)
I woke up at about 8 am after a very good night’s sleep, and while I was folding the sofa bed back into a sofa, I noticed a delicious smell coming from the kitchen. I walked in to find a wonderful breakfast waiting for me – eggs, sausages, toast, coffee… Ilia told me that he had called his job and taken the day off so that he could show me around Moscow.
We talked about our respective jobs over breakfast, and got to know each other a bit better despite the language barrier. I was surprised to find that he was a major with the Russian army, and his job involved security in the city, liaising with the police. His father had also been in the army, as well as his grandfather, who had fought against the Germans in WWII in the Black sea. He showed me his medals.
After breakfast we took the bus and then the metro and went to see the VDNKh Park, which used to be a kind of universal exposition but only of the countries that formed the former USSR. The exhibition covers a vast area, and to give you an idea of the size of the city, this was all still in Ilia’s neighbourhood, which was not the center.
We walked around the pavilions, drank Kbac, saw a rocket like the one that put Gagarin in orbit, a Yak-42, the fountain representing all the soviet republics and then took a ride on a ferris wheel that presented us with a great view of the area. At the other end of the exhibition we walked past the space museum and the imposing Cosmos hotel, with a statue of Charles DeGaulle in front of it.
The underground took us to the center, were we visited the Tretyakov gallery, containing some of Russia’s finest artist’s woks. From there, we took a walk across the Moskva river and I saw the Kremlin for the first time.
There are some cities that are so embedded into popular culture that they somehow become part of a collective subconscious, and when we visit them for the first time, they feel familiar, as if we had been there before. That was the feeling I had when I walked past the Kremlin’s main entrance, around the corner and into the Red Square. My second thought was ‘how did Mathias Rust manage to land a plane here?’ as the square looked smaller than I had imagined. Part of the blame for this impression lay with the fact that there was some kind of religious music concert going on at the square, and they had erected a huge stage that completely ruined the view of the place. Talk about bad luck…
We went for lunch at a place called My-My (pronounced Mu-Mu) which is a Russian fast food chain, and then visited the interior of the Kremlin. On the way back home, Ilia took me on a tour of the most spectacular underground stations in the city, with their great halls, sculptures and lamps.
It had been an exhausting but wonderful day, and I decided to leave straight for St. Petersburg the following morning, as I had seen what I had planned to see in Moscow and I wanted to make sure I had time to complete my route and visit everything I wanted to visit on the way down from the Nordkapp. After dinner, however, Ilia had one more surprise in store for me. He waited until dark, and with no traffic on the streets, he took me on his car for a night tour of the city. It was great, not only because I got to see the main streets, but also because being a passenger meant that I could appreciate what I was seeing. The problem with riding in Russia is that you have to concentrate 100% in what you’re doing. Take your eyes off the road to look at the landscape or a building, you hit a pothole, you fall and you die. Take your eyes off the traffic around you, a huge truck changes lane, crushes you and you die. Take one hand off the handlebar to rest or touch the GPS screen, your front wheel catches a rut, the bike flips and you die. All this means that you really do not have time to see anything else than the road and the traffic for miles and miles, so the night drive across the city was a welcome break.
To culminate the drive, Ilia took me to a place in front of the university where bikers meet. Now, if you ever hear that there are a lot of bikers in Moscow and think that it might not be that many, because you do not see a lot on the streets, visit this place. There are hundreds of them, every single night of the week, gathered there.
It was getting cold, so we headed back home, sat down and drank some beer that Ilia had bought earlier. I regretted having to leave the following morning, he had been a wonderful guest, but I had a long ride to the next city and an even longer ride to the north.