There is nothing about Russian and American relations that cannot be explained by Burning Heart from Rocky IV, but nonetheless, I will try…

First things first, the high speed train from St. Petersburg to Moscow is the jam. All of the attendants are hot, they serve whatever you want, the seats are great, it might of been the best train trip I took this time…utterly unexpected (I was in business class but they even had a first class car, which was news to me until I got on the train). When you arrive in Moscow they sort of push you out on to this side street where of course, nobody speaks English, and the cab guys sort of look like cab guys, I mean they are saying the word “taxi” right? Well, I picked a dude, he drove me straight to the hotel, it was about 5 minutes away, and he charged me 1000 rubles, which is fuck you money. So I says to the guy, hey you, this aint right, but his defense was too strong, it was a complete blank stare mixed in with completely logical sounding Russian words. I am certain his explanation was reasonable and sound…so I took it up the ass. The hotel did inform me that I paid about 3 times too much…thanks for the warning dick bags. And another thing, why can’t Russia require meters in the cabs? Shitty middle eastern countries have meters, but fucking powerful Russia can’t even get that right? Nyet I say.

So my hotel was near nothing, it deserves nothing, and it will rot in hell, BUT I will get to that in the hotel appropriate section, and not a moment before…but let me say this, when you arrive to a supposedly 5-star hotel with recommendations from everywhere (one of Conde Naste’s 25 reasons to go to Moscow at all, are you fucking kidding me?), and the first thing that happens is your key doesn’t work, and rather than make you a new key, they say that none of the keys work and they will have to walk you to your room and unlock it for you each time…run. But seriously, it was over a mile to any serious sites…my ass was hoofing it.

Sooooooo Red Square. Yup, it’s cool. It’s even cooler at night. You’ve seen the pictures. St. Basil’s is wow. It’s all cool.

I don’t get how a capital can be so drab…and I live in DC! Moscow was like the other eastern metropolis’s, it’s like time forgot them. Moscow has 7 “skyscrapers” that were built at Stalin’s request to make sure Moscow stayed on par with the greatest of the western cities. What he built were weird replicas of buildings you’ve seen a bunch of times before and that stand out as weird and many of which are like on the edge of nowhere. Anyway, the whole city is like that. No real style of its own (we must exclude red square during this discussion). Their grand shopping malls look like libraries from the outside, their parks are simple, their streets are disjointed and more often than not are too big (they do have underground “crosswalks” which is kind of neat, they are connected to the subways, but it makes the street scape even more utilitarian. This is where the cars go, and this is where the people go…and this is where the freedom goes). Their downtown section was off to the west side (completely separated like Paris) and did have a few nice modern examples. More often than not though it was a collection of the same store over and over. The only boutiques I found were things like Prada. Unique and interesting, was limited.

And let’s not forget the language barrier! They do not use English based letters…they use Cyrillic based letters. They use letters that even an educated Westerner does not and cannot understand. Thus, finding anything on a map can be excruciating. I mean even just playing the “memory” game where I try to match what is on the map to what is on the street sign is extraordinarily challenging. I was pretty amazed at the difficulty I had. For the most part I just kept walking when in doubt, but this was like, even when you get “there”, you don’t even really know if you’re “there” or not.

Besides Red Square, one of the highly recommended activities is visiting a Russian bath. I chose the most highly regarded (or maybe it was the critics choice for the most “real”), in any case, you, do not, do this. The baths are essentially a spot for naked dudes to hang out and I guess get away from the nastiness that is the female body. They start you in a locker room of sorts (complete with plush couches, TVs from the 50’s, and food served while you’re naked) and people are just hanging out…fun. Then from this bastion of testosterone you get to go to the baths. I swear to god, an American YMCA from the 1970’s was “cooler” than this. This place was shit. It was like walking into the changing area of an old folks home. They had some nasty pools, and some nasty showers, and some nasty massage areas where dudes rubbed on dudes in private. The only cool thing was the sauna, which had this gigantic oven where they threw water in over and over and over smiling the whole time (like smiling to the point that it got a little scary…where are your meds dude). Then a guy would come around and fan you. Which was designed to make you hotter! and it was already like the fiery hells of Hades in there. They also have these birch branches that you are supposed to hit yourself and others with…to release the toxins they say…I say bullshit. I enjoyed the sauna part of it, but I am a bonafied wuss monster (you are supposed to douse yourself with cold water when you come out but holy shit it was too cold). (Sanduny Banya, and finding this place was fuckin hard!)

Another recommended activity is using the Metro. Let me tell you something, I lived in New York for a short while, and a friend of mine and I used to take subway passages (primarily under grand central) for many many blocks to avoid bad weather. We called it the Khyber pass and felt like we were going miles underground. Well, I have never, ever walked so far in a single “station” as I did in Moscow. They have levels built over levels built over levels. They have passageways that lead in every direction in so many places. I could not believe it. I got lost on a level that made me wonder if I would succumb to moleman-dom. What makes it so hard is…the language barrier! They don’t give a fuck about English, no signs, no speech, no nada. And again, your map may say “teatro station” or something to that effect, but that is not how it is spelled in Russian, and that’s how they spell it in the metro. Great experience, but oh my, was I inept.

I took the tour bus around the city. Yup, the driver and ticket taker locked us in that bus for 45 minutes while they went to eat lunch. Locked us, in the hop on hop off bus, for 45 minutes, while they went to eat lunch. When he came back I thought we were going to fight. Everyone on the bus was yelling in a different language, if I wasn’t so mad it would of been god damn hilarious. Other than that the bus tour is also totally pointless if your hotel is anywhere near Red Square.

A city built on caviar and vodka is cool. Caviar is still everywhere (and delicious but not different), but beer is now their number one drink…not so cool anymore now are ya vodka. I tried as many national dishes as I could…the fish with cream sauce…meh, some wild mushroom dishes…eh, beef stroganoff…rrrrrrr, and I tried the borscht…fuck off. Russian food…more like BOREophyll.

Anyway, done with Russia.

Notes to self:

-Everybody recommends cafe Pushkin. I would say that I liked it, but it was a little like a Colonial restaurant at Busch Gardens where all of the staff is dressed up. The atmosphere calls for it (tsar style to the extreme) and the staff gave top notch service so being “dressed up” in whatever period was appropriate made sense I guess, but it still made me feel like it was an amusement park. The food was really good but I thought the stroganoff was boring. Once I was 2 martinis in I didn’t care about much though. Excellent service and a true old world Russian experience.
-I had to try a Russian strip club. Nyet. Supposedly the number one spot is Rasputin. Bored girls who primarily are not Ryssian. Decor is cheesy. Cover was like 25 bucks and you got nothing with that. Drinks were not so expensive but there is also a club rule where they don’t give change for less than 500 rubles (about 10 bucks), thus every time a girl dances on stage she comes up to you for a tip (I’m a sucker and always feel bad), and the only denomination you have to tip in is 10 bucks. I thought this plan was stupid and just created an environment where nobody wins, the girls definitely included. I left quickly.
-O2 Lounge at the Ritz Carlton. A must do. MUST. This rooftop bar and patio is absolutely stunning. The view of Red Square at night is just unimaginable. Perfect scene.


Golden Apple Boutique (May 2015)