So, like, what day is it right now? This crossing 10 time zones thing is kind of a beast. I’m experiencing Memento-levels of disorientation here where whenever I wake up, I have to kind of do an inventory to figure out what the hell is going on.
But jet lag aside, Day One of my journey was wonderful. And by Day One, I’m referring to the roughly 36 hour period of non-stop wakefulness that concluded at 8:00 pm Moscow time when I finally passed out.
Except for the sheer amount of time it took, the trip here from the US was uneventful. I need to get in a glowing review of Singapore Airlines, which has completely ruined domestic US air travel for me. I mean, you walk onto the plane, and the air is perfumed. There is a pillow and blanket waiting for you at your seat. Prior to takeoff, they pass out hot towels to everyone. The booze is free, even in coach (Paul, the new NES intern and fellow Longhorn who was on the same flight, tried to drink his way through the menu and was not in great shape when we arrived). The food is edible. At one point, they give you a pair of fuzzy socks in a little Givenchy bag. Despite all of this pampering, I didn’t sleep a wink. I blame the in-flight entertainment system. Each seat has a little screen loaded with dozens of current movies and television shows, including complete seasons of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. I was honestly a little disappointed when we landed.
Russian passport control and customs were surprisingly efficient, and my bags were already out and helpfully grouped together on the floor when we got to baggage claim. Good on you, Moscow Domodedovo. Paul the Intern and I were greeted by a driver and representative from the New Economic School, and we immediately got a taste of Moscow traffic, which is like New York traffic but with fewer rules.
My employer is putting me up in a temporary apartment in the Zamoskvorechye District while I look for a permanent place to live. Quick geography lesson: Moscow is laid out in a series of concentric circles that radiate out from the Kremlin. I am currently staying inside what’s called the Garden Ring, the oldest part of the city.
By the time I was left to my own devices, it was about 3:00 pm. I decided to combat jet lag by staying up until an hour that more closely resembled nighttime (I made it to 8:00). Also, I was super hungry, so did what I like to do in most strange cities: I picked a direction and just started walking (it was totally safe, I promise).
On my walk, I figured out how to turn my dollars into rubles (easy with an ATM card) and how to spend them (even easier, as a latte costs the equivalent of about 7 bucks). I went into a few stores and cafes to see what was available and to practice my terrible Russian, only to discover that a lot of people know at least some English. I spent my time in line at a coffee shop mentally practicing my order, and when I cheerfully fumbled through it, the barista just smiled at me like “what an adorable moron” and asked, “For here or to go?”
This area of Moscow is pretty much everything you could possible want from a European city. The streets are charming and lined with charming, tiny eurocars. The young people are impossibly hip, and I saw at two fashion photo shoots in progress on a roughly 3 mile walk. There is an open-air market right outside my apartment building, where I bought fresh fruit, pastries, and tea for tomorrow’s breakfast. There was an entire kiosk just for caviar (икра).
There is a dizzying mix of the ultra-modern and stuff that’s older than anything in the US. And around every corner, you stumble over things like this:
I walked in the general direction of the Moskva River and suddenly realized that on the horizon, I could see the domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral and the outline of the Kremlin. It’s impossible to convey through crappy iPhone pictures just how breathtaking this was.
I promised Ed I wouldn’t go see the big stuff without him, so at this point, I started heading back. On the way, I turned down a pedestrian-only street near the Tretyakov Gallery and found this little impromptu concert and just stopped to relax and listen for awhile. Over where I was sitting, a group of dudes who looked very high were dancing and playing bongo drums. I was just high on sleep deprivation, but this somehow felt like the perfect way to cap off the day. It somehow felt like Moscow and Austin all at the same time.