HashOut: 2007/09/15
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Magical Moscow

When flying to Moscow sit near the front of the plane and get off ahead of the crowd. Have a folding stool, water bottle and a good book in hand. You'll need them at immigration as it could take up to 4 hours to get through.

As you drive into the city, you pass the shabby suburbs you expect after years of spy movies and Cold War indoctrination. In between are multinationals like IKEA and McDonalds. In the city centre, most buildings are marvelous pastry confections in milky ice-cream colours -- citron, pistachio, strawberry, cappuccino -- with frothy architectural flourishes. Even the infamous Lubjanka, HQ of the KGB in the bad old days, is a pretty canary yellow.

Onion domes of churches (their congregations now flooding back), some gold , some midnight blue; cafes in shady parks and interesting little squares; restaurants in alleys close to traffic; cold drinks for sale on every corner: before you reach the hotel all your preconceptions will be blow to bits. Moscow on a bright summer evening is magical.

The big boulevards carry eight lanes of traffic each way: to cross on foot, take the underground passages lined with stalls. A pedestrian light tests your courage. When the green man flashes you get about half a second before traffic is unleashed like a herd of bulls. No warning beepers on the metro, either. Doors slam shut and the train accelerates instantly.

Red Square is a hundred times more beautiful and impressive than you'd have ever imagined, especially St. Basil's Cathedral with its cluster of domes and spires.

Passenger boats ply the river, making frequent stops. A ride of an hour, will take you in the crenellated towers, golden domes and red-brick walls of the Kremlin -- citadel of the Czars, headquarters of the old Soviet Union, now the seat of government and home of the president.

Strolling along the Arbat, a pedestrian street dotted with stalls, souvenir shops, street acts and restaurants, you will never be pestered once, although there are lots of beggars. Although, more people give to them than elsewhere abroad.

The sun doesn't set until 10.30pm. In the evening you can visit an outdoor restaurant in the warm twilight with a trio of balailakas playing. Then, from your hotel room, watch the full moon rising over the Kremlin.

No doubt it's different in winter, but on a summer evening Moscow charms you to death. Just don't forget the airport. The line to get out can be just as long.
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