The distance between Moscow and St. Petersburg is about the same as between New York and Chicago, but at least for me, as probably for most travelers, the journey between them didn’t really give any sense of distance or land in between, as it consisted basically of boarding an overnight train, drawing the curtains and waking up eight hours later in a new city. It’s like two planets separated by a void. Maybe there’s something to that. Russia must be the country where the capital cities have most thoroughly sucked all the energy and life out of the surrounding provinces, as indicated by the fact that most estimates seem to range around 70% of the country’s financial capital being in Moscow.
On the other hand, Moscow does possess a real greatness, and with its hills and forests and monasteries, in some ways has more character than St. Petersburg’s dictatorially imposed obeisance to the flat, straight-lined, symmetrical ideals of conflict-free harmoniousness, like the Ritalin-enforced peace of an elementary school. It is also more alive: more money, more people and, despite the stereotype of “Russian” Moscow in contrast to “Western” St. Petersburg, Moscow is now a much more international center than St. Petersburg, which is basically just a fancy-looking provincial city.
But this liveliness seems more than a little unhealthy. The money and prices in Moscow are more than inflated. We stayed at the Marriott, which granted is probably not exactly typical, where rooms are $1000 a night, a omelette and coffee for breakfast goes for $65, and wireless access is $15 an hour. That would be one thing in New York or London, but in Russia that $1000 is equal to a sixth of average yearly income. I can’t help thinking that the bubble that is modern Moscow is a bit like taking a Viagra and getting an erection lasting for more than six hours: you might be amazed that such intensity of pleasure could last for so long, but in the end you’re still going to have seek medical attention or risk permanent damage.
p.s. The Moscow Marriott, like any good American hotel, claims saving water as the reason for which they only change your sheets if you request it, which is kind of funny, not just for trying to play the environmental awareness card in Russia, but because the water pressure in the shower, glorious as it was, makes me doubt somewhat the depth of their devotion to the cause of water conservation. Bathing with that thing is like aiming a hurricane at yourself. I’ll be dreaming about that while cautiously dribbling cold water over myself when showering for the next two weeks due to the fact that they turn off the hot water in apartments in St. Petersburg in the summer, allegedly to make repairs.