I had lunch on the roof top of the Ritz Carlton today.
The food was crap and expensive.
How can you mess up a club sandwhich to the point that its inedible?
The Russians can and they'll charge you $31 for the privledge.
The views were spectacular however.
I'd heard about the place the last time I was in Moscow, but -40 degrees has a way of dissuading you from standing on a roof top.
Portable gas heaters or not.
Hardy bunch these Ruskies.
The Gotham City building above is one of the "Six Sisters" ringing Moscow.
Built during the Stalin era, versions can be found throughout the former Soviet Empire. Many comrades resented these brooding blocks as they seemed to symbolise the ever watching State looming over the city.
I've always liked them myself.
Bordering Red Square is the Famous GUM department store. There's been a trading establishment of some sort or another here since 1521, though GUM itself was built in 1893. Its steel frame and glass roof were in its time the cutting edge of technology. In its glory years it was the largest shopping center in Europe (just before the revolution in 1917 had 1,200 stores). Stalin closed it in 1928 and converted it into office space for workers implementing the first of his infamous 5 year plans. It reopened in 1953 and became the scene Soviet Queues stretching at times across Red Square.
It was big, but in the workers paradise there wasn't much stock on the shelves.
Word would travel fast when everyday items like toilet paper arrived.
Bureaucrats and bus drivers alike would drop whatever they were doing and line up.
Its not like that now.
The shops are expensive.
Watches in jeweled cases with brand names I've never heard of indicates a level of exclusivity that translates into more $ than I have in the bank.
GUM has come full circle and sitting as it does directly opposite Lenin's tomb, has an air of smug irony.
As the cliche goes, Russia is a place of contrasts.
There are rich conspicuous consumers, Oligarchs, and plenty of flat headed security guys talking into their lapels, but there are also many struggling to get by.
My colleague and I were talking over our impressions of the place and we both remarked on the overwhelming melancholy that seems to saturate the air.
A smiling face is not a national trait.
Service in restaurants is so universally bad it desends into a funny farce.Meat handed, bull necked business men in bad suits are still very much a part of the landscape.
Wafer thin Blond molls are still to be seen tottering on improbably high heels.
Change is noticable though.
Not once were we asked for a bribe on this trip.
Progress of a sort I guess.
I'm flying back to London late tonight and off to Thailand tomorrow.
The Land Of Smiles will be a refreshing change of pace.
Stay well everyone