It’s 7.15pm in Moscow, and the taxi driver is screaming at me in anger. I’m not even sure what I’ve done wrong. “You don’t wear a seatbelt in Russia,” my friend Phil hisses at me. “It’s seen as an insult – you think the driver’s bad enough to have an accident.”
Wow. That’s some cultural difference. I landed about six hours ago, visiting Phil, who’s been working over here for a few months. I’m tired and want to find somewhere good to eat out in Moscow. I’m not in the mood to argue with a taxi driver and so I close my eyes as he veers through the sprawl to the historic city center.
Phil’s a good guide, and so the taxi drops us off at the Red Square – every tourist’s first thought of Moscow. It’s undeniably breathtaking, but Phil ushers me forward before I’ve a chance to take everything in. “Lots more time to appreciate it,” he says. “Let’s get something to eat now.”
He leads me off through a collection of side streets and, after about 500 meters, we come across ‘Cafe des Artistes’, a small restaurant on a pedestrianized road. The interior is a flamboyant mix of marble and velvet, with an improvised art gallery along the one wall. After a moment of indecision, we choose to sit outside – it’s the perfect place to people watch, and the street is buzzing with tourists and bohemian characters.
The food is brilliant, if expensive – rich, European cooking, and my garlic steak and fries is outstanding. As the evening draws on, the attentive waiters bring out blankets so we can remain outside, and we end the meal sipping ice-cold vodka, wrapped up warm against the chilly night.
I’ve been up for about twenty hours by now, but Phil has another trick up his sleeve. “Come on!” he commands, leading me a short way from the restaurant to the street corner where Tverskaya meets Mokhavaya. I’m greeted by what seems to be an impromptu, open air, rock concert. “They’re students from the Uni,” Phil explains. “They practice here most weekends.” The energy of the band – and the crowd around – means I quickly forget my exhaustion.
I didn’t expect this from Moscow – such life and energy on the streets. I’m really looking forward to my seven-day stay, although there’s one thing for sure – that I’ll be using the Metro to get about, rather than by taxi.
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