Between 1989 and 2012, I worked in the international pharmaceutical industry (yes, the sometimes murky world in which my thrillers are set). During that time, I travelled to more than fifty countries, but gradually more and more of my time was spent in Russia and the Former Soviet Union countries. I met wonderful people, visited incredible places and built a fantasic collection of memories. This new, monthly series is designed to share some of those memories. And we’re starting with the capital, Moscow.
I’d been travelling to Moscow for several years by the time my husband, Michael, accompanied me on his first visit. But he summed up in a few words what I had been feeling for some time. “It’s like the Wild West” he said as the taxi from the airport drove us past dark brooding residential buildings, interspersed with the bright, flashing lights of casinos and night clubs. And so it was; a mixture of the old and the new, the sedate and the brash.
In the post-Soviet days of the 1990s, Moscow always felt just a bit more edgy than anywhere else in the country; and nowhere more so than at the airport. For many years, the introduction for all visitors was the interior of Terminal 2 at Sheremetyevo. Built in 1980 in preparation for the Summer Olympics, it was sombre, dark and very, very crowded. It was not unusual to queue for an hour or more to pass through immigration and I quickly learned not to count the number of people in front of me, as it was too depressing. And when leaving the country by the same route, I would often hold my breath until the customs official had stamped my papers and waved me through. It was difficult not to feel guilty, even when there was no cause, under such a stern gaze.
For all my visits in the early days, I was accompanied by someone from my host company and all I remember was how very busy the streets were and how I decided I wouldn’t want to drive there. But when I left ‘big pharma’ and went out on my own, I had to make my own away around, which meant learning to use the Metro. The stations were huge, echoing halls with massive statues and wonderful decoration; I loved travelling through them. Apart from the first time. I had carefully listed all the stations on my journey, in cyrillic, on a piece of paper, so I would know when to get off. But I hadn’t realised that when more than one line crossed at a station, each line had a different station name. Imagine my horror when, having taken the correct train and recognised the first three stations, I found that the fourth one was a completely different name from the one I expected to see! It took a while to work out that it was the list that was wrong, not the train. And when I finally arrived at my destination, I couldn’t work out how to leave the station. The word for Exit was one of the first I learned, and I still know it today: Выход
Sightseeing in Moscow was always memorable: Red Square, with Lenin’s mausoleum, Gum department store, St Basil’s Cathedral, and Stalin’s tomb; the Kremlin with its cluster of cathedrals, museum housing the Romanov’s jewellery collection and clothes belonging to Catherine the Great, and the theatre where I saw a brilliant interpretation of The Nutcracker; and the wedding cake buildings otherwise known as the Seven Sisters or Stalin’s Skyscrapers.
Moscow was always somewhere that I passed through or visited only briefly on my way to or from somewhere else. But it made a deep impression on me. I wouldn’t say Moscow is Russia’s most beautiful city, but it is certainly the most magnificent.
Note: Moscow is a city of more than 12 million people, located in the north west of the Russia, on the Moskva River. It is the seat of the Russian Parliament, home to the Russian President and a cultural, economic and financial centre, It is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the world.
Moscow is just one of the locations featured in my prize-winning novel Gorgito’s Ice Rink. A tale of love, loss and broken promises, it tells the story of one man through the eyes of the people whose lives he touched. You can download your copy now by clicking here.