After nine months in Moscow I lie in the sun on the banks of the river and realise that I have officially ‘settled in’ to Moscow. I am in no way a native, still struggling with unusual events like getting minibuses to far off locations and so forth, but I have developed my personal network of favourite places, I know metro stations and routes by heart, and I can identify most of central Moscow by sight. I turn onto tour-guide autopilot whenever someone comes to visit, and I have spent the last two weeks doing nothing that is so exciting that it deserves its own post.
At the same time, I have done so much in the last weeks. I discovered a printing shop and for the first time printed documents (I must have saved many trees this academic year!). I tasted three different kinds of ice cream, found hippos in Gorky Park and spent one evening in a club until I was blinded by the sun at 4 am. I barbecued with dorm mates and watched them try to get around the Russian bureaucracy which decided that on that day, grilling was too much of a fire hazard. I fought my way through metro stations, talked to a lady selling icons about her church, and worked out on the many open-air gyms. All of this has become a daily routine.
The wonder of the onion-domed churches and the large brick spires has worn off- I still take photos of them every time I see them, but less and less frequently I feel the need to go inside, explore and document every inch of them. The expectation that I will find what I want in stores is gone completely, and my ability to plan meals seems to have disappeared with it. I still celebrate every conversation where the other half doesn’t ask me where I’m from, to repeat myself, or switches to English. I still find street corners I have not noticed before, and enjoy the changes that warm air and summer sun has brought.
To the Russians, I am a tourist, and they still enquire about my family, where they are and where I am from. But I feel like half a resident and half tourist, I spend many of my bemused days watching people wander around the typical areas, marvel at the buildings, take selfies in front of everything. On a sliding scale of tourist, I’m not that tourist! No tourist would be outraged that the local café doesn’t sell pizza any more- unlike us, they would not even know that they used to have the best pizzas for 300 roubles. I begin to classify myself as the ‘long-term tourist’.
It’s my last evening in Moscow and the city seems to want to go out in style. Small side streets are filled with laughing people, a cellist plays in an underpass, and the music from a saxophone and an accordion create a strange contrast on the road. We find the Red Square cordoned off, but are treated to a fireworks display above the Kremlin as a final ta-rah. I leave for ‘the rest’ of Russia via the long train that is “the spine” (David Greene, Midnight in Siberia) of the country. I know that what faces me will be a completely different version of Russia- possibly more authentic. There are some things in Moscow that I will miss, but I’m happy to put on my ‘tourist’ hat and begin my travels, in search of new places and new lessons.