My image of Moscow came from Spitting Image, James Bond and current affairs (Litvinenko, corruption allegations, FIFA). What is it really like? It was my first visit and I had only 29 hours to find out.
Domodedovo airport, at 4.45am is minus 15 degrees C. Business as usual. It reaches minus 20 to minus 25C. They can do cold here. I take a coach to avoid airport taxi hounds and reach the Metro by 6am, joining drab half asleep commuters. It seems like it is snowing inside the carriage (did I imagine it?). I miss Paveletsky station, due to unfamiliar writing and general lack of signage (and sleep).
Above ground, lots of people scurrying around, hunched over. Is it just the cold, or is everyone here in a bit of a hurry? Workers sweep away the ice and frost with long reed brushes - surprisingly effective.
More by luck than judgement I find my hotel (highly recommended btw). The windows are triple glazed.
Off to groups via (overpriced) taxi. So much traffic! It takes nearly an hour on an 8-lane highway, going not that far. Cab weaves in an out, driver mutters as blue-sirened darkened-glass 4x4s sweep through. Every so often we crawl past an amazing building or vista.
Over dinner I learn that Russians like Brits and Italians more than Poles, that vodka is in fact very drinkable, that Moscow's population is nearer 12.5m than 10.5m (Wikipedia), due to migrants. Angry demo against non-Slavs the day before. Foreign Office advises non-white Brits to be vigilant here. Not a place for the faint-hearted.
The next morning, again stuck in traffic, only half an hour in Red Square, strange clash of Soviet era and commercialism, too cold to take many pictures. Back to Domodedovo on the express train.
A fleeting visit, some of my stereotypes persisted. Moscow is vast, fast, hard-working and rather surly. They can certainly cope with snow and cold. They have embraced capitalism wholesale. The traffic's appalling, the Metro's very good.
I'd love to come back and have a proper look.
Preferably in the summer.