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Moscow in Winter: Brilliant or Brilliantly Cold?

Buzz Poole
11/29/2011 - 00:00

I’m not sure if Moscow’s board of tourism has been muscling Western newspaper editors, but in the last week or so two high-profile articles appeared in the Guardian and New York Times. Both pieces are about the joys of winter in the capital, though the two authors have different takes on what makes this time of year in Moscow so great.

Phoebe Taplin writes for the Guardian about how Moscow is a city that must be explored on foot. She insists there is no better time of year to do it than winter: “Far from being a deterrent to visitors, Moscow’s legendary cold should be an attraction. The chance to explore the relatively empty streets, full of shining snow crystals, seasonal ice rinks and over-decorated trees, is far more interesting than the sweaty summer crowds around the Kremlin.” Taplin, who is also promoting a book about walking around Moscow, suggests all sorts of routes that reveal blocks of nineteenth-century carriage houses, cathedrals and parks that transport you back to the eighteenth century and museums (which are good places to warm up).

Rick Lyman, the Times deputy national editor traveled to Moscow with his wife to visit their daughter. His “Moscow in the Snow” opens in a slightly less romantic fashion, with a description of high-heeled women walking across the city’s ice-cragged sidewalks, comparing them to “mountain goats.” He writes: “Moscow, in the grip of the cold, is not everyone’s idea of a perfect vacation. It is a famously difficult city in general — especially for pedestrians, those with no Russian and anyone put off by pushy crowds, confusing signage and surly ticket sellers. Winter just makes it worse.” Lyman gets poetic about the quality of light on steely nights, but also mentions “drab boulevards and forbidding side streets.” After some communication breakdowns, long, cold walks and a visit to a bath, Lyman and his wife head to the famous Izmailovo flea market. Crowded with the energy that is Moscow in winter, Lyman ends his piece on a very strange note, which is really more of a punch line. In search of an embroidered tablecloth, one is found at the flea market, decorated with a winter scene on a tablecloth made by Williams-Sonoma. Namedropping an American brand name in the final sentence about winter in Moscow strikes me as a very strange choice. It would make more sense if the piece had been about the global economy, but even for all of his quips what Lyman makes clear is that the city and its citizens are a singular, hearty bunch with little concern for outsiders.

Have you been to Moscow in the winter? What did you think of it?

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