There are two unforgettable moments that I believe every foreigner travelling to Moscow will have during their sojourn. The first is the imposing eminence one feels when stepping into Red Square for the first time. Imagining this place is time well spent; any fears of disappointment will evaporate in an instant. The imposing stature of this space, the gaping expanse, the powerful feeling of being submerged in history, is all real. The Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral are real, and better than what could ever be conjured in the daydreams of a student of Russia. The square embraces hundreds if not thousands of people at all hours of the day, natives and foreigners alike. It is here that one first believes he has finally made it to this beautiful country across the world.
The second moment is one’s first trip to Lenin’s Mausoleum. Even for those not particularly interested in Russia’s history, the feeling one has in the mausoleum is inescapable. It is dark, ominous, and secretive. Compared to the time spent waiting and traveling through the lines into the crypt, you see Lenin for only a moment. But, he is there! If ever a history of a whole century could be imagined in a moment, it is upon seeing him lying there. The experience leaves you only with speechlessness.
Despite these two moments, I cannot say that either truly defines what my experience in Russia thus far has held. Both remind one of the past, of what constitutes the Russian soul, and their collective memory. But what of today’s Russia? In my view, there is only one place in Moscow that demonstrates what it means to live there today: Парк Горького, Gorky Park.
Gorky Park is a massive space near the center of Moscow where young people, families, and the elderly alike go to spend time with a variety of amusements. There are beautiful flower gardens, innumerable fountains, and places to hike in the forest. There is a beach with real sand and water that smells of the sea. There is a complex for all sports imaginable, even the obscure: beach volleyball, table tennis, and chess, among others. The grounds are littered with ice cream shops, little food stands, and full service restaurants. One can visit a variety of nearby exhibits or walk along the Moscow River, even go to an outdoor movie theater.
I have only been in Moscow for a few weeks now, but much of my time is spent in Gorky Park. It is ideal in which to relax, to study, to do work, to exercise, and to think. There is so much to do and so much to see that it feels impossible ever to grow bored in this beautiful place. A few years ago, the Russian government charged an admission price to enter the park. For now, it is free to all. This decision reflects a different character both of the Russian people and their government, a genuine consideration for happiness.
It is not an overstatement to say that Gorky Park is my favorite place on all of earth. It can always be a place to which to return after a long day of study and excursions. I hope that all who read this will have the fortune to visit this oasis.
By: William O’Brien