Wanderlust took me farther afield than ever before in May, to Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia. This child of the cold war had reservations about visiting Moscow, but longed to see Peter the Great’s city on the Baltic Sea, the “Venice of the North.” As it turned out, I’d be hard-pressed to say I enjoyed one city more than the other. Spring was in full flower in Moscow: lilac trees in the parks and at the foot of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square. Acres of red and yellow tulips in Alexander Garden along one side of the Kremlin walls, and in the vast Victory Park marking the 50th anniversary of the defeat of Hitler. The central avenue has five terraces and 1,418 fountains.
Our group of four visited the park during the extended holiday weekend of Victory Day. Most remarkable sight: a gentleman walking up the terraces with his grandsons—or maybe his great-grandsons. He was wearing his World War II uniform, complete with cap, and his right chest was covered with medals. (Our guide said people call such a sight “iconostasis,” referring to the icon-studded altar screens that grace Russian Orthodox churches.)
I didn’t react quickly enough to beg his pardon and take his picture, but I’ll remember him always. Just think, he earned most of those medals as a young man fighting on the side of the Allies, against Hitler. Then later his country and ours were enemies in a nuclear standoff. Today, capitalism rules in the former Soviet Union, Russians travel freely to the West, and U.S. imports—particularly IPhones and IPads—are in great demand.