Moscow, Russia

  • Date
  • 31 August 1999

You have not really been to Russia, is my response to anyone saying they visited Russia if they spent time only in civilized Moscow or St. Petersburg. After two months of driving across 11 time zones, thank goodness for the sophistication of Moscow, where quality shops and restaurants exist. In fact, I found a great outdoor café just by the Kremlin. I took Jim for dinner and we relaxed sipping wine and eating caviar as our veal took shape in the kitchen.

Something seemed amiss, though. Around us people were too uptight and edgy for a trendy spot littered with New Russians. Men in Versace traveled between tables and beefy body guards’ cellular phones rang non-stop. I honestly imagined a turf battle brewing between several tables resulting in a shoot out. Our server added to the frenzy whispering, “As soon as I bring your entrée, you should pay. We have security problems.” And then, he muttered what sounded like, “BOMB.”

What? I must have misunderstood his English. Reaching across the table, I grabbed Jim’s hand, “We’ve got to get out of here. He just said BOMB!” Jim looked at me calmly, “No one else is leaving.” The New Russians continued to make calls, walk from table to table and huddle with each other in hushed conversation. I could not stand this any longer and interrupted two men, who sent over Sasha, a tall, but round, balding bodyguard who spoke a bit of English. He declared, “Ten minutes ago a bomb exploded 30 meters from here.” My first response, “Will there be another?” sent Sasha laughing, but he added, “No, finish your meals and clear out. The place will be packed with police and medics soon.” Our food arrived, we offered a credit card pronto and we inhaled the best food I had tasted in two months.

Sasha, ending a cell call as we departed, offered me a handshake and grin. As we headed toward the flashing blue lights of police, fire trucks and ambulances now lining the exterior of the Kremlin, I heard him yell, “Welcome to Moscow.”

(Subsequently, we learned a dozen bomb explosions had hit Moscow in less than three years.)