Thursday, August 15th 2002

If the VDNKh was a country, it would be as big as Monaco and the Vatican City put together. This huge area in the north of Moscow is the site of what used to be the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy, and is now a massive marketplace, where everything you can get in Moscow is on sale. I went there with Andrew and Paul who had been on the train.

At the entrance to the VDNKh is a monument to the Soviet exploration of space. By all sensible measures, the USSR dominated the early space race, being the first to put a satellite into orbit, a person into orbit, and probes to the Moon, Venus and Mars. In later years their dominance was eroded, and the Russian space programme suffered a crushing blow in 1996 when a Mars-bound probe, on which scientists had worked unpaid for years since the fall of the USSR, exploded in the Earth's atmosphere. Now they mainly do rent-a-space-station activities, taking obscene amounts of money from a select band of obscenely wealthy people to put them on the International Space Station for a week.

They achieved so much but fell so far, and for that reason I found the soaring monument quite poignant. The rest of the VDNKh was also pretty poignant, with giant pavilions formerly the site of exhibitions from all the Soviet republics now filled with market traders. Along broad avenues between the pavilions, fountains played under the hot sun, and triumphal arches towered over it all.

The whole time I was in Moscow I felt an atmosphere of fading grandeur. The city had been the capital of a superpower. The power had faded but the relics were left behind. Nowhere was this feeling stronger than at the VDNKh, where the former celebration of the achievements of communism was now overrun with pure capitalism. As the sun began to set, I head back to the Hostel Asia.

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