This past week I saw the latest installment of the Die Hard film franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard. It takes place in Moscow and there are a lot of great panoramic shots of the city. I was itching to return. One thing, however, was missing – the massive Rossiya Hotel looming in the background near Red Square.
The Rossiya Hotel, built in 1965 on the foundation of what was to be one of nine intended “wedding cake” buildings, of which seven were built (the Seven Sisters), is where I laid my head at night while on the Moscow leg of an educational tour to Russia. It was torn down in 2006, a year after I was there. When I think back to my stay a few things jump out: the sheer size, the Alexes, the intimidating gentleman who manned the elevator lobby, and the prostitutes.
I paid little attention to these when my group first arrived. I just wanted a shower, and thanks to Diana, my new friend and roommate on this Russian adventure, we got our room key quick. The only thing I noticed was that our bathroom was en suite and there was hot, odorless water (yes!). The walk down our hallway to the elevator an hour later, though, gave me my first inkling of how large a hotel we were staying in. It felt like we passed most of its 3,200 rooms.
Later that evening Diana and I decided to explore the hotel. We never found the movie theatre, or the 2,500-seat concert hall, but we did attempt to dine in one of the restaurants located on the even-numbered of its 21 floors. After running around the huge rectangle of a hotel, we finally found a restaurant with a view of Red Square. But it was closed. We tried another and it was closed too. Finally we found a convenience store on an odd-numbered floor and bought snacks.
Ill-sated, we walked along the Moskva River side of the hotel. We found some windows that gave us a view of the embankment. Cameras in hand and straps secured around our wrists, we unlocked the windows. To get better angles, while one of us leaned way out, the other would hold on to the other’s legs – just in case. A bit scary but worth it.
The following evening we met Alexei. He was Diana’s and my Belarusian waiter at dinner. Diana was helping me work on my “conversing with strangers” skills. She chose our waiter as my first exercise. He was barely twenty, and very excited to practice his English. By the end of the meal, we planned to meet later at the hotel. He’d bring his friend Alex, also from Belarus, and the four of us would speak English.
Before we were to meet the boys, Diana and I came up with our “safe phrase” to use should we feel uncomfortable or want to leave. Entering the lobby of the hotel around midnight, I noticed a good number of gentlemen in suits with scantily clad ladies draped over them in the seating area to the left of the main entrance. It took a moment to realize they were prostitutes. I had never knowingly seen a prostitute before. And I wondered why the men were not entertaining them upstairs.
When the boys arrived we started chatting and looked for a place to sit. The main seating area was occupied as already stated. There was a bar and lounge on the second level of the lobby, but since we were not buying anything they wouldn’t let us sit there. We thought we’d take the risk and see if they wanted to come to the room.
The intimidating man who manned the elevators halted us to say that the boys were not allowed upstairs. He said that the hotel doesn’t allow prostitutes beyond the lobby. That explained a bit, but we tried to tell him they were not prostitutes. He had no reason to believe us and refused us entry.
Irritated, there was only one place to go – outside. Diana and I, wearing flip-flops, were ill-prepared for the chilly March Moscow night. But we lasted until the boys had to catch their train. Emails were exchanged and photos taken. We said da svidaniya to our Belarusian boys and the following day we also said goodbye to Russia and the Rossiya Hotel.
If you’d like to see the Rossiya Hotel in a film, you can see it in The Bourne Supremacy around the time of the car chase.