Moscow is like a candy box filled with dome-shaped chocolates. It is sweet, tender, and incredibly childish. It melts on your tongue with a sticky mellow aftertaste and tingles the skin with anticipation of a joyful romance.

I first came to Moscow for the university. It was not until my third year that I started exploring the city’s wide outskirts and cramped central streets. Back then the city served to the powerful, it was tumultuous and cold-hearted. And yet, in the sea of gloomy faces, you could always spot a gleaming smile of a friend. He would take you to a desolate green field, now lost forever to the grandiose grounds of Tsaritsino palace, and you two would wallow in the grass, drink wine and savour the tingly sour apples, picked from the nearest garden. It was the city of my innocent youth and it still follows me around whenever I look into the Moscow skies.

After graduation I headed towards my western dream, leaving Moscow behind. When I was boarding the plane to New York I did not bother to look back, and all the memories I created were locked away in a dark place that I couldn’t reach. Two years later, I came back to a different city, the one that I did not know well. Its novelty was mesmerizing, making me breathe deeper and stare longer, as the air was unfamiliar and sweet and the buildings were tall and fascinating. Slowly I started to relive the same memories, yet they were more vivid and rich as if someone took them from the attic and refreshed their colors.

Most tourists think of Soviet-style buildings when they think of Moscow, but in the past two years, the city transformed itself. You won’t see the communist ugliness anymore, and in a rare case that you do, it leaves you in awe and perplexed at how tyranny can surrender to tenderness so eagerly. The heart of the city is all there on the Red Square, but its soul is dispersed in the thousands of crooked alleys and vast green parks, where the trees rise to the kingdoms of heaven. That’s where you see Moscow relaxed and happily idle when the big parent isn’t watching.

Some cities make you abrasive and competitive, some are like a wave of warm air – they make you melt open. It is important that you experience both, but it is in those leisurely cities, undisturbed by the sins of fame, that you find happiness. Awakening after my first night back home, in the old Soviet style apartment, I looked out of the window and the world was white. It was the day of the first snow. Only the occasional swooshing sounds of a broom interrupted the quietness. On that snowy chilly morning, for the first time in years, I felt like I was back into life, freed from the nagging anxieties about future projects and goals. This is why Moscow is so special – when the burden of life becomes unbearable, it gently ushers you back into the present, makes you forgetful, hopeful, charmed by its gorgeous colors, and lulled by the calmness of its alleys.

Moscow is a giggling girl carefree cavorting through lawns in summer, a serious student peering over books in fall, a startling white queen in winter and a tender-hearted lover in spring. But in all those dissonant states, this city is first and foremost – a beautiful woman. If amidst Seven Sisters’ gigantic shadows, Bolshoi theater imperial ambitions and the gleaming opulence of metro interiors you’ve been able to catch a glimpse of her dancing in the rain, then you’ve seen the true spirit of Moscow.

P.S. For the overview of things to do in Moscow check out this post here.