For most cities from the air, the weather takes a more dominant role than any topographical or construction oddities; sunlight bleaches the landscape, snow blanks it out, clouds blank out even that blanking out. Once you’re in the city, the homogenisation continues; you’re lumped in the back of a vaguely-recognisable car marque and hustled through unfamiliar traffic before a dolled-up desk assistant at your hotel takes a credit card number and dispatches you to an internationally-acceptable hotel room, distinguished only by the leaflets on the business desk and the brands of toiletries / beverages supplied.
But there’s a brief window, between weather and hustle, where you see the city for what it is, just as the plane swoops in: Dubai was empty desert punctuated by giant ‘f*ck-you’s built by sheikhs with too much oil; Vegas was a single gleaming street amidst suburbs that stretch out into desert shacks; Vancouver (or was it Toronto?) tastefully stretched into the mountains, demure and quiet, L.A. distastefully sprawled to the limits of its land-mass, London looked like Eastenders, and so on.
Moscow teases you with its size, interrupting endless woodland with fields and estates. The latter vary from tiny collections of shacks on massive allotments to housing estates comprised of country Estates and mansions, to a single gleaming dome of gold I caught sight of looming above the treeline; nearly all are brand new. When you finally get near the city centre, it’s a terrible combination of 70s blocks of flats, amazing monolith Soviet official buildings and weird tasteless new buildings built presumably with oligarchs fattened on fleecing the state. All of these are encircled by a solid steel band of unmoving traffic that fades at night and midday but never really disappears.