At first sight Russia often comes off as a very cold and stern country; the weather, language, even the comedic accent that actors use in movies adds to this image. When I was a kid I thought everyone there walks around in a military uniform while listening to Alexandrov Choir cassettes on their Walkman. I couldn’t have been further from the truth…for the most part. Russia and Moscow, in particular, are the best example of the “old meets new” vibe. You can go see the famous Nutcracker, have a dinner at posh, modern fusion restaurants, visit an art gallery and go for a few drinks at a bohemian club. And all this you can do within walking distance from the Kremlin. Moscow is a city of literature, progress, and some might even add oppression, violence, and conquest. The undeniable fact is that Moscow is a monument celebrating all those who have contributed to the Soviet legacy. The city is remarkably clean, streets are spotless and advertising is limited. You won’t be bothered by billboards around every corner, which is a bit refreshing. I’m starting to think that Steven Seagal and Gerard Depardieu weren’t insane when they took the Russian citizenship offer.
This former glory and pathos are deeply rooted in Moscow, and I mean literally rooted; Moscow Metro is one of the most impressive networks of that kind in the world. You will encounter still those old-school Soviet trains. Back in the good old days they were supplied to every single metro in central Europe. We used to call them Sergey’s when I was in high school. Grab a travel pass while you’re there, it’s like €5 for 3 days. The 222 stations are more like underground art galleries or palaces. It’s as if they swept all the things they’re really proud of under the rug; many things Russian can’t or shouldn’t flaunt in the open. Take Mayakovskaya station, for example, it’s textbook Stalinist architecture, and actually where he lived during the World War 2. Elektrozavodskaya is also stunning with different shades of marble and sculptures of working-class men and hammer + sickle symbols. Oh, and they have free Wi-Fi in all means of public transport.
Russians are very proud of their contribution to space exploration. Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space and they like to remind the world of that fact every chance they get. Monument to the Conquerors of Space and the museum at its base are some of those things you just have to see. The monument is enormous, over 100m tall and made almost entirely out of titanium. The museum is filled with relics such as old space suits, rocket and capsule prototypes, various models and wax figures of cosmonauts. Interesting stuff, whether you believe in all that space travel mumbo-jumbo or not. I am on the fence when it comes to that, just sorry about all those dogs they sent out there. The Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines (http://www.15kop.ru/) at Ulitsa Kuznetskiy Most, 12 is another spot for true geeks. It has over 40 working machines and the collection is still growing. Kids nowadays don’t appreciate those wondrous times of simple entertainment. I actually cannot blame them, spoilt as they are nowadays with hyper realistic games and movies. They probably see it as not more than a junkyard, but back in the days it was really something.
The Red Square is the thing they show by default on TV when talking about Moscow; it’s the focal point of the capital. If anyone ever had the balls to bomb Russia, this would be the spot to drop them. The square is packed with Russia’s most famous monuments. The Kremlin, royal citadel and residence of the current Russian president needs no further introduction. Next to it is the Mausoleum of Lenin, which contains Comrade Lenin’s mummified remains. Another famous and colourful eye-catcher on the Red Square is the St. Basil's Cathedral, which is very “unique” to say the least, in my opinion, reminiscent of makeup smears after a hard night of drinking. Legend says that Ivan the Terrible gauged the architects' eyes so he couldn’t build anything as “beautiful” ever again. Ivan the Terrible doesn’t sound like a master of sarcasm so I suppose he genuinely loved this building, each to their own I suppose. Out of all these iconic buildings I find GUM to be the most interesting. The former Soviet State Department Store is now one of the largest shopping malls in Moscow and actually looks a bit like it was ripped off of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. This is the place where the rich and the beautiful of Moscow pay exorbitant amounts for exclusive food and the latest trends in fashion and design. It is truly fascinating and ironic to have a temple to capitalism on such a venue. Life in Russia is full of paradoxes and absurdist situations and GUM is an evident demonstration of that.
You cannot leave Moscow without having had your fair share of the local nightlife, which is pretty overwhelming. The night clubs in Moscow can easily compete with the most exquisite clubs in New York, LA, London and Paris. It’s truly fascinating to see the bold and the beautiful of Moscow in their natural habitat, where they easily spend thousands of euros during one single night. Usually people go in a company and book a table in advance. The will order snacks, chilled champagne, cocktails and of course hookah. At some stage they will be completely full but that will not prevent them from ordering new rounds of drinks and foods. The more stuff you have on your table and the more beautiful your female company the more important you are. It is as simple as that. Showing off is in the gens of Russians and especially the Muscovites. Moscow’s most legendary club is Night Flight, which is on Moscow’s main street Tyersakaya, just a few steps away from the Red Square. It’s already a challenge to pass the bouncers due to the strict face control and entrance policy. But once you are in, the reward will be high. Be prepared to take part in an amazing scene of wealthy tourists, expats, international businessmen, Russian oligarchs, politicians, film stars and photo models partying all night long. Some other night clubs which are popular with foreigners are Gipsy, Icon, Jagger Bar, Valenok and Miks. Bear in mind that the scene can change very quickly; clubs come and go. So check out the Moscow Times or other local city nightlife guides to learn about the new hot spots in town.