Martyn Andrews is a travel and food expert who spends most of his time between Moscow, London and Cyprus. He has presented over a hundred programmes on the Russian capital, with its glittering new shopping malls, towering skyscraper bars, and breathtaking restaurants. With a staggering history welcome to the most misunderstood city in the world – Moscow… where vodka can be cheaper than water!
A city of change, a city of extremes! In just two decades since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Capital has transformed itself into a world of wonders as the recent economic development has produced a sensational playground for the international jet set. Shadows of communist control may still exist in the metropolis of over 15 million people and the capitalist dream has certainly been achieved. As one of the most expensive cities in the world, a visit to the largest city in Europe today might not be cheap, but it will totally wipe away any images of grey buildings, dull nightlife and sloppy food.
Extreme is the word here. Two seasons – minus 30 in the winter, plus 30 in the summer and rusty Ladas drive next to blacked out BMW. Tres Chic. New Russia is all about “show” that’s for sure. But what is there to do here? Tourists are met with an endless list of sights and attractions: the fairytale onion domes of the Kremlin and Cathedral Square, historic Red Square and Lenin Mausoleum, the magnificent Metro with its mosaics, chandeliers and marble designs and visitors are presented with a choice of over 150 museums from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts to the Museum of Ice in Solokniki Park.
Gay life there is – and they live there in their tens of thousands. Previous Soviet attitudes bring about an obsession with strength and masculinity – with this in mind, Moscow is about the body beautiful, hot guys and the latest fashion. Kitsch music? Check! Vodka shots? Of course! Language barriers might be a hurdle and most gay locations are not easy to find, but one thing for sure the racing gay hot-spots and life in Moscow will rid any First time visitors of their negative pre-conceived ideas. Pride parades might be cancelled… but gay life in all its glory (and naughtiness!) still thrives here.
Central Station is the largest club in the city. A huge warehouse that has been transformed into a crazy complex of large rooms, The ground floor brings a karaoke room, cafe, dance floor with live entertainment (bring on the famous Russian drag queens) and an outdoor terrace. Upstairs you are met with topless go go dancers, thumping music and 500 Russian hunks dancing to the latest dance tracks. What a sight… Time to get learning the Cyrillic alphabet hey?
Moscow offers much more than matryoshka dolls and caviar. Once the main sights are done what else is there to explore? Here are some suggestions to make a trip to the Russian Capital an adventure you will never forget, it’s discovering the lesser known areas of Moscow where the real fun begins;
THE BREATHTAKING BANYA
To sample a true Russian tradition, why not visit one of the capital‘s hidden banyas. Blissfully bathe in the sumptuous 19th century Sandunovsky spa and learn how to de-stress the Russian way! (Male and female areas are separate). Here in the beautifully decorated bathhouse you can enjoy steam, showers and freezing cold plunge pools. The highlight? Why not enter the sauna and get beaten with “veniki” birch twigs. Said to increase your circulation, suddenly the cold winter seems a million miles away! Ulitsa Neglinaya,14. www.sanduny.ru
THE SOVIET CINEMA
Often described as the largest and oldest film studios in Europe, “Mosfilm” was established in November 1923, and has produced over 3,000 widely-acclaimed Soviet films. Outdoor back lots, costumes, vehicles and real life film sets, you’ll find it all here, and don’t be upset if it rains on your tour. Remember – Moscow does not believe in tears! Mosfilmovskaya Ulitsa.
THE MUST HAVE MATRYOSHKA
The lively souvenir market at Izmailovsky Park is full of life and is an absolute must-see for all visitors to Moscow. Its wooden Disney land style mock fortress is not easily missed, although with most guide books giving the wrong metro stop, it can be difficult to End. Enjoy haggling over amber jewellery, Soviet art, traditional nesting dolls and kitsch Cold War chess sets and stop off for an authentic shashllk — the best in Moscow. Partizanskaya Metro Station.a
THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
Crumbling warehouses and old Soviet factories no more. Many are being renovated into exciting and diverse cultural outlets. The former Red October Chocolate Factory located on Bolotny Island is now at the forefront of Moscow’s artistic and entertainment scene. The former plant is being replaced with new social facilities as the area aims to become a new self-sufficient community. With the faint smell of chocolate in the air, drinking in the many new clubs and bars is as close to Willy Wonka as you‘ll ever get. Very 2011. Ulitsa Bolotnaya Naberezhaya (Embankment).
SECRETS OF THE DEEP
Maybe it’s Cold War paranoia, maybe it’s the fall·out of various spying scandal, but Moscow always seems to have a few more secrets than most cities. If you want a top secret excursion head to the Cold War Museum in Taganskaya. Located 18 floors beneath Moscow’s streets this decommissioned ex-military communications post offers kilometres of eerie underground tunnels, actors that play the roles of KGB officers, hands on exhibits, flashing lights, costumes and dramatic raid sirens. A dramatic experience. Not recommended for claustrophobe’s, but definitely for the energetic and historically inquisitive! (Requires advance booking)
THE HIGH RISE SURPRISE
Welcome to “Sky Lounge”! Located on the 22nd floor of the Academy of Sciences, an alluring girl in a tight purple dress stares suspiciously from behind her Christian Dior sunglasses. “A Moscow Mule please” she purrs. The pulsating room is full of joyful chatter; the interior is sultry yet modern. The bird’s eye view boasts some of the best sights of the city. The prices are sky-high, but what were you expecting? (This is VIP Moscow!) And who cares!? Didn’t you know Moscow new Skyscraper bars are the places to be? Just good luck Ending it. Most don’t even know it’s here! Leninsky Prospekt 32.
THE ART ATTACK
Once filled with the intoxicating aroma of wine, today the Vinzavod art centre and exhibition space is filled with the heady anticipation of creation, where the new history of Russian art is being created. The complex houses dozens of buildings showcasing various shops and galleries. The hidden are of Vinzavod is also home to artists’ and photographers’ studios, avant-garde clothing stores and a stylish art cafe. Earthy, raw and exciting — just good luck finding it! Syromyatnicheskiy Pereulok, 1, Building 6.
THE UNDERGROUND OPERA
The hypnotising sound of Tchaikovsky — soaring strings, rousing crescendos and soothing melodies. Russia is a classical music lover’s paradise, and no visit to Moscow should be without a visit to the ballet or opera. However, just in case you can‘t wait until your evening performance, head to the subterranean pedestrian passages of “Okhotnyi Ryad” underground shopping mall near Red Square. Often the entire 30 piece orchestra busks during their lunch hour — tubas and harps to boot! An amazing sight and wonderful memory to take home. Beats the drunk with the cardboard guitar… Okhotnyi Ryad, Manege Square.
No visit to the Russian Capital is complete without visiting the spectacular Metro system. A dazzling display of a Soviet dream project, the underground interiors range from grand and gothic to chic and stylish (complete with chandeliers). But what about Moscow’s secret number two Metro? A purported secret, the system was supposedly built during the time of Stalin and was codenamed D-6 by the KGB. Connecting key government buildings to various locations of national importance – it is still one of the most discussed urban legend in Moscow. The Kremlins response? The existence is neither confirmed nor denied!
THE NOVEL IDEA
Patriarch’s Ponds. The perfect place to hide. A beautiful oasis inside the concrete jungle of the capital. As car horns blare in the distance, a parallel sanctuary of pretty tree lined streets overlook this picturesque area. A timeless world, vibrant in all seasons – ice skating in the winter, picnics inthe summer. No wonder Bulgakov made it the setting for his magical tale “Master and Margarita”… For that’s what this, secret area of Moscow definitely is. Mayakovskaya Metro, Malaya Bronnaya
THE SOVIET CHIC
The secret hunting ground for stylish expats and local eager young wannabees? The “Denis Simachev” boutique and bar. The designer’s clothes famously combine images of the hammer and sickle. Here, Soviet legacies are in (just don’t look at the price tag). Simachev‘s flagship store turns into a swanky night venue, where beautiful people pose like peacocks, ritzy vodka cocktails flow and Russian Vogue’s latest cover is heavily debated. That’s if you’re allowed in. Stoleshnikov Pereulok 12, Building 2.
THE SECRET TERRACE
Once feared by millions, today the former KGB headquarters stands opposite western car dealers and sushi restaurants. The best view of the grand yellow building- the comparatively unknown terrace of “Loft Cafe” — is situated opposite, on the top floor of the Nautilus Shopping Mall. This cute and cosy venue is one example of the bubbling world of Moscow‘s aspiring middle class, offering affordable, unspoilt and excellent Mediterranean food with an accent on French specialities. With the historic view thrown in, “Loft Cafe” is the perfect place to wind down. lust don’t tell too many people it’s here! 259, Nikolskaya Ulitsa, Lubyanka.
THE LUXURY VILLAGE
For those in the know, Rublevka is the unofficial name of the capital’s version of Beverly Hills. A prestigious residential area to the west of Moscow, many government officials, heads of state, successful business people and oligarchs live here. The Barvikha Luxury Village is at the heart of the area. Ferraris and furs are the order of the day.
THE ROOM WITH A VIEW
The Baltschug Kempinski hotel, located directly opposite St Basil’s and Red Square, was obviously designed to make an impression. Good enough for HRH Princess Michael of Kent and Elton john, many of its rooms have the best riverside views in Russia. Open the curtains to over a thousand years of history, and enjoy yoga with Kremlin views, along with one of the best Sunday brunches in town. This is one address you should use to impress. Ulitsa Balchug, Building 1.
THE BREATH OF FRESH AIR
The green, green grass of… Moscow? The Russian capital has far more parks, boulevards and gardens than most would think. For the ultimate city centre escape, head to Sparrow Hills near Moscow State University. Rising up to 220 metres, this viewpoint is one of highest areas in Moscow. A popular haunt for students, cheesy Russian weddings and more tourist tack, the main reason to come here are for the fresh air and panoramic views of the whole capital. Vorobyovy Gory,
THE MARVELLOUS MUSEUM
The Museum of Vladimir Mayakovsky is puzzling and fascinating. Both difficult to find and difficult to comprehend. Located through a small archway next to the old KGB building, it offers a glimpse into the life, loves and artistic works of perhaps Russia’s most famous Futurist poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky. The maze like lay out will baffle most visitors, and the Alice in wonderland angular designs, exhibits and interiors only add to the bizarre yet creative visions the late soviet hero presents. Lubyansky Proyezd 3/6, Kitai Gorod. Moscow 101000