“A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” – this excerpt from a quote by Winston Churchill about Russia could not have summed up this fascinating nation more aptly.
Russia is a mystery indeed; a conundrum of sorts. It’s perhaps this quality of being mysterious that intrigues people from all over the world to visit the largest country in the world. Personally, Russia had always allured me, perhaps because that’s where my name originated!
With this blog, I’m taking you to Moscow, the enchanting capital of Russia. You will be charmed, for sure, just like I was.
The sea of non-English speaking denizens of Moscow includes the poor and needy, as well as those who account for the world’s highest sale of Mercedes-Benz. Such is Moscow; the city of many contrasts.
I entered Moscow from Sheremetyevo International Airport, one of the main airports in the city, the others being Vnukovo International Airport & Domodedovo International Airport which is also the largest airport in Russia.
After leaving the airport and on my way to the hotel, I was greeted by a massive traffic jam which made me feel no different than what I feel each day on the roads of Mumbai! However, I didn’t crib for too long as like its other European counterparts, Moscow too suffers from its share of traffic congestion and chaos.
World-class eating, factory clubbing and Soviet haunts collide in the best of new Moscow
Moscow suggests that age-old cliché, “a city of contrasts:” onion domes and concrete, avant-garde and bureaucracy, Vogue-thin beauties and sour cream-smothered beets — not to mention a populace as given to partying as it is to quoting Pushkin.
For visitors, the heavier side of the Russian capital has often outweighed the light, but in the past few years the best of Moscow has gained a serious spring in its step.
Now, disused factories host cafés and art galleries. Concrete-heavy parks sport free Wi-Fi and table tennis. Chefs whip heavy pelmeni and borscht into airy new concoctions. English-language signs guide visitors through ancient streets.
While this city of 11.5 million residents modernizes (some estimates place the population as high as 17 million), remnants of the Soviet past remain just below the surface.
Behemoths such as Stalin’s Gothic Baroque skyscrapers have triumphed against the course of history. But treasured spots like bliny cafés, a proletarian palace, and other landmarks struggle to survive.
While there’s a lot to see and do in Moscow, there are few things that you just have to do on a trip to the city. Some of my favourite Moscow must do’s include:
The Kremlin & Red Square
The Kremlin and the Red Square, two of the most famous and momentous sites of Moscow are located right next to each other.
A potent symbol of two mighty imperial cultures – that of medieval Muscovy and that of the Soviet Union – the Kremlin is at once fascinating and foreboding, a mixture of lavish opulence and austere secrecy, and its eclectic mix of architecture reflects these paradoxes and seismic cultural shifts.
Today, the Kremlin remains as alluring and enigmatic as ever. Two thirds of the citadel territory are closed to visitors, but the remaining third contains enough treasures to occupy several days of sightseeing. Not only one of the largest and most interesting museums in the world, but also the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation, the Kremlin is the perfect place to begin your tour of Moscow.
Kremlin is also a proud part of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Built directly east of the Kremlin, Moscow’s historic fortress and the center of the Russian government, Red Square is home to some of the country’s most distinctive and important landmarks. Its origins date to the late 15th century, when the Muscovite prince Ivan III (Ivan the Great) expanded the Kremlin to reflect Moscow’s growing power and influence.
An important public marketplace and meeting place for centuries, Red Square houses the ornate 16th-century St. Basil’s Cathedral, the State Historical Museum and the enormous GUM Department Store, as well as a modernist mausoleum for the revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin.
During the 20th century, the square became famous as the site of large-scale military parades and other demonstrations designed to showcase Soviet strength.
St. Basil’s Cathedral
Saint Basil’s Cathedral is perhaps the most well-known and well-recognised icon of Russia. The magnificent structure, the splendid colours and the fascinating shapes and patterns are every bit glorious as they are in all the pictures we’ve seen over the years. See it yourself to believe it.
Saint Basil’s is located at one end of Red Square, just across from the Spasskaya Tower of the Kremlin. Not particularly large, it consists of nine chapels built on a single foundation.
Although the towers and domes appear chaotic, there is symmetry and symbolism in its design. There are eight domed chapels symbolizing the eight assaults on Kazan: four large and octagonal and four small and square. In the center is a tent-roofed spire topped with a small golden dome.
The ninth chapel on the east side added in 1588 for Basil’s tomb interrupts the symmetry of design somewhat. It can be recognized on the outside by its green-and-gold dome studded with with golden pyramids.
Cathedral of Christ the Savior
The Cathedral of Christ the Savior (Russian: Храм Христа Спасителя, Khram Khrista Spasitelya) in Moscow with an overall height of 103 metres (338 ft), it is the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world. The building is magnificent, but not as old as it looks: it was rebuilt in 2000 after the original was demolished by Stalin.
The Cathedral was built to celebrate the victory over Napoleon and as a memorial to the heroic sacrifices of the Russian people. Alexander I signed the manifest on the cathedral construction in 1812 but it took many years before his dream came true.
The cathedral was consecrated only in 1883. Some of the best Russian painters of the time embellished the interior. The place was consecrated 44 years later, on May 26. 1883, the same day Alexander III was crowned.
In the 1920s, because of Soviet state atheism (and the good view from the Kremlin), Joseph Stalin wanted to demolish the Church. His idea was to build a huge monument (The Palace of Soviets) in its place. The abandoned site of the Palace was empty for almost two decades, but in the ’50s, the Soviets converted it to the world’s largest open-air swimming pool. It existed from 1958 to 1995.
In 1990, the Russian Orthodox Church wanted to rebuild the old Cathedral of Christ the Savior. More than one million Russians donated money, so in 1995 the Moskva Pool was destroyed, and they started to build the new Cathedral.
The complete Cathedral of Christ the Savior was consecrated on Transfiguration Day, 19 August 2000.
An evening at the Bolshoi is still one of Moscow’s most romantic and entertaining options for a night on the town. The glittering six-tier auditorium has an electric atmosphere, evoking over 235 years of premier music and dance. Both the ballet and opera companies perform a range of Russian and foreign works here. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Bolshoi was marred by politics, scandal and frequent turnover. Yet the show must go on – and it will.
GUM & TsUM
With more billionaires than any other city, Moscow is a mecca for extravagance and excess. Shopping malls are of course no exception. The two most celebrated malls are GUM and TSUM, with Moscow’s crème de la crème of international designers and boutiques residing here in opulent surrounds.
A good place to go after your tour around Red Square and Kremlin is the world famous shopping mall GUM. It will be crowded, but if you actually plan to shop, you shouldn’t worry. Most tourists just come to see the actual building (which is quite impressive) – the shops themselves are mostly empty. I have to admit, though, that the three tiered shopping mall is nowadays lacking truly unique Russian shops.
You will find, however, all the major labels like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dior and the likes. But since they all operate on internationally fixed prices, a visit (especially considering taxes on your return) might be a bit disappointing.
Since you will want to see Red Square anyway, there is no reason to not stop by at the GUM. The heydays of the shopping mall during the communist area, when it was virtually the only place in the whole of Russia where you could always find full shelves, is long past.
Now it’s just another luxury mall – in a very nice building admittedly!
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Russian: Могила Неизвестного Солдата, read: Mogila Neizvestnova Soldata) is a war memorial, dedicated to the Soviet soldiers killed during WWII. It is located at the Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden in Moscow. In front of the monument, there is a five-pointed star in a square field from which emanates the Eternal Flame from its centre.
A Changing of the Honour guard Ceremony takes place every hour in front this monument.
Manezhnaya Square (or “Manezhka” as we call it) is your all-in-one travel “hub”.
This place is Mecca for a tourist, a total “all-inclusive”. It sits right next to 2 of Moscow’s sacred tourist sights – The Kremlin and The Red Square.
That’s not to mention that “Manezhka” is beauty by itself – with fountains, domes, and decorated shores of Neglinkariver.
So there I was, staring at magnificent shopping mall that links straight to the metro. Dozens of shops, boutiques, cafes and fast-food restaurants like “Sbarro”, “Kroshka-kartoshka” and “McDonalds”. You could easily spend there your entire day without going to the surface!
Upstairs, there are many restaurants as well, including a cheap and tasty internet cafe. Check the rates – they’re surely better than your hotel’s!
When you’re done eating, walk along the shores of Neglinkariver, which was put underground during Soviet times. Today, Neglinka is free again, its banks decorated with fountains and statues from Russian fairy tales. Your kids will love those, I gua-ran-tee!
Do you really think you should miss such a place?
This small but charming Cathedral was built in the 17th century on the north side of the square near the Resurrection Gate. It was built to commemorate the repulsion of Polish invaders, and in honor of the Virgin of Kazan icon. One of the most revered icons in Moscow, it has been connected more than once with the struggle to protect Russia from her enemies.
The building is a cube topped with a cluster of domes and encircled by a gallery. In the north-west corner there is a bell-tower, and in the north-east the chapel of AverkiyIerapolskiy.
Peter The Great Statue
Peter the Great statue in Moscow is probably one of the most controversial Moscow landmarks there is. Built by the famous (probably Infamous) Georgian architect ZurabTsereteli, the monument is supposed to symbolize the greatness and glory of Russia and one of its most famous rulers.
Yes, Peter was cruel, but on the other hand it was Peter who created Russian Navy, it was him who built St. Petersburg which is considered world’s legacy by UNESCO, and he also gave Russia countless other innovations. The question remains – what is worth all the sacrifice?
Peter the Great statue is supposed to symbolize his achievements, and to some extent it’s doing its job. First of all, the statue is huge – its height is 98 meters, which is more than 320 ft! If you walk upon Krymskiy Val, you will immediately see the huge figure of Peter once you get close enough to Moscow River – you simply can’t miss it.
Peter is standing on board of a ship. Well, in fact he’s standing on a pile of ships with his being the biggest. The ships symbolize the Russian Navy – something that was non-existent before Peter the Great.
All of that symbolism is great, of course, but when it comes to esthetics, well….see for yourself. One can say that it’s a matter of taste, and I agree, but somehow it seems to me (and many, many other Muscovites) that this statue simply doesn’t belong there.
Do I recommend visiting it? Probably yes. Get there, take some pictures and look around – there’s much more than just Peter the Great statue. Would I go there again? Maybe for a walk, but not for the statue itself for sure.
Art Museum – Sculpture Park
This fascinating park is the final resting place for the many Soviet statues evicted from Russia’s parks and squares following the collapse of Communism. Founded in 1992, the park has been accumulating monuments for over 20 years, and today its collection comprises more than 700 sculptures, including some notable pieces by Vera Mukhina, Ivan Shadr, Yevgeny Vuchetich, Yevgeny Chubarov and a number of other contemporary sculptors.
In 2013 the Krymskaya embankment became a pedestrian zone and part of the Muzeonpark. Comfortable benches, a fountain, bicycle-hire and a cafe have transformed this place into a year-round hangout for young and old.
The Central Park of Rest and Culture Named After M. Gorky, to give it its full name, is one of the most famous places in Moscow (thanks presumably to Martin Cruz Smith’s grizzly tale of a psychopathic professor, and the Hollywood film it inspired – shot mostly in Stockholm). Laid out in 1928, this was the first park of its kind, and the prototype for hundreds of others across the Soviet Union.
The park stretches along the banks of the Moscow River, and is divided into two parts. The first is primarily of interest to children or those trying to entertain them, as it contains a range of funfair rides and rollercoasters. You can also hire boats or horses, go bungee jumping, and there’s a sports club with tennis courts. In winter the whole area becomes a vast skating rink with skate hire, disco lights and music to match. In summer the “beach” area is hugely popular with sun-worshippers, and becomes an open air club in the evenings.
The other, older, half of the park is considerably more restrained, consisting of formal gardens and woodland that combine the former Golitsynskiy and Neskuchniy Gardens, names that crop up regularly in Russian literary classics.
The world’s most beautiful subway system
Word to the wise: Photography is allowed on the metro platforms, but be wary of potential pickpockets when waving your camera about.
Talk of the town: There are countless legends relating to the Moscow metro but one of the most enduring is that there is also a second ‘secret’ metro, called Metro-2.
Apart from being so popular, Moscow subway is also so beautiful! There are 12 lines with 196 metro stations total so far, and 44 are considered as objects of historical significance.Most beautiful stations are: Mayakovskaya and Belorusskaya on green line, Revolution Square and Arbatskaya on dark blue line, and almost every single one on Ring line, which is brown.
The Church of the Ascension was built in 1532 on the imperial estate of Kolomenskoye, near Moscow, to celebrate the birth of the prince who was to become Tsar Ivan IV (‘the Terrible’). One of the earliest examples of a traditional wooden tent-roofed church on a stone and brick substructure, it had a great influence on the development of Russian ecclesiastical architecture.
Kolomenskoye is a former Royal estate located in the southern part of Moscow. The estate borrowed its name from the ancient road leading to the town of Kolomna.
Before ending the Moscow journey, being little patriotic – On the National Flag Day (Russia)