Saturday, 10 August 2013

Moscow July 2013 – 3rd to 7th

The spiritual, political and economic capital of the world’s largest country.  In recent years Moscow has blossomed into a culinary capital so that restaurant lovers have unlimited opportunities to enjoy diverse and delicious cuisine in elaborate and exotic surroundings.  There is also a wealth and variety of architecture to be seen.  There are over 80 museums offering a fascinating insight into the history and culture of the people of Russia.  The city has the largest and most efficient metro in the world.  We got totally lost in our attempt to get to our hotel! Over 3 million cars clog the city’s streets and all of these move at very fast speed.  There are upwards of 11 million people living in Moscow, making it the world’s 17th largest city by population.  16% of the population live below the poverty line.

The good news is that Moscow is no longer the most expensive city in the world; the bad news is that it is still pretty close!  Drinking in particular is expensive as all bars sell foreign beers and we found local beer difficult to find.

Most of the city’s sights are situated in the city centre.  Moscow’s suburbs are generally rather bleak; thus a city centre hotel was our choice and in choosing Arbat House Hotel, located at 13 Skatertny, Pereulok - (M) Arbatskaya - we found a good ordinary hotel in an excellent location with nice and helpful staff.  We also enjoyed breakfasts each morning.

The weather was very hot and one afternoon there was a violent thunder storm lasting a couple of hours.  As we were leaving the airport to fly home there was another thunderstorm and our flight was on the runway for a period of two hours.

In July many Muscovites retreat to their Dachas. 

Inner City
The inner city is broken into 7 areas:
  • Arbatskaya  “Arbat” & Khamovniki
  • Red Square, Kremlin and Kitay Gorod – ancient part of the city.
  • Zamoskvoreche – south of the river and a very beautiful area.
  • Tverskoy
  • Presnya
  • Basmanny & Taganka
  • Dorogomilovo & Sparrow Hills.

Key Attractions
  • Kremlin (Fortress).  This ancient fortress is the founding site in Moscow and the ultimate symbol of political power in Russia.  Only certain parts of the residence of the Russian President can be seen so early arrival is needed:
    • State Armoury
    • Cathedral of the Assumption
    • Ivan the Great’s Bell Tower.
  • Red Square – a vast expanse that accommodated huge military parades during the Soviet area.  Electrifying is perhaps the best word to describe the Sq. and it is also essential to view at night when lit up.  What attractions should you visit?
    • Historical Museum
    • St Basil’s Cathedral – a wonderful building.  Entrance fee 250rr.
    • Resurrection Gate ( most impressive at night when lit up)
    • Lenin Mausoleum ( Leader of Russia’s Historic 1917 Revolution) (Free)
    • Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
  • Moscow River Cruise – the Moskva Mockba winds through the heart of the city.  Main pick up point is opposite Kievskey station.  Moscow River Line is the main company running these cruises.  We did the full river cruise and very much enjoyed it.
  • Tretyakov Gallery (World Class) – art gallery.  ( Go to Tretya- Kovskaya Metro)
  • Explore Old Arbat – lively pedestrianised area
  • Red October – now refurbished as the City’s hottest art and entertainment centre.
  • Shopping at Izmailovo.  The Kremlin in Izmailovo is a Disney-like medieval village.  Wander among the stalls of the sprawling market (The Vernisage Market).
  • Visit an “Old Circus” performance
  • Gorky Park (297 acres) – the city’s most famous park.  An alternative is Alexander Gardens.
  • Former KGB HQ at Lubyanka Sq.  We visited the building and took photographs.
  • Peter the Great monument – a 95 metre-high, monstrously kitsch waterfront homage to the founder of the Russian navy.  You pass by it on the river cruise.
  • Bolshoy Theatre  Teatralnaya Metro or buses 2,12,33 or trolley bus K
  • GUM – largest Department Store – this is a fascinating place.
  • Sanduny Baths.  Moscow’s oldest bathhouse.  The BANYA is a uniquely Russian experience – a hot steam bath, while gaining a beating with birch branches helps to improve circulation.  Alas we did not have the time to do this.
  • Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.  On our first visit we had shorts on and were not allowed in so when we returned next day we had our trousers on and enjoyed our visit.  The building is impressive and is one of the most prominent features of Moscow’s skyline.
  • Revolution Sq
  • Cycle – only safe leisurely routes are along the Mosskva and Yauza rivers.  The car is king in Moscow but there are plans to increase cycling and this is happening.  Bike hire at Gorky Park or from Oliver Bikes –
  • Day trip from Moscow to visit Suzdal.  This medieval capital is well worth seeing – described as a fairy-tale setting.  There is an abundance of ancient architecture gems and a decidedly rural atmosphere.  Again alas we did not make it.

Cyrillic Alahabet
It would be helpful to understand this, especially on the underground.  On the underground there are no English signs.

Here I linked in restaurants, bars and cafes into our suggested itinerary so that we knew where we could eat and drink.

Drinking is a favourite national pastime in Russia and the city offers venues for every occasion, mood and season.  Moscow arguably is the most dynamic and diverse city for drinking and nightlife in the world.  Pedestrian streets like ul Arbat and Kamergersky per are hot spots for strollers and drinkers. 

There is also a new concept – the Club-Café with “diverse offerings” under one roof.
  • Café Pushkin Tverskoy bul 26a (M) Pushkinskaya (Inner Presnya) meals R1,500-2,000 Exquisite blend of Russian and French cuisines – service and food done to perfection.
  • Bosco Café Krasnaya pl 3 (K&KG) Café within Gum store (1st fl) is the only place to sit right on Red Sq. (Special experience).
  • Stolooaya 57 within Gum store (3rd fl) meals R300-400.  Old style where food is both good and cheap.  Great place to try “herring in a fur coat” – which is herring, beats, carrots and potatoes.

  • Ragout Bolshaya Gruzinskaya ul 69 (M) Belorusskaya meals R800-1,200. Vibe is cool with food choices creative.
  • Petrovich  Myasnitskaya ul 24/1 (M) Chistye Prudy  Popular retro restaurant.  Face control so it is recommended to book a table. Tel 495-923-0082.
  • Bar Strelka Bersenevskaya nab 5 Bldg 14 (M) Kropotkinskaya. (Zamoskvorechie) Roof terrace unbeatable for views of Moscow River with an excellent bar menu.  Nr Red October complex.  We went here on three occasions and enjoyed it.
  • Barashka ul Petrovka 20/1 (M) Teatralnaya meals R1,500-2,000.
  • Stolle  Malaya Pirogovskaya ul 16 (M) Sportivnaya  Full sit down menu but specialises in tasty saxon pies.
  • Genatsvale on Arbat ul Novy Arbat 11 meals R600-1,000. Georgian cuisine.  Good for lamb dishes and cheesy bread – Khachapuri.  We did visit but did not eat but a lovely restaurant inside.
  • Grably  Pyatnitskaya ul 27 (M) Novokuznetskaya. R200-300 Amazing array of fish, poultry and meat. Bar for wine and beer upstairs.  Wonderful setting with tiled floors, wrought-iron rails and chandeliers on two levels.
  • Best Eat Streets:
    • Ulitsa Petrovka (Tverskoy)
    • Spiridonievsky pereulok (Presnya)
    • Kamergersky pereulok (Tverskoy)
    • Tverskaya Ulitsa (Tverskoy)

Tips – 10% is the standard.
Be aware of “Face Control” – common practice of denying entry to clubs and bars based on a person’s appearance.

Beer (Pivo) is the City’s most popular alcoholic drink.  Russky Standard and Stolichnaya are two good brands of vodka.  Vodka shots are popular!! 

Rouble.  5 denominations with face values of 10, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 roubles.  Coins – 1, 2, and 5 roubles.  1, 5, 10, & 50 kopeks. 

Alfa Bank and Sberbank offer best rates.  The cash dispensers at Alfa Bank take Visa and Mastercard and charge no local commission, making them a popular option with visitors.

GMT + 3hrs. 

Avg July temp 18c (64f).  Each day we had temperatures over 90f.

Filling in the visa application form is some taxing exercise as you are asked which countries you have visited over the last 10 years and a whole lot of other background information that makes no sense as why it is required.  Again it is a costly process costing us in the region of £130 each.  We used the Russian National Tourist Office at 202 Kensington Church Street, London.  Tel: 020 79851234 – website:  The application takes some two weeks + to process.

Are approx an hour from city centre by train or car.  All three airports are accessible by the convenient Aeroexpress trains –

We took the areoexpress from Domodedovo airport to Paveletskaya the expresses’ terminus costing us 320rr each.  We then went on the underground costing us 30rr each.  On the way back we took a taxi from our hotel to Paveletskaya which cost us 250rr each.  Unless you know what you are doing on the underground I would not recommend as it is an extremely busy place.

Flight time from Manchester 3.5hrs.

Street Names
bul – boulevard
nab – embankment
per – lane or side street
pl – square
pr – avenue
ul – street
sh – highway.
The Arbat –ul Arbat is one of Moscow’s oldest streets dating back to the 15th Century.

Moscow Metro
This is one of the busiest and most efficient metro networks in the world and one of the sprawling city’s great assets.  Stations are tourist attractions where concourses and station platforms resemble miniature palaces with chandeliers, sculptures and lavish mosaics.  Most reliable way of travelling in the city:
·       9,300 trains operate per day carrying 8-9m passengers (more than London and New York systems combined)
·       165 stations and 265kms (155m) of track
·       Construction began in Dec 1931 and is still expanding
·       Pay extra for heavy bags etc
·       Metro lines are colour coded and numbered from 1-10.
·       All signs are in Cyrillic
·       When changing lines at an interchange station it is important to know the name of the station on the other line.
·       Tickets are sold for 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, or 60 rides.  The fare for a single journey is a flat rate, whether it is a couple of stops or the length of the network. This is R28 I think. It is possible to change as many times as you wish.
·       Tickets are purchased from a Kacca, the counter being situated just inside the metro station.  A multiride card can be gained for slightly cheaper fares.
·       Can get very crowded at peak travelling times.  Trains run from 6am until 1am.
·       There are extensive bus, trolleybus and tram routes.
·       Tickets must be inserted into the punching machine to be valid.

We were advised that mosquitoes were a problem but we did not find this.  We had no problems at all.

Wi-fi is readily available and is almost always free. – restaurant reviews – exchange rates
Facebook page – Secret Moscow.

Other Information
·       UK Embassy – 495-956-7200  Smolenskaya nab 10 (M) Smolenskaya
·       Universal Emergency No – 112
·       Electricty  220V/50HZ
·       Pharmacies Chain 36.6 uL Novy Arbat 15  (M) Arbatskaya
·       To call internationally from Moscow dial 810 plus the country code (7), the city code (495) and phone no.
·       Publications – Moscow Times, Passport Magazine and Element.
·       Police Officers have the right to stop anyone to check their documents and they do exercise it.  Do not hand over Passport.  Perfectly acceptable to show photocopies of documents.  Again we were never asked for identification.

We enjoyed our few days exploring the centre of the City.  Highlights were the Kremlin and Red Square areas which we visited twice.  We were impressed with so many beautiful and interesting buildings.  Going on the river cruise was another highlight as we saw so much of the city and you are permitted to go off at river stops and come back on again provided you are doing the full trip.

Negatives for us:
·       The complicated visa application form which had to be completed online.
·       The high cost of the visa – totally unnecessary in our opinion.
·       All hotels are costly.
·       Food and drink is also expensive.

Fraser Mackay
31st July, 2013

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