Re-exploring and re-evaluating: Moscow

I have been converted. Having visited Moscow on several occasions when I lived in nearby Tver, I never felt particularly drawn to the city. I tried to love it, but each time I went I was let down. Face-control snobbery, expensive food, too big to properly get to know in one weekend, grey… Moscow had always seemed to me to be a very superficial and money-driven capital, the antithesis of the beautiful and culturally superior St. Petersburg in the North. But a recent visit to Moscow over the New Year completely changed my mind. Now, the city felt warm (figuratively; literally it stayed around a steady -2°, but, perhaps luckily, we left before it dipped to -30°…), welcoming and joyful (most definitely the outcome of the sheer amount of Christmas decorations, lights and reckless disregard for electricity bills or the concept of energy preservation that only Russians can pull off with such aplomb).

We spent 5 days in the city, which was definitely a better length of time than a quick overnight stay. If you are going to visit Moscow, I would highly recommend staying 5-7 days. There is so much to see and do, and I realised that I really found my bearings this time around, felt a lot more comfortable and less stressed about getting from A to B on a time limit, and ultimately felt like I got to know the city and discover some really cool places. We stayed in a great hostel on Старый Арбат (Old Arbat), right in the heart of the city, a 10 minute walk from Red Square. With more of a hotel vibe rather than backpackers hostel, Vinegret is modern and affordable, with good facilities and a super handy location.

Arriving around 11pm at the hostel, we still made time for a little night-time wander, heading to Red Square and getting our first glimpses of the Christmas markets and bright lights. Since the square itself was actually closed off by this point, we went again the next day to properly explore. The red bricks of the Kremlin surrounded the flurry of tourists and families within, ambling through the central Christmas market and eagerly swarming around Lenin’s Tomb and St. Basil’s Cathedral. We spent a couple of hours just walking around the square and through the walkways of ГУМ (State Department Store), lined with designer shops and festive decor.

In the afternoon, we went to the Мультимедиа Арт Музей (Moscow Multimedia Art Museum) on ул. Остоженка (Ostozhenka St.). I had never been before, but was highly impressed. A 5-floor building with various exhibitions that feature works from diverse artistic mediums such as photography, painting, film and textile. The night was spent in the most glorious Georgian cuisine restaurant, Saperavi, in the vibrant Китай Город (China Town) quarter and we feasted on хачапури (khachapuri – as previously mentioned in my post about Sochi; soft breads with cheese and eggs, and the most delicious thing that I have ever eaten and could most definitely eat everyday), шашлык (shashlik – skewered, grilled meat), sweet potatoes and, of course, washed down with sweet Georgian wine. Stomachs happy, we went home to rest up at the hostel.

The next day was a lot colder, but the cold didn’t stop us from taking a long walk along the river, a route that takes in some of the main sights of the city. We started by cutting through Red Square down to the river and walking along to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, another impressive temple whose golden domes can be seen from most parts in the centre. Whether you are religious or not, Russian cathedrals and churches are a must-see as pure feats of architectural and artistic skill, each one dripping with gold and ordained with beautiful artwork and shining icons.

From the cathedral we crossed the river and walked through Красный Октябрь (Red October), an old factory site turned hip cafe and club scene, picking up a coffee to warm up and heading onwards towards Gorky Park. Quickly nipped into Garage, a modern art gallery within the park, and watched people skate around the massive ice rink that engulfs most of the park in the winter. Cold but refreshed, we decided to take the metro back. The Moscow metro system, although being very expensive, is very efficient and also very beautiful, certainly meriting a quick peek if you are in the city. We later went to the Museum of Illusions upon the recommendation of a friend. The museum is basically a collection of various illusions painted as murals, with which visitors can pose and take photos. Tacky, cringey and definitely not worth the money, I won’t be returning.

Approaching New Year now, shops and tourist sites weren’t open on the 31st, so we went for a walk in the morning and then took a trip to Воробьевы Горы (the cutely named Sparrow Hills) for a walk in the snow and a great vantage point over the city and the towers of МГУ (Moscow State University). Unfortunately it was fairly foggy when we got to the top, but we still had a really nice walk up the woodland paths to the top. We celebrated NYE with friends that evening, as I wrote about in more detail in my previous post, and then took a trip to Tver overnight, which I will write about in more detail soon! Coming back to Moscow for one more day, we decided to visit another gallery that had been closed before New Year’s, and I’m so glad that we did! The Московский Музей Современного Исскуства (Moscow Museum of Modern Art) has collections at 4 different locations in the city. We visited the museum on ул. Петровка (Petrovka St.) and were lucky enough to get free entry, available at many museums around the city for a week during the New Year holidays. I loved this gallery, and was particularly taken with the exhibition on the Russian school of art, “The New Reality”, which showcased the works and theories of the underground abstract art scene of this creative association during the USSR. Highly recommend a visit!

Our flight onwards to Kazakhstan was later that day, and I left Moscow feeling satisfied that I had really experienced the city. Maybe my objectives were different this time, our activities being a lot more laid back and less structured than previous plans to go out clubbing for example. Maybe the city is different around this time of year; certainly you can’t help but feed off the energy and buzz as people prepare for New Year and lights glitter on every street as festive music trails out from cafes and stores. There is certainly something magical about a Russian New Year, and it seems that this sense is only heightened in the capital. Fast-paced, vibrant, exciting, and you can serve up a great khachapuri (what will I do if and when I actually go to Georgia) – Moscow, you have won me over.

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