A week in Moscow

I welcomed my first visitors to Russia this past week – my friend Meg came from Korea and her boyfriend Niek from Holland. They were ace guests and we had a fantastic time catching up. They covered a great amount of Moscow while still enjoying a chill vacation. They didn’t even let the lingering snow squalls get them down! Inspired by their wanderings, here is my Moscow Top Ten.

Roll into town on one of Moscow’s fabulous Aeroexpress trains – there’s one from each of Moscow’s three airports.

Make your way down to Red Square fairly quick for selfies in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral (bluebird day on order, of course).

Explore the ridiculously ornate confines of St. Basil’s itself (not what I expected, I’ll admit!) with special ambiance from a men’s choir who just happened to be performing inside. 300 rubles to get in – no line, no waiting.

Book a cruise on the Moscow River out of the Radisson Ukraina Hotel – fine dining and a 2.5 hour tour of Moscow’s sites from the water. Highly recommended: the early evening cruise to watch the lights come up over the city in dramatic fashion.

Not to be missed – drinks at the Mercedes Bar on the 31st Floor of the Hotel Ukraina. Book a comfy couch and enjoy the 360 view of Moscow, including the Russian White House and new Moscow City.

Strelka Bar in the student neighborhood of Bolotnyy is always an exciting spot. From the rich but casual decor to the fabulous food and drink, it’s a stop not to be missed.

After you’ve had your dinner fill, enjoy the breathtaking views across at Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Once the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool, this site has been restored to its original trappings, in all it’s golden glory. Don’t miss the views from the top deck nor the surprisingly cool crypt below – discovered by Meg & Niek!

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Be sure to tour the Kremlin. With a private guide, my friends hopped in and out of the churches on the Kremlin ground. I’m told you absolutely cannot miss the incredible riches of the Armory. PC: @meg_hayne

If the snow is falling, a tour of the Moscow metro is perfect no matter the weather! My four favorite stations not to miss – Komsomolskaya, Arbatskaya, Elektrozavodskaya, and Novoslobodskaya.

Gorgeous stained glass at Novoslobodskaya

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The Khokhloma handicrafts are not to be missed. I just came across this fabulous video about them today. A trip to Izmailovo Market, in all it’s touristy glory, is not to be missed. Also check out the small but friendly Museum of Vodka while you’re there!
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Gorky Park hosts ice skating in the winter, bike riding in the summer (bring your passport to rent!) and is also the home of my favorite contemporary art museum, The Garage.
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A winter palace of lights outside the Bolshoi Theater

And, finally, #10 – a ballet at the Bolshoi. Although I have yet to accomplish this one, I have a feeling that all may change with the arrival of another set of visitors next month… Book your tickets decidedly in advance! In the event they’re all sold out, the theater offers tours of the venue in English on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I’m told the line for English forms on the left. God speed 😉

A few other items of note before endeavoring to visit Moscow…

  • Learning the Cyrillic alphabet really helps – with many letters similar to English, it’s really not hard!
  • Downloading wayfinding apps like Uber (yes, they have it!) and Metropolitan (metro map) will go a long way
  • Buying a SIM card also helps for wayfinding – 700 rubles (roughly $11) for 1 month is available at any airport

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual tour of my current home city – and that my attempts to entice future visitors will not be in vain (direct flights from JFK, just sayin’…)! I’ve really come to appreciate Moscow and all of its wonderful surprises. Please come see what all the fuss is about – I have plenty of room!

Moscow metro tour

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Moscow’s metro features many treasures to behold below ground.

This past weekend I had the chance to take a tour of Moscow’s underground metro. While subway stations are not normally associated with the word beautiful, Moscow’s really take the cake. Ornate and unique, each station stands as an individual work of architectural and decorative genius. In a city that spends so much time in darkness (17 hours today!), these hidden gems are heartwarming and good for the soul.

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Komsomolskaya Station features particularly lavish ceilings. The station is named for the Komsomol, or the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, who built it. It was here on the 7th of Sept 1935 that Stalin officially opened the Moscow Metro.

Ground was first broken on the Moscow Metro in 1931. Taking four years to construct, the metro initially spanned the walls of the Kremlin, and was used to transport a blossoming Moscow workforce.

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Mosaic murals dot the ceiling of Belorusskaya Station. It is said that the artist had to warm the tile pieces in his mouth to prepare them to adhere to the ceiling’s surface.

Initially created to impress both the citizens of Moscow as well as Capitalist countries worldwide, the metro served a third purpose – that of a bomb shelter during World War II. Belorusskaya, a station close to my house, was used as a command center during the Battle of Moscow.

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In an all too common Soviet story, Stalin, fearing shared secrets, had the original metro engineers sent to the gulag. Four years later, once it was discovered that their knowledge was still necessary, search parties were sent to retrieve these artists. Tragically, the leader had died but three still remained to continue on and expand the work they had begun.

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No expense was spared and the metro decor became increasingly opulent as the number of stations grew. Some call them the first and last example of the “palaces for the proletariat”.

In 2016, with 203+ stations in its arsenal and more on the way, the Moscow Metro transports 8 million people every day.

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Despite their stained glass surroundings, teenagers in Moscow are just as captivated by the latest YouTube clip as the rest of the world.
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Old school trolley cars give the Moscow Metro added charm – however, they make a racket when in use. We’re definitely not in Seoul anymore!
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Statues display respect at many metro stations, including this one at Belorusskaya – a monument to the strength of the Belarusians during World War II.

I’m told there are secret metro stations within Moscow’s city walls. One such station lies quite close to Stalin’s Bunker. In this city of many secrets, an extensive secret metro system would not surprise me a bit.

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The sculptures at Ploshchad Revolyutsii feature soldiers, teachers, and children with their expectant eyes gazing towards the future. Seen by the gleaming bronze, travelers have rubbed this dog’s nose for good luck on their daily commute.
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Eye-catching mosaics contrast geometric floor tiles in this 16th-meets-18th-Century composition.

As these pictures show, the Moscow Metro offers a beautiful combination of unexpected luxury, classical style, and ease of transportation. History lessons and works of art abound in the most unexpected of corners. I’m looking forward to exploring further during my time here.

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Now departing – this sign reads “exit the station” in Cyrillic.

In just a few days I, too, will be departing to head back to the States for the holidays. It’s been quite a wild few months here in Moscow, exploring this wonderful new city and adjusting to life in Russia. I hope you all get to enjoy time with family and friends this holiday season. Thank you for joining me and being a part of mine! доброй ночи.

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If you would like to see more, take a look at CNN.com’s snapshot of a number of beautiful Moscow Metro stations.