A different side of Mosow?
By chance I have done an article for today's London Evening Standard magazine on the Moscow which the tour guides will never highlight. It is meant to give a flavour of what tourists can discover in Russia's capital if they step off the beaten track.
The fact that it is being published in the week thatalex_lebedev bought the whole paper, not just one copy, for 45 Rubles (at today's exchange rate) is a complete coincidence.
The magazine is not online so I have put in this post the final text which I sent to the paper, their version might be a little shorter.
If one of my Russian readers want to do a translation then they are more than welcome, I will link to it from this post.
Have I shown Moscow in a new light to Western tourists?
In the two decades since the demise of the USSR the flow of tourists as increased from a trickle to a decent stream but the tales of woe which travelers encounter, almost always linked to being either ripped off or baffled by local customs, are still depressingly common. While it's the last great European city where you still need a visa to enter and meant to register with the local police if you don't stay in a hotel.
Yet these impediments make a good trip to Moscow all the more satisfying when you get it right. The key to success is simple: just do Moscow like the Russians. The boom years of the Putin era have created a city which is full of unique creature comforts, it just does not want to share them with anyone, yet with the city three and a half hours from Heathrow and the rest of Eastern Europe becoming old hat now is the time to spend a few days in Moscow as a local.
To get Moscow you have to understand that despite being in Europe it is not European and just because it's the capital city of a huge chunk of an Asian country it is not Asian. You can best witness this ethnic cocktail on a Saturday morning at Dorogomilovsky Market, Moscow's version of the old Covent Garden (when it used fruit rather than scented candles). The Dagestani butchers mingle with Tajik grocers and Uzbek bakers. Although the sale of black caviar has now effectively been banned by the government you can still pick up under the counter roe from the local traders. The produce on offer would puts the Harrods food hall to shame (though the prices are comparable).
A five minute walk from the market will bring you to the glorious metro stop at Kievskaya Station (made famous by Jason Bourne) from here you're only a short ride to Filevski Park (the muster point for the Russian general when they decided to abandon Moscow to Napoleon and handing the French Emperor a famous Pyrrhic victory. But its not military history which you are looking for, but electronic gadgetry. If you want to know where Muscovites buy both of their mobile phones (having two is the norm) then you can see it in glorious Technicolor at Gorbushka. Over acres of trading floors the travelling tourist can also witness one of the scourges of modern capitalism, digital piracy, with the second floor of the market offering the latest releases of every Hollywood movie and more. As the city's grime starts to fill up your pores there is only one place worth visiting for a proper wash (and a good beating with birch leaves).
Most tourists who brave the baths opt for the mock gothic splendour of Sanduny, still favoured by the oligarchs, but for the real intrepid traveller the place to go is Krasnaya Presnaya. With some simple Russian phases, a bundle of Rubles and a warm smile you'll bluff yourself in past the surly staff. Once in the buff you can endure what is said to be the hottest steam in Moscow (you can literally feel the skin come off your back) and drink the finest Kvas (a low alcoholic bread based beer) which is brewed to a secret recipe which the barman refuses to disclose. You'll come out cleaner than you've ever been and famished.
To satisfy your hunger there is only once place to go: Moscow's best known yet most secret restaurant (opposite a posh eatery called Aist on Malaya Bronnaya). This hideaway has no sign above the door, no name and is impossible to find on the internet, to top it all, it's on the roof of a synagogue (complete with security guards and x-ray machines). Once you have ascended to the fifth floor above the temple you will enjoy the finest Azerbaijani food known to man, the kebabs are define and the prices cheap by the standards of the city.
In seeing the underside of Moscow, one which the locals keep to themselves you might understand a little better why they love their city so, and why they want to keep its delights away from prying Western eyes.
For best travel advice and visas contact: Scott's Tours, Tel: +44 20 7383 5353.
BMI, BA and Aeroflot all have daily flights from Heathrow to Moscow.