EAT in Moscow:
As always, a good idea starts with the wish for a change. This time, a couple of guys getting together for a beer got annoyed about Moscow's deficiency in decent breakfasts - let alone decent burgers. That was 15 years ago. Today, Starlite Dinner is a Russian institution with four spin-offs and American background. The interior design was imported from Florida, the posters from Hollywood and the meals are as American as ketchup. Where 20 years ago one had to listen to forbidden jazz records under one's bedcover, the star-spangled banner is greeting you today. The restaurant is almost more American than a diner over there: red and white striped leather sofas, a jukebox and serviettes from a metal box conjure up the American dream, getting guests in the mood for a Cordon Bleu Burger, a Cowboy Burger or the Really Big Shawn Burger - for all those that are truly hungry. Breakfast is a real highlight: At a Starlite Diner you can enjoy your waffles 24 hours a day on seven days a week - only Fonzie is missing, serving the titbits.
Moscow is nouveau riche. And catering to the tastes of the well-to-do, modern gourmet restaurants are mushrooming. They often ignore ancient chic and set new standards with modern design. The White Café serves as example: With warm shades, noble fabrics and the design of style icon Anna Muravina it gets you in the right mood for a Fête Blanche. Moscow has long since stopped to be old-fashioned which is proven by this noble restaurant. Together with international flair guests are offered an international cuisine that leaves nothing to be desired. Those who have a craving for Asian food get sushi, those with a craving for Italian food get Carpaccio and those who have a craving for Russian food get dough buns as well. When in the end dessert is served, the business partners are full - and top managers return happily to their offices with a signed business deal in their pockets.
Café, bar, restaurant and club - all in one. Suchlike venues are quite popular in the east - also in Moscow. At FAQ-Café you eat first: the offer is huge and partly customised to the audience. Club sandwich, soup or pasta. But you also find steak, salads and vegetarian delicacies as well as desserts and coffees in most different variations on the menu. Afterwards the cocktail will taste all the better. And when the concerts start at night, things get going: Tabasco Band, BoneShakers or Olga Gertschakova are only a few to mention that have already performed at FAQ-Café. That doesn't only please the students of the nearby University of Economics. All in all you especially meet a younger crowd at FAQ-Café who doesn't seem to care about the interior which is significantly older than themselves: a little bit dusty, quite simple but yet very cosy - just retro!
SHOPPING in Moscow:
Here's another bloodsucker: While the Transilwanija sells its CDs at top prices, you are confronted with pure nostalgia here. But first you have to find the store as it is well-hidden in the backyard of the Crab House restaurant. The search pays off as you will spend at least as much time there (you can't get through 50,000 CDs that easily). But don't worry: the stuff is well-assorted and you won't search long if you know what you want. The system is based on countries, so look for New German Music, Old German Music or Very old French Music. Above all fans of old CDs will get their share. Scandinavian World Music and Old US Rock complete the musical roundtrip and get us to the titles. The Transilwanija's offer includes hits from the GDR as well as Japanese pop, rare electronic music as well as very rare electronic music - and if you get lost, you can still ask the profound shop assistant for help.
We all know that people from Moscow are show-offs at times. But this deli tops it all, impressing above all with its stunning architecture. There is no time left for shopping. If you step into the store, you're almost crushed by Baroque: Imposing sculptures, powerful pillars and giant chandeliers dominate the main hall. Additionally, there are magnificent Art Nouveau elements and as much gold to make Scrooge McDuck green with envy. If you manage to tear your eyes away from the richly decorated ceiling, you will be overwhelmed by all the delicacies on offer at sales counters made of polished wood. How will you ever be able to get all that in your luggage? You won't, but even with prices above your annual salary it will be hard to resist the temptation. Here an aquarium with delicious fish, there a Russian-style gourmet sausage and exclusive vodka over there - the question is where to begin? The Jelissejew, after all, is not the usual supermarket but a first-class gourmet Mecca. Here's my tip: Bring many shopping bags along!
Hot Tipp: Come with an empty stomach. At the chocolate factory you will get enough sweet stuff to mess up your sugar levels for a lifetime. But never mind as a glance behind the scenes pays off in any case. German Ferdinand von Einem brought the chocolate to Russia in the 19th century. Then, he employed five people in his small pastry shop. Today the chocolate empire produces 60,000 tons of chocolate - no wonder that they feed you some on the tour. You will taste cherries and almonds, dark and milk chocolate, the legendary Mishka waffles with the bear on top and plenty of confectionary. Help yourself, please, you are in best company. Rumour has it that even Gorbachev loved the cult chocolate when he was still a child. And if you have survived the sugar shock you can order your own chocolate figure at the shop: a bowl of strawberries, a soccer ball or a business man bathing in money at best. The tour costs 16 Euros, a box of confectionary included in the price. Compared to the past this is a good bargain: In earlier times the noble chocolate cost as much as a cow.
SIGHTS in Moscow:
If you travel to New York you don't ask yourself what skyscrapers are compensating for. But when Stalin builds such imposing towers you wonder if he's still in his right mind. Of course nobody asked him that when in 1947 he laid the foundation stone for the first of the Seven Sisters: the Lomonosov University. How does it feel to study on the 36th floor of a 235-meter-high building? Airy, in any case. And it was probably the right thing for free spirits. Good that the building houses the faculty of geography as one definitely needs a map here. Stalin could just have built this one skyscraper in the socialist-classicist style but he eagerly continued, designing six other buildings of the same style based on a simple principle: A giant tower in the centre, two wings to the left and right, and who stands in the shadow of the building is immediately reminded of the Soviet superiority and ready to wave hammer and sickle. Among the other six sisters, by the way, are the Foreign Ministry, the Hotel Ukraine, the Hotel Leningradskaja, two residential buildings and the house at the Red Door which accommodates the Moscow urban development company. The highlight of the collection is missing, though: The 8th sister has never been built because the ground was too soft for 32 floors of pure imperialism.
The Red Square doesn't deserve its name having been white once. But what's its real name? The Red Square (Krasnaia Ploshchad) has a plurivalent name meaning both red and beautiful in Russian. It is red because the former market place was not only the venue of chicken slaughter. Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great have executed hundreds of their enemies here. It is red also because Lenin lies buried here and because in Soviet times the Red Square was the venue of regular propaganda events. Stalin had workers, farmers, tanks and soldiers line up here to demonstrate his power. Today, the square is less red but the more beautiful. You have to take a day's time to visit all the magnificent buildings on the Red Square. You are spoilt for choice: Lenin Mausoleum, Kremlin, Saint Basil's Cathedral or shopping at the exclusive GUM department store. In whatever direction you turn and wherever you take a picture, it will in any case depict an architectural masterpiece. But you are not alone, of course. Where once heavy boots marched in step millions of tourists in flip-flops stroll around today. But still you've got to see it: the beautiful Red Square.
What a time gone by: The women were sewing, the men were working. The Palace of the Romanovs serves as a prime example for medieval gender segregation. The boys were separated from the girls at the age of six, restricted to live on another floor of the building. It was furnished in manly, dark colours, whereas the upper floor was bright, airy and womanly. And while the boys learned how to rule, the girls learned how to knit. The Palace of the Romanovs is characterized by the style of the Tsars but it doesn't deserve the term palace, the small townhouse rather reminding of a farmhouse than of Versailles. However, it is still worth a visit for two reasons: Firstly, the narrow staircases and small rooms make it impossible for many tourists to visit at the same time, so you will be more or less alone with the Romanovs. And secondly, the house has hardly been changed since the 17th century, so you will get fascinating insights into Russian medieval times. You will also see plenty of the Tsar family's housewares - not behind glass but where it belongs: on tables, in trunks, on the walls. In the mood for dinner with the Romanovs? So, head for the museum!
STAY in Moscow:
The dream of every graffiti artist: The Artel subscribes to graffiti, neglecting old traditions. Already at the front desk you get a feeling for the hotel's spirit: Bricks and a slogan sprayed casually onto the wall welcome the guests. The hallways are laid out colourfully and there's modern art on the walls. But is the room as great as the hallway promises? If you have booked a design room you won't be disappointed: There's graffiti art on the walls and the small rooms boast fancy interior. While the room is kind of small (20 square metres), you sleep amidst Argentine spray art, something in between comics and religion, psychedelic dreams and folklore. Other rooms are more Expressionist; even Andy Warhol served as inspiration for the art on the walls. In all the rooms you feel like checking in a fancy club - and that's not so far-fetched as the hotel houses a trendy bar featuring Russian underground live music on three evenings a week. And what about a good night's sleep? Well, you can still go down to the restaurant and have some vodka with your meal - then you'll be able to sleep for sure. Double room from 120 euros per night.
Cheap accommodation in Moscow? Well, there are not many options. You either reside in the centre at high prices, or you reside on the outskirts, which means one-hour travel to the sights and sleeping in the outdated ambience of Soviet times. We have found an alternative, something in between so to speak. The apartment New Arbat Pearl Suite is located close to the centre, it's newly furnished and rather cheap. Seen from outside the grey building offers nothing to get enthusiastic about but inside a surprise is waiting. The holiday apartment has everything you need: a washing machine, a fully equipped kitchen, bright and friendly furniture and a beautiful bath. But there is only one room, so forget about your friends and just come with your spouse. There's a supermarket just around the corner but if you feel like eating visit the district that comes next. The New Arbat Street is brimming with noble boutiques, casinos and pubs. One night at the apartment cost 149 Euros.
If you step into the hotel you wonder whether the rooms were furnished during the fitted-carpet era. Or is this en vogue again? You can't tell from the furniture as it is classical and of finest design, as new as stripped from the plastic cover only recently. And there are modern warm shades, there's underfloor heating in the marble baths and there are Bulgari amenities wherever you look. Being in line with tradition and therefore authentic is always en vogue, after all. But the hotel features state-of-the-art technology as well: remote controls for the DVD players, the flat-screens and the curtains. If you feel disconnected now, you luckily have W-Lan available, but if you get too confused just ask your butler! He will help you press the right button or plan the perfect day at the spa for you: hot-stone massage at 10:00, fitness centre at 11:00, rain shower at noon and fresh calorie uptake at the Restaurant Caviarterra thereafter. And don't miss enjoying the view of the Kremlin on the terrace - you won't need a butler for it.