SIGHTS in Moscow:
Lubyanka: Many Russians get goose bumps at the mention of this name. The KGB headquarters was once the venue of hundred-thousand tortures and those who survived the Stalinist terror were either executed or sent to a Gulag. The KGB Museum often tries to hide this fact, rather focusing on the strange side of espionage today. If you are interested in the Cold War, you will like this place. And don't worry: You won't disappear. Sticking to the principle of Glasnost Russia today is very eager to reveal to tourists anything that was top-secret before: bugs, for example. There are cameras in lighters, so we ask ourselves whether all Russian spies had to smoke in the past. The secret remains unanswered, so we continue to the coke cans with explosives and the loot that could be taken from the hated Americans. An American spacecraft is the main attraction of the museum. The KGB has long since resolved but the building has remained. Today Lubyanka is the seat of FSB, the Russian secret service. It was headed by Vladimir Putin for one year.
The metre-high walls of the Kremlin are of little use today: More than two million visitors flock there every year, waging a photoflash war against the fortified city palace. No wonder: The Kremlin is Moscow's centre and origin; it is the centre of political and religious power. And you can even see a couple of Fabergé eggs there. But those who think they can just stumble inside, are wrong: Security checks are tough, larger rucksacks and bags must stay outside and many parts of the Kremlin are taboo for tourists, the arsenal, the Senate (only politicians have access) and the Kremlin towers among them. But you will need a day to see the rest anyway: the sparkling gold nuggets in the diamond chamber, the Fabergé eggs in the armoury, the onion towers of numerous cathedrals and churches. And if you still have not inhaled enough of Russia, you take a walk to the Tsar's bell, the Tsar's cannon or the Tsars' graves at the Archangel Michael Cathedral. Conclusion: The admission of 17 Euros is worth its price.
Those who come in the summer will ask themselves right at the entrance what the wild birds will do during the winter period. Before you start knitting shawls for them, be assured: The pond doesn't freeze in the winter because it is heated by a compressor. Also the wild cats don't get cold - they have their own fur and if temperatures go below zero, the white tigers, panthers and lions have a protected indoor area at their disposal as well. The spectacled (or Andean) bear is used to the cold. It comes from the Andes but is almost extinct there and so seldom that he is the main attraction of the zoo. The dolphins are also drawing visitors galore, staging up to eight shows per day and enthralling kids with their performances. Also the beluga whale has to work hard for his money, performing numerous jumps for visitors. Ticket sales start one hour prior to the show. But there are smaller animals as well. If you don't dare to go close to the whale you can also watch a wide variety of spiders, bugs and butterflies at the Insecttopia. Got an itch yet? Go to the zoo!
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.
In former times she used to dine at restaurants in order to write reviews and evaluate the dishes afterwards. Today Svetlana Kessoyan runs her own restaurant. She knows, how to do it and therefore opened the DoDo in Moscow. Together with chef Alexi Kim, Kessoyan particularly pays attention to a varying menu. At DoDo on Petrovka Street, 15 minutes away from the Red Square, you don't order a regular Ceasar's Salad. Instead you'll find a salad with tuna and avocado or duck breast on the menu. You can also order beef steak and on Wednesdays and Saturdays you'll be served fresh fish. Throughout the whole day the former food critic serves the Russians' most popular breakfast pancakes, blinis and omelettes. The DoDo fans come in flocks and sit on the spacious terrace that is adorned with flowers. And in five minutes they are back in the city centre again, at the Bolshoi theatre or the department store TSUM. There's simply nothing to complain about the DoDo.
Moscow picks up pace - from a culinary point of view. One by one new venues open in the Russian capital that please lifestyle hipsters with a combination of hip architecture and tasty and affordable food, similar to those in other metropolises in the world. The café Domozhilov on the Novinskiy passage in the popular shopping area Arbat is one of them. That's the spot where restaurateur Gennadiy Kostrov and chef Ivan Domozhilov, two veterans of the gastronomy scene, came up with an idea: an urban café, with a straight-line interior and an extensive menu with dishes at affordable prices. Architect Mernaskoni was responsible for the furnishing. He put a prolonged bar and a black metal wall into the sterile venue with open kitchen. In order to avoid an industrial feel he used wooden flooring, tables and chairs. The food is taken care of by the chefs: a selection of hamburgers, sandwiches and soups, light salads, wok dishes and desserts. Also on the programme: regular film screenings. A take-away is currently worked on.
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.
Ararat Park Hyatt
Let's talk business: The Ararat Park Hyatt is the dream hotel for all those big on business. The location alone makes top managers' hearts leap. The hotel is located in the centre of the business district, close to the Kremlin and the Parliament. The clientele is thus defined, the rooms accordingly furnished with large desks. Apart from them, there's nothing that will distract you from your job. The rooms are large but dominated in office colours: brown and beige. Only the bathrooms are slightly more impressive. Some boast Italian marble, all of them Blaise-Mautin toiletries. There's underfloor heating and there are walk-in showers. Who wants to work at a desk then? Three telephones get you back to reality - time to turn on the W-Lan and to take a look at the morning paper. If that's a shock for you, you can hold a meeting with colleagues at your own living room, or stage an emergency meeting at the conference room. And if all of you are once again working round the clock, I recommend the Presidential Suite. 227 square metres offer ample space for you and your staff. Whoever still has energy left works out at the hotel-owned fitness centre or relaxes over Armenian specialties at the hotel's restaurant. Have fun with your job! Double room from approx. 615 euros per night.
SHOPPING in Moscow:
Have you also asked yourself already why everything costs three times as much in Moscow? Here's the answer: The store rents are as astronomical as the palm grease at the border. That's why designer stores have to sell at much higher prices if they want to make profit at all. Yet Russian fashion victims don't care: They want to buy whatever it costs - and now. To keep up-to-date they flock to the GUM department store, its location alone being quite impressive. Located in the immediate vicinity of the Red Square, the GUM offers luxury shopping in the purest sense. Those who have a shop here have made it, next to Armani, Jil Sander and Max Mara. Already when looking in the shop windows you are filled with wonder and awe. Inside, you get anything that is noble and exclusive: chronographs by Chaumet, leather by Ferragamo, jewellery by Dior. If you don't get bankrupt here, you're either a millionaire or a thief.
TSUM. Tsentralnyi Universalnyi Magazin. Sounds old-fashioned, but it's not. You only find the best of the best in this department store near the Bolshoi Theatre. In this sense, it's a big competition for the dignified GUM at the Red Square. In contrast to the latter, the TSUM is not a stringing together of single stores but a department store in the whole with various areas. On a surface of 60,000 square metres more than 1,000 brands are presented in the building which was designed by the known architect Roman Klein. No matter if it's Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, Roberto Cavalli, Dior or Jimmy Choo: all the big designer brands are to be found here, not surprising as shopping is the most popular leisure activity among Moscow ladies. If you're tired of clothes, shoes and fragrances you can have smaller plastic surgeries on the second floor. Or you buy some culinary treats in the 24-hour luxury supermarket on the ground floor. Or you have a drink in the Ice Vodka Kauffman Bar, the only ice bar in Moscow. Sa starowje!
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.