EAT in Moscow:
What sounds like a second-class porn is actually Russia's most popular classic: The movie White Desert Sun was THE culture hit in 1969. Here's the summary: A Red Army soldier on the way home to his fiancée is forced to take care of six women freed from a harem. You can anticipate what comes next - or visit the theme restaurant of the same name. The film look of the restaurant makes you feel right in the middle of the movie. The ingredients of the film - action, drama, comedy and music - are part of the restaurant as well. At the entrance Petrucha, a character from the movie carrying a rifle, welcomes the guests and shows them to their tables. And the latter alone are worth a visit: Handmade carpets from Syria and Uzbekistan, ancient weapons and musical instruments make up the set which is highly devoted to depicting the characters as precisely as possible. One table resembles the hulk of a ship, in another room guests find themselves in a dream of 1001 Nights. The look of the restaurant is as wild as the film itself. And meals are a colourful mix of Uzbek, Chinese and Arabian influences, perfectly matching the interior, the stunning atmosphere and the evening's program: There is belly dance for dessert.
Cynics say that Coffeemania is the Russian Starbucks equivalent. It's true; you get your Latte, your Moccachino and your Espresso - just as in the US chain. But there are differences. Instead of muffins there's a variety of finest cakes on offer, such as the incredible Orinoko, a chocolate cake with raspberries; or the Desire, a fantastic creation made of marzipan, strawberries and pistachios. Yet before you choose your dessert take a look at the menu - as in addition to coffee and cake the Coffeemania also has a variety of culinary treats from Asia (excellent wok dishes), Italy (delicious Bruschetta) and Russia (Pelmeni and Borsch - the two classics) in store. Each Coffeemania has a different interior decoration - from trendy to artistic or traditional. Quite contrary to Starbucks you are allowed to smoke here. And the service is far better. Only specialists are allowed to work the coffee machines. So-called Baristas are trained for that - it's their task to brew and prepare the most perfect coffee. Coffeemania is the right place for all those interested in art, a piece of cake or international cuisine.
Opulent is not enough to describe the Baccarat: There, you experience the successful fusion of crystal and design, of French cuisine and Russian influences, of ancient nobility and state-of-the-art interior. Baccara is well-known: It once was the manufactory of crystal chandeliers for the old Tsars. Today, there is lustre still, but money is made on crystal costume jewellery as well, a Russian Swarovski so to speak. And when Baccarat meets Philippe Starck, the result is a perfect combination of chic and elegant, of sparkling chandeliers and white designer furniture. The best of glamour is accompanied by the best of season meal from the kitchen. In between sparkling crystal and under luxurious stucco you enjoy Foie-Gras tarte flambée or sea snails, and when you are through with dinner in this glittering dreamland, a crystal aquarium awaits you on your way out. Only a fairy is missing to make the fairytale complete with the tip of her wand.
SIGHTS in Moscow:
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!
Can you take a joke? If so, Nikulin Circus is the right place for you. There, not the lions but the clowns are the stars. Yuri Nikulin was one of the most famous Russian clowns and for a long time the number-one joke producer of the circus of the same name. If you want to train your risible muscles you've found the right spot. Never before have you seen so many gimmicks, so much white make-up and so many huge shoes. But not only the clowns make a good show, also the tightrope walks set your pulse racing. What acrobats show us here has to be trained many years - and only from watching them one gets dizzy. And once the lions are out in the ring one wonders whether the big cats are as tame as they look. But let's get back to the clowns: Those who make it to this circus are really good and really funny. So come by and have fun. You won't regret it.
Lenin never wanted to be exhibited like that, but Stalin asserted himself: He knew how to attract the crowds and built the mausoleum, then still made of wood. As it decayed fast, a newer and larger tomb was built. Today, the mausoleum is made of dark-red granite, for eternity, so to speak. Also Lenin was prepared to last for ever: 12 scientists check his embalmed body twice a week. In Soviet times even a whole laboratory was occupied with the task to conserve Lenin. In the beginning, the dead man wore his uniform but times change and as Moscow is always en vogue in matters of fashion, the revolution leader changes his suit and tie every three years. That has its price: In order to maintain the mausoleum and Lenin, a private fund spends more than one million Euros per year. Conclusion: There can't be more cult about a dead man.
SHOPPING in Moscow:
For a long time Russia didn't have its own designers. Fashion was limited to grey wool fabrics and uniform clothing but that's different today. Apart from Slawa Saizew, the star of the Russian designer sky, another Phoenix is rising from the ashes, creating eccentric and very colourful fashion. Valentin Yudashkin has made it: His fashion is not only famous in Moscow but also on the international catwalks. The store in Moscow has become a real institution for all those that work little and spend a lot. Especially Yudashkin's accessories are hardly suitable for the office. It's pretty hard to lift a file with a jewellery-studded watch on your wrist. Typing is impossible if you wear a knuckleduster on your finger. And while the extraordinary high-heels are incredibly chic, you can hardly walk more than ten metres on cobblestone in them. Be it as it is, the Haute Couture by Yudashkin makes every woman feel like a princess.
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.
STAY in Moscow:
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.
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.