Moscow is an experience in itself, one that has many different facets. The colorful domes of St. Basil’s cathedral would remind you of fairytale castles in Russian folk tales, a walk through Gorky Park lets you see lots of locals settled down for a picnic on a lazy afternoon with a samovar, delicious food and a couple of beers, with some playing tunes on the balalaika. A stroll through Red Square at night to see the Kremlin in a whole new light, as it stands majestically, would make you feel very small indeed.
Moscow invariably reminds me of Russian ballet, the Kremlin, the era of the Czars, Stalin and lots of imposing architecture, in no particular order. The imposing buildings and the impeccably dressed, tall, good looking people everywhere in their evening coats lend an air of opulence to the city. Everything here is glamorous and decadent, but if you go past the glitzy clubs, the glittering skyscrapers and fancy restaurants, you’ll find many parts of the city are simple in their beauty and you experience a different side of Moscow. The pleasure lies in finding that side, and once you do there’s nothing like it.
On carrying ski gear and trying street-side hotdogs
Take its many eccentricities – it isn’t uncommon to see people randomly selling puppies or kittens in the subway, or the famous Russian policewomen with their bright scarlet nails and black boots, people always on the move, carrying just about anything anywhere, from office chairs to even ski gear. It can be rather strange at first, but then tends to grow on you.
One of the experiences that well defines the city is its food, and food does not normally spring to mind when I think of Moscow. it turns out, there’s much more to the city than what gives out at first scratch. And a great way to discover is by trying out the culinary craft of a Russian equivalent of a street-side hot dog vendor. Russian food is usually rich and wholesome – created to keep one warm and satiated in the bitter winter chill. Some staples include borsch, which is basically beet soup flavored with meat, vegetables and sometimes garnished with a dollop of sour cream. Blini is another favorite – Russian version of pancakes, with a hearty stuffing which could either be jam, cheese or sometimes even chocolate.
Most people tell me and the prospective visitors that eating out in Moscow is generally very expensive. While that can be true (blame it on the Zarish extravagance), it’s a lot lovelier to take a stroll along Moscow’s many beautiful boulevards and streets and sample some of the street food there is to offer. It should be said though, that it’s better to stick to known names – the Russians can get quite experimental.
Baked potatoes, cheese and dinner of a rich Muscovite
There are these little street carts, some with their own brands – a must-try is Kroshka Kartoshka, which, when roughly translated, means ‘Pretty Little Potato’. Logically, they sell delicious baked potatoes with a variety of different kinds of stuffing like feta cheese, sour cream (smetana) and pickles, lox and bacon as toppings. Top it off with a glass of beer and we are all set for a lovely day.
If it’s early in the morning, it makes perfect sense to start the day with some lenyoshki, (freshly baked bread) made of a certain type of grain found in Uzbekistan. Delicious and fresh, it really fills you up and seriously gives a good appreciation of how something as basic as bread can be so different in another part of the globe.
In the summer months, the time is prime for some morozhenoe, or Russian ice-cream. Much icier and more delectable than your usual western brands. Once again, numerous carts on the streets to choose from and long lines to circumvent.
For something different, there are the blinis at Teremok, a chain kiosk that sells delicious brown and orange blinis with all kinds of stuffing both sweet and savory. At Dorogomilovo, close to Kiev’s railway station is a fresh produce market which sells, among other things, a whole range of locally made cheeses, fresh herbs and juicy, wholesome vegetables. Some of the cheese with a bottle of wine from L’Intendant –indulgence, Moscow-style, and finally, the likeness of a dinner of a typical, wealthy Muscovite.
Finally, when you’re in Moscow, drink as the Muscovites do. Russian vodka is the obvious choice, but there’s the traditional kvas too – a fermented rye beverage that’s known to be very heady. And kvas can be found almost anywhere, including street vendors and local grocery shops.
Exploring Moscow is a pleasure in itself, and discovering its many-layered wonders requires patience and the willingness to explore. The charm of Moscow is one of a kind, and usually intrigues, and stays with long after the trip.