It's a shame we had only 3 days to see Moscow, it hides so much more to experience - not that much in terms of architecture, history and art, but rather the whole experience of being part of this city.
We arrived in Domodedovo and took the express train to the city. The boarder control was unexpectedly friendly and we got through with no problem. There were also no signs of January bombing. Bam! Two of the false expectations gone!
First impressions of the city - advertising. Giant multi sheet posters and micro ads in metro, ads in the air and ads under your feet, ads that are brilliant and clever, and ads that are lame, ridiculous and hardly professional, ads everywhere.
Then there are cars - the bigger the better. Jeeps, Hummers and other gigantic tank-like monsters fill in the streets everywhere. It does seem like Russians compensate some kind of deficiencies in their lives with huge cars. Big car - big fish, small car - meh, you're probably a canned sardine.
When we were in Moscow it was the famous time of the Poplar trees (тополь) blooming, what it means is all the city is covered in snow-like Poplar tree fluffs. I bet you haven't seen anything like this amount of fluffs anywhere else - It's craaaaaazy!
We've heard a lot about people in Moscow and we came with certain expectations. Many people say russians in Moscow are rude, obnoxious, arrogant and unfriendly. We didn't experience any of this. People were friendly, polite, helping out on the street, starting a friendly conversation, smiling, joking, laughing, generally they were very pleasant to be around with and to talk to.
We also saw an incredible sincerity and care in people - men don't hesitate to help women with strollers and bags on the streets, young people gently hold grannies hands when crossing the street or climbing stairs, random people don't hesitate to run to the rescue when they see a drunk person trip and fall. There is no indifference to other people pain and troubles (which is so common in the Baltics)
Of course the critics might say "oh, you havent been to the neighborhoods" or "you haven't met The Gopniki's" - it's true, and if our impression is a delusion I'm pretty much happy with staying deluded.
We stayed at the Basilica Hostel in China Town (there's nothing abvious about China though). This is a very central and lively area with the most buzz going on around Lubyanka, Maroseyka, Pokrovka and Miasnitskaya. The hostel was perfect, it turned out it's also a hotel and an art gallery. The greatest of its features though was the yard and a huge tent in the yard where guests meet and chill out every evening.
We met some locals at the hostel (yes, locals hang out there as well) and we learned a lot about them. Lots of random things such as:
- Sovietskoye sparkling wine brand was sold to France and Russia no longer has the rights to produce it under this brand
- One of the "spikes" of Moscow next to our hostel is actually an apartment building occupied by famous actors, singers, professors, politicians and gangsters, so we stayed right next to the celebrities :) Oh, and how could I forget to mention - right across the river from us was Kirkorov's 2 floor apartment :)
- Loans for apartments in Moscow have ridiculously high interest rates and are given to pay out in a very short time, which means that you will usually be paying $4000-$5000 per month for a 2 room apartment loan. Craaazy!
- People in Moscow party hard, and they party the hardest on Fridays. Traditionally you won't see them go as wild on any other week day as on Fridays.
- Zhiguli beer (btw, a very tasty beer) is produced at Samara factory established by 2 brother Austrians in the late 19th century. The brand was sort of forgotten for a while, and now it's been revived and rebranded into a new sexy look.
What else we enjoyed the most:
- Cafe-bar PirO.G.I (ПирО.Г.И) We were lucky to get there for the Sailors party - it was really fun and in the best soviet navy traditions. Amazing organizers were just a bunch of party loving creative volunteers. The party went wild with the "Bear comes, bear goes" game. This basically means that everyone has to drink a "cocktail" of 1l vodka and 3l beer mixed together in a huge bowl under the table until the bowl is done (I wish I was kidding) And when the host discovered that there are French in the crowd the goal was clear - get those French legs piss drunk in Moscow :)
- Walking through Old Arbat and behind it through the labirynth of smaller streets. When we asked a guy on the street if there's anything interesting to see there, he said "If you can see, you will see". I guess it pretty much explains it.
- Metro stations - most of them are true pieces of art. See as many as you can when you're in Moscow
- Lebedev studio cafe-shop, kinda hard to find at first, but worth visiting. Nice interior, nice atmosphere, nice kitchen, nice 7 years old Pu'er tea
- Garage (Гараж) - an art centre built in the old bus garage - definitely a place to see. We went to see James Turrell's installation. This was something unbelievable and breath taking, something next to the Tron and "There is no spoon". The effects manage to trick your senses and perception of reality to huge extent. You basically enter a white, almost square room with some rounded corners lit by pink/purple and then blue light. The colors, shape and light make it feel like vacuum, like you are nowhere and you walk on nothing. The biggest shock was when the room supervisor took us by hand, led to the wall and let us touch the wall - well, there was no wall! You are standing 30cm away from the wall and you clearly see that its in front of you, but when you reach out - you touch "the nothing" instead of wall.
That's it for now, folks! Coming up next - India! Stay tuned!