Stalin’s influence can still be felt in the texture of Moscow, but the city has more to hold the attention than the Red Square. Discover the Russian capital’s secrets with native, Karina Adrianova. Note: Not for acrophobes.
The Patriarch Ponds
Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita is a Faustian critique of Soviet society, in which the Devil and his cadre wreak carnage in the city. Where better, then, to begin such a work than here, the Patriarch Ponds, one of the more mysterious areas of Moscow. Somewhere around the single pond (the rest dried up centuries ago) a sign states: “It is forbidden to talk to strangers.” To find out its meaning sit on the nearest bench, light up a cigarette and read the first chapter of Bulgakov’s book. Having been suitably chilled, take the pathway that runs parallel to the pond, and appreciate the splendour of 20th century Moscovian architecture. Here you’ll find I Love Cake, where you can pamper yourself with pudding and cappuccinos. The café, which offers over 100 kinds of said dessert, is ideal for ruining your calorie counting programme. Hasten towards a window seat, as there’s little better than sitting down to cake and coffee while watching the world go by.
Opened in the 1930s, Moscow Underground looks, with its high ceilings and chandeliers, like a Communist mausoleum. Reaching 84 metres into the earth, the escalator works as a time machine. Everything below ground is a celebration of the Soviet regime: bronzed sculptures on Revolution Square, stained-glass windows on Novoslobodskaya, majolica panels on Komsomolskaya, mosaics on Kievskaya and art deco on Mayakovskaya. As the first underground railway system in Russia, the Moscow Metro has become one of the busiest in the world, and is used by more than 6.5 million people daily. So do avoid visiting in rush hour.
Bolshaya Dmitrovka 32
In the small yard on Bolshaya Dmitrovka locate the massive metal door with the lapel-looking mechanism for a subterranean experience of a different kind. Creep through the doors, descend to the basement and emerge in a former Soviet bomb shelter. Lights flashing on murky, concrete walls, old-fashioned oil lamps, and a DJ stand cobbled together from disused military boxes create a clandestine mood, as though a meeting place for erstwhile revolutionaries. If you’re hungry, make your way to the bar, but beware: meals are served in packages that bear no indication to their contents. While waiting for your surprise dinner, take the time to order some experimental cocktails served in frozen spheres or test tubes that look like they’ve been mixed in Chernobyl.
Teatralniy Proyezd 5/1
This one’s a hack for those who enjoy panoramic views but don’t enjoy paying for them. Built in the 1950s, Detsky Mir (Children’s World) was once the largest children’s shopping centre in the USSR and the first Soviet building to install escalators. Make use of this remnant of socialist industry to ascend to the top floor, where you can find stairs to the rooftop. In the open, slot a coin into a telescope and try to spy into the Kremlin windows. After you’ve had your fill of presidential secrets, leave the shopping centre and turn to Rozhdestvenka, where you can take a pedestrianised stroll past cute cafés and window-shop for Russian memorabilia.
Museum of Russian Impressionism
Leningradsky Prospect 15/11
Such was its cultural impact, Russian art in the 20th century consisted mostly of posters and sculptures in the communist style. There was, however, another, more covert and less explored movement in the same period: Russian impressionism, from which this private museum houses over 70 paintings. While most people will think of the French first when they hear the word “impressionism”, the lesser-known Russian movement offers the art snob a more complex and underappreciated alternative. Featuring little more than paintings affixed to white walls, the Museum of Russian Impression makes for the perfect atmosphere in which to understand the minds of those who set about to undermine the uniformity of communism.
Bersenevskaya Nab 6
This modern art cluster is long transformed from its former guise as a chocolate factory built in the 1850s, Krasny Oktabr (Red October). After the October Revolution, and the toppling of the Russian monarchy, the redbrick works became the main manufacturer of Soviet confectionary, including the famous Alonka bar. (No golden tickets here). Today, however, the space contains a high concentration of trendy venues – bars, restaurants, clubs and art galleries – which makes Krasny Oktyabr something like London’s Shoreditch with the added exoticism of being in Moscow. In among extremely popular dives like the Gypsy nightclub, one can find a window to the past in the Lumiere Brothers Centre for Photography. Here exhibitions are dedicated to Russian photography from the last century. Inside you can enjoy a cup of coffee in the little café, and borrow photo albums from the adjoined library.
Timeout Rooftop Bar
Bolshaya Sadovaya 5
Getting drunk in Russia sounds like a must. (It is a must). But doing so in a cheap restaurant is boring and predictable. Instead, I would suggest something more romantic – say, drinks with a view from the Timeout Rooftop Bar where you can enjoy the lights of the city as well as the Russian hangover you’re hankering after. If you’re not too drunk to appreciate it, the exterior of the building, unique in its blend of Stalin classicism and Chinese decoration, is also worth a survey. At sundown, induce vertigo by trying a brichmula cocktail made with raspberry vodka on the balustrade, and feel inferior in the shadow of the towering, fortress-like Stalinskie Vysotki.
Prospect Mira 119
This is the best place in Moscow to go in order to resurrect the spectre of the USSR. VDNKh, a huge exhibition centre, recreates a small Soviet town untouched by time inside the confines of the modern metropolis. Wander through its block of squares, pavilions, and monuments dedicated to the ordinary hardworking comrades, and feel part of something greater than yourself. Inspect the aforementioned pavilions closer, and realise each one represents a former member of the Soviet family. Then remember it’s 2017 by purchasing an ice cream from a small stall, before sitting alone engrossed by your iPhone, taking selfies near the People’s Friendship Fountain.