Moscow in modern Russia
In December 2002 I returned to Moscow on a business trip. It was my first visit there since my trip on the Trans-Mongolian train back in the summer of 1988.
To say the place had changed would be a big understatement. The Soviet Union had fallen and it had been replaced by the Russian Federation. Gorbachev had given way to Yeltsin in the 1990’s but at the time of my visit in 2002 Putin already held the presidency.
In 1988 I left a city that didn’t even have any advertisements and in 2002 I returned to one that had Las-Vegas-style gaming machines (since removed) in almost every Metro station.
I have made many business trips back to Russia since 2002. From about 2004 until 2010 the trips were every 3 or 4 months and since 2011 they have been yearly.
My trips have usually been only to Moscow and the surrounding area, but I have been to St Petersburg, travelling there on the slow day train from Moscow, and also to the small city of Chekboksary, a town to the south of Moscow situated on the impressive Volga River.
I have always enjoyed visiting Moscow.
Here are 13 of the many reasons why.
1 – Winter
My second visit in 2002 was in the middle of winter and many of my subsequent visits have been too. There is just something magical about Moscow in the snow.
They say that the snow covers everything up and makes the city beautiful, but I think it is more than that. To someone who comes from a milder climate where snow means disruption it is impressive how they just carry on and keep going.
Obviously you really need to wrap up warm but that challenge is part of the attraction too.
2 – Red Square
However many times you see it the place is always stunning. St Basil’s cathedral is one of the iconic sites of the world. The square always feels a little bit smaller than you expect though.Perhaps that is a result of watching all those military parades at a distorted angle on TV as a child.
3 – Victory Park / War Museum
The extent of the Soviet sacrifice in WW2 is mind blowing. It is commemorated partly by a very moving memorial containing the eternal flame near Red Square, but more comprehensively at the city’s excellent war museum.
4 – Metro
Even if you don’t like trains Moscow’s metro is a worth a visit. Many of the older stations are extensively decorated with art works, sculptures and chandeliers. The system is very deep and in many places the escalators are impressively long. Sadly for me some of the more atmospheric old trains, with their clattering doors and screeching electric motors, are now being phased out.
5 – People
I have been very lucky to have met and done business with some great people in Russia. The people are famously resilient and can be, like the British, quite stubborn. On the whole, though, I have always found them excellent company both as business colleagues and drinking partners.
A night in a pub sat talking about politics with some really intelligent people is something I always look forward to whenever I am returning to Moscow.
6 – Food
Russian cuisine is not on the same level as Italian or French of course. It is usually compared more with British and German food.
That said, there are lots of good things to eat and I look forward to trying them again each visit. There is nothing like a great steaming bowl of borsht soup to stave off the winter chill. I love Russian bread particularly the black stuff.
Moscow is great for tasting food from other parts of the former Soviet Union too. I have had some excellent Uzbek and Georgian food there.
7 – Roads
Moscow’s wide boulevards are quite amazing in their scale. It is actually very interesting to be driven around on them. The city has a traffic problem, though, and if you need to get anywhere fast, car is rarely the quickest way.
Uber and its local competitors has now taken hold in the city, but previously the system of “gypsy cabs” was fascinating and fun to use. Back in 2004 we just used to put our thumbs out at the side of the road and old Lada cars would stop for us. There must have been thousands of these unofficial cabs circling the city at any one time. It was just like hitching except you paid for it.
8 – Kremlin
Filled with historical sites and exhibits, the Kremlin is a UNESCO world heritage site and well worth a visit. The Dormitron Orthodox Cathedral is one of the highlights.
Back in 2002 I actually used to enjoy drinking vodka. I have given it up now and stick to Russian beer. I still have many memories of sitting up until late drinking with customers until I was literally legless.
Moscow has some good pubs and restaurants and they are often themed. There was one we used to go to with a KGB theme and it was excellent fun.
10 – Museums –
Moscow is not short of museums but sadly I haven’t had time to enjoy many of them. I did visit the Museum of Contemporary Russian History on Tverskaya Street and found it fascinating. It tells the story of Russia’s political history over the past 150 years. The space museum is impressive too.
11 – Stalin’s Seven Sisters
The city has some impressive architecture from different periods. Some of my favourites are the 1940’s/ 1950’s Art-Deco-influenced skyscraper buildings known as the “Seven Sisters”.
They include Moscow State University, the Ukraine Hotel and the Leningradskaya Hotel. Once emblems of communism, the latter two have now been taken over by American chains Radisson and Hilton. I stayed at the Hilton Leningradskaya on one of my visits.
12 – GUM
Moscow’s famous department store changed a lot between my 1988 and 2002 visits. It is still worth a visit today. The architecture is impressive. It includes a wonderful overall roof and internal galleries with bridges.
13 – Catherine’s Palace
I have been lucky to visit a few attractions on the outskirts of Moscow over the years. The most memorable was the Catherine Palace located in the south of the city. The gardens were very impressive.