Sep 15

MOSCOW – THE CAPITAL OF THE POWERFUL OLIGARCHS (МОСКВА)

In the past 20 years, the symbol – city of the former Red Empire has reborn in a way that former communist leaders such as Lenin, Stalin or Brezhnev would not have ever anticipated and it became the world capital of Western-like “decadent” refinement, designed to meet the demands of numerous millionaires who are now spinning wheels of power.

Luxury boom

The Soviet Union is now long gone and Moscow – as we know from the past times of pompous military parades celebrating with glittery propaganda the Victory Day or the Great October Revolution, or when MiGs flown over haughty official stand, where leaders of the Bolshevik Party, with their backs bent down from so many decorations and medals, were governing the scenery – has transformed into exactly the opposite as the Communist leaders and philosophers had imagined it would be for eternity.

Ex-communist metropolis is continually borrowing the made in USA commercial symbolism: from KFC to the Hard Rock Café. Becoming a center of big business, Moscow – although it remains in a proportion of 70% a gulag of the needy, hosts successive waves of expats, but also the local oligarchy out of which rows of Forbes nominees are being regularly recruited for the magazine’s charts. Logically, their lifestyle expectations have changed and there are already plenty of individuals and clans that do not exclude cosmopolitan luxuries or even daily extravaganza from their way of living.

The Russian economic growth rate, higher than in Western Europe, partly justifies this trade boom of luxury goods, considered until recently one of niche. Besides legal affairs, in Moscow also bloomed an impressive black economy with sophisticated transactions, including weapons of last generation. And the beneficiaries of this boom – “les nouveaux riches” -, when they don’t buy luxury residences on the French Riviera (where more than half of the restaurants are already displaying their menu in Cyrillic alphabet), they invest heavily in their personal comfort, ready to shell out any price for whatever latest fashion caprice that, only a decade ago, it would have seemed unthinkable.

Why should you get to Moscow?

Because it truly is a very beautiful city, whose center can be compared without any exaggeration, to any other major European capitals – Paris, London, Rome or Madrid. In addition, although today the capital of the East turned into the citadel of the oligarchs and demanding millionaires, it is not “so” expensive: a night in a decent 4 star hotel in close proximity to the center should not be more than 65 euros for 2 people , while prices in restaurants and bars are surprisingly low; and as for shopping, the ladies will have plenty of surprises: in malls and shopping spots in central Moscow there are crowded the most prestigious brands in the world and the prices here are usually consistently lower than those of Paris or Vienna. If money is not a problem, in Moscow you will find the latest collections of famous designers before they get to London or New York. Besides all these issues more or less questionable of “decadent capitalist consumerism”, Moscow has a special charm build upon the symbols that provide its identity:

The Red Square. It is the heart of the city and should be the first destination to visit to sample more of the consistent flavor of the metropolis. St. Bazil’s Cathedral is flanked by the State History Museum, Lenin’s Mausoleum, the most exclusive mall Moscow, GUM, and one of Kremlin’s walls. Basically, here you have comprised the quintessential of the city: ancient historical buildings, relics of communism and symbols of New Russia, all concentrated in a few square kilometers. For a leisurely visit to all locations embodied in the Red Square you will need at least two days. To make it easier, take the subway from one of the metro stations in the vicinity of Red Square: Ohotnii Ryad, Ploschad Revolutsii.

Old Arbat Street. At first glance it looks like a combination between a hardly digestible Turkish bazaar and an alley in the historic center of Naples, but Arbat but has its particular charm: it is crowded with cafes, bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. The prices of the latter can be negotiated.

Bolshoi Theater. The price of a show is pretty steep, starting at 1,000 rubles, you can relax on the majestic fountain in front and admire the famous building.

Tretyakov Gallery. It is one of the largest and finest museums in the world – if you want to visit one museum in Moscow, you should definitely pick it up. Here you will find exclusively Russian art: paintings and sculpture the most famous Russian artists and the richest collection of ancient Russian icons.

Gorky Park. The biggest and most famous Moscow Park boasts impressive green spaces, promenades, statues and cafes. It is the most popular meeting and leisure place for city residents. During winter, most paths are decorated with statues of ice.

Photo source:

Picture 1: radissonblu.com; Picture 2: rubelli.com; Picture 3: almaty-kazakhstan.net; Picture 4: flikr.com; Picture 5: newmoscowtravel.com; Picture 6: youtube.com
Sep 01

SAINT BASIL CATHEDRAL IN MOSCOW – AN EVERLASTING ARCHITECTONIC MASTERPIECE (СОБОР ВАСИЛИЯ БЛАЖЕННОГО, МОСКВÁ)

Although this famous cathedral is known worldwide as “Saint Basil’, its official name is “Cathedral of the Intercession of the Mother of God”. The alternative name linked to Saint Basil refers to the fact that the holy relics of Blessed Basil, who is highly revered in Russia, are buried inside the church. Saint Basil “the Fool” lived between 1468 and 1552 and had been buried in Holy Trinity Cathedral, which at that time was located on the current site of the famous edifice, a few years before the current cathedral was going to be built.

The raising of St. Basil Cathedral was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in 1552 to mark and celebrate the capture of Kazan from the hands of the Mongols. It was completed in 1560 and although there isn’t any evidence known about its construction, the place is “haunted” by a lot of legends. For example, we do not know anything about the actual builders of the cathedral besides their names – Barma and Postnik Yakovlev – and the legend that after the construction was finished, Ivan blinded them so that they can no longer see anything and never make any comparisons. Historians have established, however, that this is nothing but folklore. Another legend has it that Napoleon love this cathedral so much that he wanted to bring it to Paris. Since this could not be done in that time, he was angry and ordered to be set on fire. A rain saved it in the last minute.

 

The architects of today cannot agree with the idea that has governed the plan behind the building. There is the hypothesis that the builders wanted to dedicate a tribute to the churches in Jerusalem, building eight churches around the ninth, representing the medieval symbol of the star with eight corners (reminiscent of the Lord’s resurrection day). On the other hand, the eight domes symbolize the eight attacks triggered by tsar against the Tatars of Kazan. The original concept of the Cathedral St. Basil remained hidden under layers of additional styles that have been added to the main building. Originally, the cathedral was completely white to match the white walls of the Kremlin. Regarding the towers, they were golden and not as colored as they are today.

In the 17th century a bell tower was added and the domes were replaced and decorated. In 1860, the cathedral was rebuilt, gaining a new paint and a new integrated and complex design, which has been kept until now. During the time of the Soviet Union was called into question the demolition of the church because it stood in the way of Stalin’s plans of organizing parades on the Red Square. The cathedral was saved only because of the courage of the architect Piotr Baralovski who refused orders to begin preparing demolition, sending the Kremlin a telegram of refusal, saying he will cut his throat in front of the cathedral if it will be destroyed; the telegram was going to cost him five years in prison.

Today, St. Basil Cathedral is a museum. During the restoration works of the 70s, in one of the walls was discovered a wooden spiral staircase. Visitors use this scale to enter the main church, which is an architectural masterpiece. Once a year, in October in the cathedral the priests hold the service for the Intercession Day.

Saint Basil Cathedral is open every day of the week, except Tuesday, between 11 to 17o’clock.

It is probably the best known symbol of Moscow and it represents the peak of human creativity and mastery.

Photo source:

Picture 1: famouswonders.com; Picture 2: en.spbrossitour.com; Picture 3: thetimes.co.uk; Picture 4: holeinthedonut.com; Picture 5: trekearth.com; Picture 6: reddit.com; Picture 7: worldsecretlocations.com
Jul 06

TRANS-SIBERIAN ROUTE – AN EXCELLENT ADVENTURE ON THE TRAIN! (TRANS-SIBERIAN ROUTE)

A trip on the Trans-Siberian railway is one of the most picturesque in the world. Stretching over two continents, this railway route links the frostbitten northern side of the Pacific to the Baltic Sea. Between these two points is the largest, the most amazing lengthiness of infinite land is unfolding in front of your eyes and includes the biggest natural lake in the world, the Forbidden City, Kremlin, the Mongolian steppe and taiga – whole kilometers so far untouched by human foot.

For those who plan a Trans-Siberian journey, the first step may be the most confusing. In the following paragraphs, you have a list of suggestions that will help you with the decisions that need to be taken before leaving.

The classic Trans-Siberian route begins Moscow and lasts for seven days. Finally, the train arrives in Vladivostok, a port city rather untidy, but nevertheless poetic and picturesque, placed at the Pacific Ocean. In Vladivostok you will find a cosmopolitan mix of Chinese immigrant and other Asian nations, and the feeling that dominates this city is very distinct. It doesn’t abound in tourist attractions, but it is worth roaming through it for a few days. If you continue your journey eastward from here you can take the ferry to Korea or Japan.

The Trans-Manchurian route crosses almost all of Russia in length before arriving to China. After you pass Lake Baikal and the city of Chita, the train is heading towards the southeast. This route can arouse the interest of tourists in wintertime, as the train stops the city of Harbin, where you can witness the spectacular annual festival of winter. The terminus of the trip is Beijing, where tourists can go on, or fly home from the international airport.

The Trans-Mongolian route crosses three countries, going south in Mongolia before ending in Beijing. This is the best route for those who want to experience different things. After thousands of kilometers across Russia by train you will pass through the wild and surreal beauty of the Mongol steppe. A stop in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, allows the tourists to spend some time in one of the least explored countries in Asia. The last stop is back in Beijing, and from here you have various options.

Decide when to begin your trip. Each season offers a different travel experience. If you are interested in the frozen landscape of Siberia, choose winter, but you should know that temperatures in January in Irkutsk can reach -26ºC. During summertime, the big cities can get really hot, but in smaller cities Siberian weather is pleasant and ideal for walks. Late spring and early fall are also two moments of the year, because they are less crowded.

Decide when to go forward and when to stop. There are people who have made a real passion for traveling on the Trans-Siberian routes. The most experienced travelers claim that a real traveling enthusiast hops on the train and takes it from Moscow to Vladivostok continuously, without getting down, admiring the scenery from the window. This unforgettable experience consists in the visual pleasure provided by the the path itself more than anything else (that’s only if you’re not a big fan of instant noodles).

But for many, such a test of resistance does not sound very tempting. Most tourists prefer to get off the train in certain cities and spend a few days there to somehow interrupt the monotony. Plus so you have access to some of the most spectacular sights in Russia. Among the most popular stops include Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude or Harbin (on the Trans-Manchurian route) and Ulan Bator (on the trans-Mongolian).

Photo source

Picture 1: tsvoyage.com; Picture 2: nomadicexpeditions.com; Picture 3: nstravel.ro; Picture 4: russiasupplychain.com; Picture 5: edgrahamphoto.com; Picture 6: transsiberianexpress.net; Picture 7: siberiantimes.com
May 16

MOSCOW SUBWAY SYSTEM BETWEEN PRACTICAL REQUIREMENT AND ARTISTIC MASTERPIECE

The Russian subway system is among the oldest on the world. Its construction begun in 1930 and ever since then, the railways kept on being built. Nowadays it measures approximately 250 kilometers in length. It’s the second most crowded and most used metro system in the world, after the one in Tokyo.

mymodernmet.com

mymodernmet.com

The most impressive about the subway in Moscow are the stations: the beautiful architecture, the decorations, the several styles combined, everything makes you think of monuments and museums, rather than public transport.

Most stations have been built during Joseph Stalin’s regime, and represented one of his vanities – positive ones – and his endeavor to show the world that he such beautiful things will be a part of his legacy.

mymodernmet.com

mymodernmet.com

The stations are decorated in the same style as some of the Russian palaces: marble of different colors, Byzantine mosaics, and elegant combinations of tiles, stained glass, frescos, chandeliers, and bronze statues, all of them adorning all the 140 stations in Moscow. Few people know that these precious assets are the remains of thousands of churches and monasteries which Stalin had demolished, in his attempt to build the greatest socialist empire of the world, like in the case of Park Kulturii, Kropotninskaya or Okhotnii Riad, three stations where the marble pieces once made of the walls of Jesus the Savior Cathedral.

mymodernmet.com

mymodernmet.com

The subway itself is one of the most important and popular touristic attractions of the Russian capital, and out of the 150 subway stations in Moscow, Komsomolskaya is considered to be the most beautiful. The subway station is almost like a museum. It is decorated with paintings by the greatest artists in Russia and is illuminated by crystal chandeliers weighing several tons each. It was inaugurated in 1935 and you can admire the tall pillars, gray-blue marble and granite floor. The imposing ceiling is decorated in a Baroque style with mosaics whose themes target Russians’ struggle for freedom and independence.

mymodernmet.com

mymodernmet.com

Mayakovskaya is considered to be one of the most beautiful stations; it was inspired by the Soviet poet Mayakovski’s visions on the future of the country. It has 34 mosaics made by Russian artist Alexander Deyneka, and during World War II, the station served as anti-missile shelter.

Entuziastov Shosse. The theme of this station is the Russian people’s struggle for freedom throughout history. Here visitors can admire many types of revolutionary marble sculptures and paintings created under revolutionary ideals; among the numerous works of art, you can distinguish the “Flames of Freedom” sculpture belonging to A. Kuznetsov.

mymodernmet.com

mymodernmet.com

Prospekt Mira is located in the northern side of the city, in an area where there are not many tourist attractions. This station was decorated by architects Vladimir Gelfreyech and Mikhail Minkus and was inspired by elements of the botanical garden nearby.

Ploshchad Revolyutsii: a station where you can observe the 76 sculptures arranged thematically, from parents with their children, athletes, students, farmers, workers or soldiers. At the entrance, there is the statue of a customs officer with a dog whose nose is often petted by passers-by, as the legend says that it brings them luck.

Arbatskaya station was built primarily to serve as anti-atomic bunker. It is the deepest metro station in the world (dug 41 meters underground) and is the second largest in Russia.

mymodernmet.com

mymodernmet.com

In Novoslobodskaya station visitors can admire handmade stained glass 32 in Lithuania, a country that prides itself on tradition in this area.

Kievskaya. This is the “pearl of the Soviet Empire”. This metro station is the first in Moscow and is named after the city of birth of Joseph Stalin – Kiev (Ukraine). The station is decorated with sculptures, paintings and mosaics made by the greatest artists of Russia.

There are dozens more and each bears a unique mark of classic elegance slightly touched by the socialist plate.

Either way, the Moscow metro represents one of the most sought sites in Moscow and will welcome you any day.