SIGHTS in Moscow:
Those who come in the summer will ask themselves right at the entrance what the wild birds will do during the winter period. Before you start knitting shawls for them, be assured: The pond doesn't freeze in the winter because it is heated by a compressor. Also the wild cats don't get cold - they have their own fur and if temperatures go below zero, the white tigers, panthers and lions have a protected indoor area at their disposal as well. The spectacled (or Andean) bear is used to the cold. It comes from the Andes but is almost extinct there and so seldom that he is the main attraction of the zoo. The dolphins are also drawing visitors galore, staging up to eight shows per day and enthralling kids with their performances. Also the beluga whale has to work hard for his money, performing numerous jumps for visitors. Ticket sales start one hour prior to the show. But there are smaller animals as well. If you don't dare to go close to the whale you can also watch a wide variety of spiders, bugs and butterflies at the Insecttopia. Got an itch yet? Go to the zoo!
The Novodevichy Convent owes its riches to cronyism. The daughters and women of noble families were sent to the convent, eagerly donating to the honour of God. Some of them did not come on their own accord though. Peter I sent his half-sister to the convent because she had an eye on the throne. The tsar also did not trust his first wife and sent her behind convent walls. How convenient! But on your own accord or not, living behind these strong walls is not half as bad as it sounds. The buildings were constructed in the style of Moscow Baroque, with gold-trimmed iconostases, onion towers and magnificent interior. In addition, visitors may find salvation in several churches and cathedrals. The spacious area includes the Cathedral of Christ the Savour, the Ambrosius Church, the Protection of the Virgin Gate Church, the Cathedral of the Dormition and the 16th-century Smolensk Cathedral. And if you have inhaled enough incense you can cross yourself three times at the beautiful graveyard - in honour of the daughter of Ivan the Terrible who is buried here in the good company of Nicolay Gogol and Boris Yeltsin. Our tip: Have a dictionary on you; otherwise you will discover the famous ones only by their busts.
While France invented them, the Russians are the true heroes in tights. If you go to Moscow, don't miss ballet. The Summer Ballet Festival, for example, proves over a period of two months that one can do anything on tiptoes. Only the best ensembles are admitted here: the Russian State Ballet, the National Russian Vozrozhdenie Ballet, too. And when all of them perform the dying swan onstage, the Symphony Orchestra plays the music in the time of the tutu. The aim of the summer ballet is to combine old classics with new choreography and thus attracting a younger audience. The audience is allowed to come in jeans, only shorts and flip-flops are taboo. The program is standard: Swan Lake is always in fashion in Moscow, the Nutcracker is an evergreen and during the Cinderella performance you can follow the plot even without a programme. What's the thrill then? The dancers are the absolute masters of their art, the pros in twisting, the dancing stars of their profession. So what are you waiting for? Get yourself a ticket!
SHOPPING in Moscow:
Arbat & Tverskaja
If you come to Moscow for shopping you have to keep two names in mind: Arbat and Tverskaja. They're like a spell once spoken they you will be on the brink of bankruptcy. In the 19th century the Arbat was the district of the nobility. After the great fire in 1812 they built their villas and city houses here. It is Khrushchev's fault that this beautiful old district is not as magnificent any longer as it used to be. The latter had parts of it destroyed. Where in the past the villas were located, there is today the 70 metre-wide Nowyj Arabtk, a popular shopping street. Parallel to it you'll find the Arbat street, Moscow's first pedestrian zone with neat cafés and shops. During the summer you can sit outside and watch the souvenir sellers, musicians and street artists. Along the pedestrian zone beautiful old buildings line up - the residences of the newly rich in town. No wonder - not everybody can afford this expensive district. Here comes my suggestion: Stick to the street artists and keep away from the enticing shopwindows. Or don't give a damn and walk to the Red Square. There, the Tverskaja Uliza starts, where the concentration of sparkling facades will finally take away what's left of your willpower. And you will start a high-heel race with the Russian elite.
Hot Tipp: Come with an empty stomach. At the chocolate factory you will get enough sweet stuff to mess up your sugar levels for a lifetime. But never mind as a glance behind the scenes pays off in any case. German Ferdinand von Einem brought the chocolate to Russia in the 19th century. Then, he employed five people in his small pastry shop. Today the chocolate empire produces 60,000 tons of chocolate - no wonder that they feed you some on the tour. You will taste cherries and almonds, dark and milk chocolate, the legendary Mishka waffles with the bear on top and plenty of confectionary. Help yourself, please, you are in best company. Rumour has it that even Gorbachev loved the cult chocolate when he was still a child. And if you have survived the sugar shock you can order your own chocolate figure at the shop: a bowl of strawberries, a soccer ball or a business man bathing in money at best. The tour costs 16 Euros, a box of confectionary included in the price. Compared to the past this is a good bargain: In earlier times the noble chocolate cost as much as a cow.
Here's another bloodsucker: While the Transilwanija sells its CDs at top prices, you are confronted with pure nostalgia here. But first you have to find the store as it is well-hidden in the backyard of the Crab House restaurant. The search pays off as you will spend at least as much time there (you can't get through 50,000 CDs that easily). But don't worry: the stuff is well-assorted and you won't search long if you know what you want. The system is based on countries, so look for New German Music, Old German Music or Very old French Music. Above all fans of old CDs will get their share. Scandinavian World Music and Old US Rock complete the musical roundtrip and get us to the titles. The Transilwanija's offer includes hits from the GDR as well as Japanese pop, rare electronic music as well as very rare electronic music - and if you get lost, you can still ask the profound shop assistant for help.
STAY in Moscow:
Ararat Park Hyatt
Let's talk business: The Ararat Park Hyatt is the dream hotel for all those big on business. The location alone makes top managers' hearts leap. The hotel is located in the centre of the business district, close to the Kremlin and the Parliament. The clientele is thus defined, the rooms accordingly furnished with large desks. Apart from them, there's nothing that will distract you from your job. The rooms are large but dominated in office colours: brown and beige. Only the bathrooms are slightly more impressive. Some boast Italian marble, all of them Blaise-Mautin toiletries. There's underfloor heating and there are walk-in showers. Who wants to work at a desk then? Three telephones get you back to reality - time to turn on the W-Lan and to take a look at the morning paper. If that's a shock for you, you can hold a meeting with colleagues at your own living room, or stage an emergency meeting at the conference room. And if all of you are once again working round the clock, I recommend the Presidential Suite. 227 square metres offer ample space for you and your staff. Whoever still has energy left works out at the hotel-owned fitness centre or relaxes over Armenian specialties at the hotel's restaurant. Have fun with your job! Double room from approx. 615 euros per night.
Historical or not, if you stay at the Hotel National you will need a good insurance. Or else you move with extreme caution amidst the sumptuous antiques. The 19th-century china is not as stable as it looks. And better not touch the precious paintings. The candle holders are made of bronze and for your eyes only. You're lucky: The giant fresco on the ceiling is too far away and you can't do anything wrong with the whirlpool in the bathroom. If you sleep at a museum you must be prepared for broken pieces. But don't worry: Nicolas Sarkozy, Silvio Berlusconi and Jacques Chirac have also managed to avoid that. Besides, you can still hide in the exclusive ambience of the restaurant and fight your fear of compensations with molecular cuisine. We recommend a decent bottle of wine and the fantastic view of the Red Square and the Kremlin. Double room from 300 euros per night.
If you step into the hotel you wonder whether the rooms were furnished during the fitted-carpet era. Or is this en vogue again? You can't tell from the furniture as it is classical and of finest design, as new as stripped from the plastic cover only recently. And there are modern warm shades, there's underfloor heating in the marble baths and there are Bulgari amenities wherever you look. Being in line with tradition and therefore authentic is always en vogue, after all. But the hotel features state-of-the-art technology as well: remote controls for the DVD players, the flat-screens and the curtains. If you feel disconnected now, you luckily have W-Lan available, but if you get too confused just ask your butler! He will help you press the right button or plan the perfect day at the spa for you: hot-stone massage at 10:00, fitness centre at 11:00, rain shower at noon and fresh calorie uptake at the Restaurant Caviarterra thereafter. And don't miss enjoying the view of the Kremlin on the terrace - you won't need a butler for it.
EAT in Moscow:
As always, a good idea starts with the wish for a change. This time, a couple of guys getting together for a beer got annoyed about Moscow's deficiency in decent breakfasts - let alone decent burgers. That was 15 years ago. Today, Starlite Dinner is a Russian institution with four spin-offs and American background. The interior design was imported from Florida, the posters from Hollywood and the meals are as American as ketchup. Where 20 years ago one had to listen to forbidden jazz records under one's bedcover, the star-spangled banner is greeting you today. The restaurant is almost more American than a diner over there: red and white striped leather sofas, a jukebox and serviettes from a metal box conjure up the American dream, getting guests in the mood for a Cordon Bleu Burger, a Cowboy Burger or the Really Big Shawn Burger - for all those that are truly hungry. Breakfast is a real highlight: At a Starlite Diner you can enjoy your waffles 24 hours a day on seven days a week - only Fonzie is missing, serving the titbits.
Warwary is Barbarian. At least the restaurant translates Barbarians. However, the cuisine is far from wild; guests do not throw chicken bones and belching is probably just another taboo. The Warwary is Russia's first gourmet restaurant. The cuisine is as bold as its name, banning the usual dough buns from the plates. There's plain ice instead of fat, and there are small spheres tasting of Borscht instead of Borscht. Instead of brown bread you are served brown bread in liquid form. You've already guessed? And you are right: the Warwary is the figurehead of molecular cuisine. And this cuisine is somewhat different - it splits up food in its ingredients and serves something at the table that looks strange to us but tastes much better. The restaurant itself is a surprise as well: slightly decadent but friendly. While being noble, it is uncomplicated and does without five sets of forks and spoons. As refreshing as its atmosphere is, a gourmet dinner has its price. With eight courses at 120 euros, you best calculate the hourly rate yourself.
Café, bar, restaurant and club - all in one. Suchlike venues are quite popular in the east - also in Moscow. At FAQ-Café you eat first: the offer is huge and partly customised to the audience. Club sandwich, soup or pasta. But you also find steak, salads and vegetarian delicacies as well as desserts and coffees in most different variations on the menu. Afterwards the cocktail will taste all the better. And when the concerts start at night, things get going: Tabasco Band, BoneShakers or Olga Gertschakova are only a few to mention that have already performed at FAQ-Café. That doesn't only please the students of the nearby University of Economics. All in all you especially meet a younger crowd at FAQ-Café who doesn't seem to care about the interior which is significantly older than themselves: a little bit dusty, quite simple but yet very cosy - just retro!