|Gum, an ancient shopping centre in Red Square|
|Nastoyka (vodka infused with rare berries) at Expedition Arctic restaurant|
|Delicious rare, frozen raw fish and scallops served on a block of ice at Expedition|
|50 year old, giant (as big as your hand) oysters at Expedition|
|Banya (sauna) at Expedition restaurant...book well in advance|
This one deserves a write-up. Undoubtedly, one of the most memorable experiences of my life. A real Russian banya. I've heard from a few people that Expedition's sauna is the best in Moscow and they were right. You get your very own banshik (someone with a medical degree who bathes you). My friend and I were lucky and had two... Naked (traditionally, not mandatory), you enter the sauna where you lay on the bed of pine, cold branches are laid on your head so that you can breathe while your body absorbs the heat. Banshiki lightly beat you with tree branches which have health benefits. They're not about the torture-some experience of the Russian sauna most foreigners dread...it's more about the delicate mix of pleasure and pain, which puts you in a state like no other. You're then escorted into the second room where you rest in an herbal bath while your heart-rate slows down. After you re-enter the sauna for more heat and beating, you're asked to submerge into a tub full of cold water three times...which feels like being baptised...all your worries and sins roll off with the water. After this, you're dried off and left to rest in a bed of hay or sit and enjoy kvas (delicious natural and refreshing fizzy drink resembling sweet non-alcoholic beer), mors (rare berry drink), or herbal tea...as well as yummy snacks of sushki or suhariki (sweet bready snacks) with fresh raspberry jam or honey. When you re-enter the wet-room you're poured over with cold water as well as hot right after, which makes people laugh and gives you the feeling of nirvana. You're then rubbed head-to-toe in honey (yes by two well-built, very pleasant and professional men), massaged, scrubbed with some exotic siberian seaweed (which made me laugh non-stop) and finally lathered up with old fashioned sponges resembling pond grass, that feel like they're scrubbing off your skin. Of course all of this gives your body a baby-like feel. You sit up and rinsed like a child, your hair is washed and treated with conditioner and finally you're dried off and left to enjoy the feeling of being re-born, careless, highly positive, deeply relaxed and in a dream-like state. All I could think about is how do I get this feeling to last...and when can I have it again.
|Soviet style canteen "Stolovaya #57", top floor of Gum on Red Square|
Another restaurant worth a mention is Black Market near Sportivnaya tube. A very hip place with delicious burgers, but more of a place for style-wise Russians rather than foreign visitors, I would say. Eat Russian food while you're in Russia.
Check out some bars, like Belka, on the other side of Moscow River, near Church of Christ the Saviour. Belka has live piano, it's the only bar in Moscow where you can't smoke and it resembles the very cool, old fashioned cocktail bars in London, like Purl and the Whistling Shop.
|The air in the city is disastrous, I often felt nauseous because I couldn't breathe|
|Snow finally thawing at the end of April...a couple of ducks decided a puddle will do just as well as the pond|
|Nacional - an old world hotel near Red Square|
|Hotel Metropol, another type of place where people with a real sense of style stay|
...a 100 year-old hotel with history and old-world charm
|A rare but possible stylish look...Olga Gurkina in Smolenskaya Metro|
|Another citizen-style by the Bolshoi Theatre|
Speaking of Bolshoi (meaning - big) everyone calls it that, so when I came up to a policeman to ask where it is, I was glad, for once, to hear a rare bit of Russian police humor. Instead of getting taken to the station, like I used to in the past, the cop said - You need a big what? And grinned. It was good to see things really have changed.
|I caught a glimpse of a yellow skirt flowing into Hermes and had to stalk my prey and follow her in|
...the skirt is Topshop
While endless traffic jams polute the city, opt for the world famous Moscow Metro, voted the most beautiful in the world. Steer clear of it during rush hours, but definitely worth a dip, especially because you could catch one of these...
One of the coolest things I've seen ANYWHERE is the art metro train. If you're lucky painted carriages will arrive to take you to your destination. I didn't know anything about it. My jaw dropped when while expecting another less than desirable trip on the tube...this arrived. The passengers were acting as if there's nothing different whatsoever...but I had to take pictures. Paintings by famous artists adorned the carriages, which have been running for over a year...and no one vandalised them. Perhaps if we made everything beautiful, the low-lifes would think twice before damaging things in the future.