x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Enjoy your own romp through Putin's playground, Moscow

My Kind of Place Ignore the frowns of locals and there's plenty to discover and enjoy in Moscow.

Distinctive architecture, world-class museums and fine restaurants make Moscow a fascinating place to explore, ring by ring.
Distinctive architecture, world-class museums and fine restaurants make Moscow a fascinating place to explore, ring by ring.

Why Moscow?

Moscow may not be the most friendly of cities. It is, after all, crammed with 15 million Muscovites who endure almost nine months of winter each year. But it is a spectacularly beautiful one "with lots of energy," as every expat always says.

Some moments of tranquillity can be found in Park Kultury, a green space near the city centre. The commanding Kremlin boasts its Tsar Cannon and Tsar Bell, the Cathedral of the Dormition and Ivan the Great Bell Tower.

Culture? Russia gave us writers Chekhov, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, but its artists might be a little less well-known. However, the most famous Russian collection of paintings can be found in the House of Artists surrounded by a distinctive collection of sculptures in the Park of the Arts at 10 Lavrushinsky Lane. Impressionist works can be found in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts at Volkhonka Street 12, one of many fine museums and galleries the city has to offer.

The Bolshoi Theatre recently reopened after six years of renovation - and opened with great fanfare. According to RIA Novosti, the state news agency, even Mikhail Gorbachev's wife Raisa and Patriarch Alexy II, both long dead, attended the opening ceremony which was followed by partial collapse of the backdrop of the stage. On quieter days, tickets can cost as much as 20,000 rubles (Dh2,500) on the black market, if you haven't booked one (well) in advance.

In short, Russia's biggest city is chaotic, fast, frenetic and traffic-clogged. It boasts a striking architectural style that is hardly "wow" - except maybe for the Kremlin - but if you want beautiful, sleepy, slow and foggy, visit St Petersburg. And yes, I'm from Moscow.

A comfortable bed

For a central location and a spectacular view of the city, go for the Ritz-Carlton (www.ritzcarltonmoscow.ru; 00 7 495 225 8888) where double rooms start from 30,000 rubles (Dh3,700) per night, or the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow (www.moscow.park.hyatt.com; 00 7 495 783 1234) with prices starting at 24,000 rubles (Dh2,900) per night. Both hotels are a short walk away from Red Square with open-roof terraces with views over to the Kremlin.

There are also several Marriotts in the city (www.marriott.com), with nightly rates from 11,500 roubles (Dh1,419). The Hilton Leningradskaya (www.hilton.com; 00 7 495 627 5550) is housed in one of the "Seven Sisters" - beautiful skyscrapers from Stalin's era.

Find your feet

Moscow is built around a set of rings with Red Square in the centre. The first and innermost major ring is Bulvarnoye; the second, Sadovoye; the third is called, literally, Tretye while the fourth and the last is MKAD. This one marks the border of Moscow and, as some think, life itself ("There's no life beyond the MKAD" is a popular joke among Muscovites).

The best way to explore Moscow is by car at midnight when there's no traffic and the city's buildings and bridges benefit from powerful multicoloured neon lighting.

During the day, go underground. The Moscow Metro is famous for stations that could almost be sights in themselves, boasting an art deco style. You can obtain a map written in English at most hotels, as all the names and signs of stations are in Russian.

Get to the surface at Kropotkinskaya and glance at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (Khram Khrista Spasitelya or KKS), which was rebuilt in 1997. The church was destroyed after the death of Lenin and the foundations flooded to create a huge open-air swimming pool named Moskva Pool.

Meet the locals

Cross the Moskva River to find the most vibrant part of the city, the Strelka (Arrow) quarter.

For the past 100 years, the factory here made chocolate. Some say you can still smell it in the air. Today you can find around 50 restaurants, bars and exhibitions. Pay attention to Strelka Bar and Bontempi (take a seat at the second floor near the window with a view of KKS) and Pobeda and Lumiere photo galleries on Prechistenka Str, 19.

What to avoid

Unscrupulous minicab drivers. Some have an extortionate tariff of fees for visitors, so check before you get in to avoid being asked to pay 10 times the usual fare.

Book a table

There are plenty of restaurants in Moscow. You'll need at least a week or two to explore the best of them. Some of the finest Russian food can be found at Cafe Pushkin (www.cafe-pushkin.ru; 00 7 495 739 0033) on the Bulvar not far from Pushkin Square. But leave before dessert, take 50 steps to your left and enter Turandot (00 7 495 739 0011). Ask a waiter to show you the eight private dining rooms. They are all coloured and styled differently, and the restaurant has a stainless steel lift that was made at a gun factory, as well as a Berg crystal chandelier. People say it cost $50 million (Dh183m) to create.

Need an antidote? Then cross Tverskoy bulvar and pop into Nedalny Vostok restaurant (00 7 495 694 0641), which has one of the coolest interiors in town created by the Japanese design team Super Potato who also worked on London's Zuma. Walk along the street to reach Pushkinskaya ploschad - there, behind Pushkin's back (we mean the statue here) - you will find another remarkable place - Varvary (www.anatolykomm.ru; 00 7 495 229 28 0). Last year San Pellegrino named it among the world's 50 best restaurants.

Shopper's paradise

If you weren't lucky enough to get a ticket at the box office, turn your back to the Bolshoi's main entrance, cross the street and turn left. Walk 200 metres up the street and you'll get a complimentary show. A parade of vanity and pride, performed daily at Tretyakovsky proezd which is one of the shortest and the most luxurious streets in the city. Gucci, Prada, Yves Saint Laurent, Baccara Crystal Room by Philippe Starck, along with Ferrari and Bentley showrooms are all here.

Don't miss

Your flight home. Book a taxi to the airport and assume that the ride will take at least two hours and will cost $60-70 (Dh183-220). Did I mention how beautiful Moscow University Vysotka on Vorobyevy Gory is at sunset? No? Shame on me.