Mad and mighty Moscow looms out at you from the heavy Russian sky as you soak it up from street level. Stalin-esque neo-gothic skyscrapers seem the perfect lairs for comic book super villains. Years of Russian-accented movie bad guys – from Despicable Me’s Gru to just about every Bond villain come to mind, and the presence of hard-looking, fur-hatted soldiers in the streets almost makes it seem as if something’s about to kick off…
But look a little closer. Woven through the multitude of anachronistic Soviet-era iconography that flavour the streets lay the threads of a complex, vivacious, and youthful new culture that dreams and aspires and creates. Colour, street art, performance and life throbs through the city.
So enjoy the feeling as your preconceptions are affirmed and then obliterated and you realise that the only battle is between what you think you know about Moscow, and what you actually discover in this sensational, scary, sexy and sophisticated city.
Here are Rat & Dragon’s Moscow must-dos when you visit. Let the battle begin…
1. Moscow Metro
Even the “M” logo for the Metro is blood red, pointy and intimidating. You’d expect it emblazoned on a super villain’s underpants. When you step inside, grandiose chandeliers, intricate mosaics and bronzes of Soviet idylls dazzle. As you descend deeper, down seemingly ancient escalators, Lenin stares down at you from a galaxy of red Soviet stars and hammer and sickle icons. You’re in the Moscow Metro, and you’re surrounded by the USSR.
2. Red October
Sounds staunch, but Red October is originally the site of a famous chocolate factory, and the narrow lanes of this up-and-coming district are now adorned in street art. Once industrial passageways now lead to edgy new art galleries, cafes, clubs and music venues.
3. Flea Market
Weekends only and about 30 minutes outside Moscow, this market is retro collector’s wet dream. Every Russian stereotype is laid out for you on a blanket on the snow, and is available for you to own at a tiny number of Rubbles. Garish fur hats and coats, Soviet military uniforms and paraphernalia, metal toy tanks and veritable Red Army of Lenin statues in a thousand different imperious, fatherly and scholarly poses await. Rat & Dragon added a mechanical Soviet 8mm film camera to our kit list.
4. Didus Plasticine Café
Once accustomed to the plasticine smell, you’ll be amazed by the variety of miniature artworks clinging to every surface as locals and visitors come to vent their creative energies into lumps of coloured clay provided on each table. Food, coffee and beer are all good here so don’t just admire. Get creating!
5. Monuments to the Cosmos and Workers and Collective Farmers
Moscow is peppered with Soviet monuments, but none are as truly monumental as these two. Designed to make you feel the power of the Soviet Union at it’s zenith of achievement, these are so idealistic, moving and generally so damn massive, they almost made us swap our cameras and mics for hammers and sickles. Almost.
6. Moscow Nightlife
Just as well there’s a thriving scene because in winter, there’s a lot more night time than day. Bar 3205 attracts lively students and creative professionals with slick tunes, delicious Russian recipes with a new-school twist and in winter, a great fire-side vibe. In summer, it’s surrounding gardens host deck chairs and live music.
Special thanks to the Twins of Chaos; Dasha and Masha and to fellow travel-blogger and local Stepan for their insider knowledge and guidance as the Rat & Dragon crew filmed the front lines in the battle between preconception and the living Moscow.