Moscow is a concrete grey hive of activity and functional queuing, around staid and reassuringly solid architecture, hiding another world of secret beauty - of both austere socialist cool clarity and the soft focus warmth of real wealth. To use the analogy of Russian nesting dolls it's a Faberge egg inside a perfect white duck egg inside an egg carton made of grey concrete which people queue patiently for.
Moscow has a wealth of treasures in its museums and galleries, including some Faberge, but under prepared travellers are in for a big disappointment – it's not as easy to get tickets as just showing up at the ticket office with a nice smile and a Russian phrase book. Tickets go first to pre-booked groups, so it's even more important than usual to be early. Which isn't that hard – some of the major attractions don't open their doors until 10.
Moscow bound travellers have a few options: to go in a group, which will solve some of the queuing and ticket problems, to visit the capital as part of a cruise, to go it alone, or to find a private guide. Which ever option you choose the best time to visit is in late April or May when the days are getting longer and lovelier, as are the opening hours, but the crowds haven't amassed yet. Arriving on a Thursday will mean you get the best access to the markets and weekend-only attractions and you'll see the city both in its workin' garb and at its party best.
Moscovite taxis don't have a great reputation, but the Metro is beautifully decorated with marble columns and artistic mosaics, for when attractions are too far to walk between.
Traditionally western visitors had to pay their respects at Poklonnaya Hill as Napoleon did before entering Moscow, but these days most people pay their first respects in Red Square, Russia's most famous public space. St. Basil's Cathedral, of the candy cane colours and onion domes - so beautiful that Ivan the Terrible had the designers blinded so they couldn't create another - is on one side of it and Lenin’s Tomb is on the other. When visiting Lenin you need to be there at 9:25 for the 10am opening - don't speak, smile or laugh inside – or put your hands in your pockets, the guards are still jumpy even though he's long dead. The square itself is empty save the statue of Dimitry Pozharsky who was a hero of the war with Poland in the 17th Century. The Kremlin lines the other side but should be saved for a full day.
GUM, a turn of the century shopping arcade and one of the swankiest places to shop in Moscow, is just back off Red Square - you might spot an oligarch there – so walk though to Moscow's main street, Tverskaya, before heading back full circle to visit the State Historical Museum, finishing in time to attend mass at the Kazan Cathedral. This Russian Orthodox Cathedral is best visited in the evening when you can see it in action and be part of a service, which are quite different from other Christian masses. After which it's quite civilised to take a stroll down the Arbat. Pushkin used to live on this street and Checkov dined here at the famous Prague Restaurant at number 2. Now there are more tourist traps than haunts of the literaty, but there's still plenty of action to watch. Cafe Pushkin is one of the most fashionable places to sit and do the watching in.
Today is the day to attempt the Kremlin. It opens at 10, so aim to get there at 9:25. There's A LOT to see here, and you could probably spend days wandering the hallways and not see everything, but don't miss out on the jewels, the Faberge eggs in the Armoury and the HUGE Orlov Diamond in the Diamond Vault. There are literally miles and miles of hallways with no chairs or coffee breaks.
Smolensk Cathedral, which is part of the Novodevichy Convent Complex, is a lovely place to visit in the early evening, but if you can afford it, splurge on tickets to the Bolshoi. Prices are significantly higher than other Russian theatres, but it's well worth it for the impressive legacy of the companies and artists who've worked here – this is where Swan Lake and The Nutcracker were premièred. Theatre fans will probably find the building worth visiting even if you can't afford to see a show.
Saturday is shopping day, so pick up your nesting dolls, caviar and vodka - or anything else you've promised to bring back from behind the Iron Curtain - at the Izmailovsky Bazaar or on Pyatnitskya Street. The bazaar is an old market now dolled up for the visitors, but you can still find some treasures, or if you're not after souvenirs, but would prefer to shop with the oligarchs, the boutiques and galleries of Pyatnitskaya Street may be more your style.
In the afternoon appreciate the even finer things at the Tretyakov Gallery, a Treasury of Russian fine art with more than 130,000 pieces perfectly charting the progression of Russian art. The Tretyakov is just south of the Kremlin, and again its many, and varied, attractions can eat up a lot of time, as can the Museum of Contemporary Russian History. If you're a quick mover the Borodino Panorama Museum is just out of Moscow proper, covers in detail the famous one day battle when Napoleon 'won' Moscow, and is highly recommended – especially if you have trouble getting in to one of the more famous museums.
Assuming day four is a Sunday it's time to call on the golden domes of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour - get there for nine to attend the service. Afterwards it makes sense to visit the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, which is only five minutes away, for an astounding collection of replicas of some of the world's best known art works and some of the original gold treasures of Troy.
It's not as impressive as its place in pop culture would suggest, but, Gorky Park is still worth an afternoon stroll, and maybe a ride on the ferris wheel or the a ride made out of a genuine old space shuttle. If that's whetted your appetite spend your last hours at the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, but if the ferris wheel was more inspiring try Ostankino Tower to survey the city for a proper farewell. Or say your farewells from the cockpit of a MiG Fighter...
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