September 16, 2012 Moscow Russia

Three Days in the Russian Capital: MOSCOW

My trip to Moscow was long overdue. Not Moscow as a place, but the idea of discovering a whole new city and sharing it with you. The feeling of anticipation is nice. It was 2am and time to leave home towards the airport to take the Alitalia flight flying to Moscow via Rome. Too bad I couldn't take the direct flight with Aeroflot since my visa starts today and Aeroflot flies from Beirut only two times a week (Wednesday and Sunday).

The whole time I was so excited to discover the Russian capital, the city of dreams and gold, the city of the rich and poor and the city that has become known as the most expensive city for tourists in the world.

Moscow:

Moscow is the financial and political center of Russia and the former Soviet Union, with a population of around 13 million, and covers an area of around 1080 km². One-tenth of all Russian citizens live in the metropolitan area. My adventures started at the MEA Cedar Class Business Lounge, a spot I have experienced many times before in the past few years but never wrote a review about. I spent my time moving around taking pictures and noting down all the smallest details. I then took the flight on Alitalia reaching Fiumicino Airport. I toured their Duty Free and restaurants it was time to try their business lounges. The two Alitalia business lounges in Rome are Giotto and Le Navi. Two very ordinary lounges that I won't talk much about here but I obviously didn't like them much. You can read more in the reviews about them just for you to have an idea of what to expect if you're traveling.

Moscow here I come: 

The plane landed and we went running to belt 8 to pick up our bags. Everything went smoothly as Sergei, the driver, was waiting outside to take me to the Lotte Hotel.

The Lotte Hotel Moscow, a Korean chain, situated at the intersection of New Arbat Avenue and Novinsky Boulevard. The hotel is the first overseas project of South Korean"Lotte Hotels & Resorts" hotel chain. It is the highest rated hotel in the Lotte chain which is labelled as the first 6 Star Hotel in Moscow with facilities and customer service that's next to none. An hour and 45 minutes drive later, I hear the first English language speaking person around here as I was welcomed at the Lotte Hotel Moscow. This fabulous hotel is worth trying. It all starts with a catchy first impression entering the high ceiling lobby all covered with gold and sculptures.

The first night I arrived...

That night and after more than 12 hours traveling and transferring from an airport to the other I decided to go for the "I need to stay awake" plan. After grabbing a light sandwich at Subway-a chain specialized in submarine sandwiches: A soft baguette filled with meat, cheese and vegetables. In addition to these, the chain also serves wraps and salads as well as baked goods including cookies, donuts and muffins.  I put on my Nike running shoes and was on a mission to discover every single detail of what the Russian everyday life is and not just what tourists come to see. During the 10 km course, it was a jump into the Muscovite society in a new way. Streets, cars, house, Metro stations, underground tunnels and government buildings were all on the menu. I saw details that you wouldn't experience on a Tour Bus or driving a car while walking on the sidewalks of the Zubovsky boulevard or what they call today the 

Garden Ring:

Also known as the "B" Ring, is a circular avenue around the central Moscow. The Ring consists of seventeen individually named streets and fifteen squares. It has a circumference of sixteen kilometres. At its narrowest point, Krymsky Bridge, the Ring has six lanes; at its widest, Zubovskaya Square, it has eighteen lanes.

The next morning...

I enjoyed my walk so much the night before that I decided to wake up very early to enjoy a morning in the park. It was 7am and I started another 10km walk around Moscow's Gorky Park just next to the Krymsky Bridge. Gorky Park, opened in 1928 and located at Krymsky Val is situated just across the Moskva River from Park Kultury Metro Station. The Park was planned by Konstantin Melnikov, a world-famous soviet avant-garde and constructivist architect. Gorky Park was created by the amalgamation of the extensive gardens of the old Golitsyn Hospital and the Neskuchny Palace and covers an area of 300 acres along the river.

Later on that day, was the Hop-On Hop-Off sight seeing bus tour. The best thing to do in a city you visit for the first time. If you would like to learn more about the 860 year old Moscow, home to some of the largest and most important museums, art galleries, architectural sites, world's billionaire capital and epicenter of Russia's most beautiful women book your ticket as soon as you arrive.

The tour's itinerary included major tourist spots to see:

The Moscow Kremlin, Alexander Garden, Red Square, Saint Basil's Cathedral, Lenin Mausoleum, Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Historical Museum, Treaty's Job Gallery, Tsar Cannon, Tsar Bell, Kremlin Armory, Cathedral of the Archangel, Cathedral of the Dormition, Cathedral of the Annunciation, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Old Arbat Street, Museum of Modern Arts, Polytechnic Museum, Tolstoi Museum and many others enough to keep you busy for a week.

Moscow is really impressive and grandiose. But one place caught my attention: The pedestrian bridge next to the Bolotnaya Square. It is a simple bridge that carries a great tradition. Over 30 newly weds were around it that day. What was happening? Curiously I asked around and discovered that the tradition in Moscow suggests that every new couple should pass over the bridge and leave a lock. Dozens of trees all made of locks are there with the couples names on each. It's a nice tradition!

I definitely encourage you to visit the Red Square and the luxury mall next to it as well as the St. Basil's Cathedral we all see every time Russian is mentioned in the news: The Red Square separates the Kremlin, the former royal citadel and currently the official residence of the President of Russia, from a historic merchant quarter known as Kitai-gorod. As major streets of Moscow radiate from here in all directions, being promoted to major highways outside the city, Red Square is often considered the central square of Moscow and all of Russia. For dinner I was invited to a Lebanese restaurant called Sultan. Sultan serves all Lebanese specialities as well as Sushi all served on low chairs where eating is done the way the Sultans used to. The Sultan was not the best of my experiences but as I heard that Russians love it especially that they have 9 oriental dancers moving their bellies on oriental tunes every thirty minutes. We've all heard about the expensive taxis in Moscow, and believe me I've already experienced it. Taking a taxi from the street is far too expensive, charging more than $5 for every kilometer traveled. At the hotel, I discovered the "Phaeton" taxi company."Phaeton" is more than a taxi. It gives you an incomparable feeling of personal liberty and importance. They have taken the best from the world taxi history to provide you with the comfort and the confidence of old England, accuracy of Switzerland and politeness of the East in accordance with technologies and standards of modern life. Imagine they have free WiFi inside the Taxis. That's a surprise I wasn't expecting at half the price you'll pay on the streets.

The next day...

Today's plan was less hectic yet interesting. Discovering the walking district of Moscow, the old and new Arbat streets, which reminded me of the Taxim street of Istanbul where you can shop, enjoy artists shows and check out a variety of restaurants. The Arbat is an approximately one-kilometer long pedestrian street in the historical center of Moscow. The Arbat has existed at least since the 15th century, thus laying claim to being one of the oldest surviving streets of the Russian capital. It forms the heart of the Arbat District of Moscow. Originally the street formed part of an important trade route and was home to a large number of craftsmen.

After that, it was lunch at Pierre Gagnaire, the only Michelin Star French chef to open a restaurant in the Russian capital. Here is where things started to get very serious for me. The experience was just out of this world. Trying the Gaya menu, I gave the head waiter the liberty to take me through the experience as they see it at their restaurant. A four course menu for a $150/person, worth every penny up until the last bite. At night, Moscow's nightlife is not to be missed. A variety of clubs and lounges are available - some of which cater to clubs, pubs, Jazz clubs among many others, as Moscow enjoys a good night out just like any other country around. I tried Propaganda clubs, the name intrigued me and its considered as one of the best bars in the world. Propaganda is surely one of the best places in Moscow to go for an unpretentious night out dancing. A guest DJ from around the world was there spinning the decks. I would advise going early as you will enjoy cheaper drinks before 11pm. The places enjoys a cosmopolitan crowd.

Last day, and it was already time to leave.

A memorable short trip that I will surely repeat very soon with an aim to visit St. Petersburg and other Russian cities. Do not leave without visiting the Kremlin from the inside and the interesting armory chamber. The Moscow Kremlin is situated in the very center of the capital of Russia. Its monumental walls and towers, golden-domed cathedrals and ancient palaces stand high on the Borovitskiy Hill above the Moskva River forming a magnificent architectural ensemble. Ticket prices are affordable for the offered experience.

The last couple of hours...

Home to some of the world's most renowned tourist attractions, the city of Moscow keeps one of its most important treasures hidden deep underground. Designed by the most skilled architects of the Soviet Union, Moscow's metro system has been described as an underground art museum, for its unique murals and decorations. Whether you're traveling between local attractions and hotels in Moscow, or you simply want to check out some true artistic masterpieces, Moscow's subway stations are just what you're looking for.

Keep the local currency cash you didn't spend yet, as the airport's duty free has lots of items you should take back home with you.

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