–BANYA BEATDOWN: On a wintry day, what could be better than watching women of all sizes beat each other with birch leaves, sweat and pray in the steam room, or plunge in the freezing cold pool. You may wonder: does that tattoo cover her entire back, how much silicone is in that, is that what 300 pounds looks like, does that piercing get too hot in the sauna, is the babushka really going to eat while sitting naked next to me, do I really have to wear that funny felt hat? http://www.baninapresne.ru/
–HONEY FESTIVAL!: I went as a tag along and came home with 6 jars—that was the first time. The second time I came home with 10 jars. No joke. From bright white to dark black and with every shade in between, sample as you peruse honey from Altai to Novosibirsk and every other nook in Russia. Winters it is held in the convention center near Red Square and in summers at Tsaritsina.
–CHOW: Moscow is full of fabulous restaurants, these are but a few of my favs (almost all require a reservation):
- Ragout—I love every restaurant by Katerina Drozdova. Ragout is my favorite, Khachapuri second and, of course, Simple Things. http://caferagout.ru
- MariVanna—As if stepping inside someone’s private home. http://www.marivanna.ru
- Cafe Margarita-go after 8 to catch the live music. http://www.cafe-margarita.ru/
- Strelka—on warm days to sit outside under the shadow of the Peter the Great statue and lounge on the couches. http://www.strelkainstitute.com/en/
- Cafe Pushkin—the business lunch is the best deal in town. But for a special occasion, dinner here is a wonderful and unforgettable meal. http://www.cafe-pushkin.ru/
- Scandinavia (especially the patio in the summer) http://www.scandinavia.ru/
- Correas—simple, fresh, healthy, gourmet food. And too, I love his Corner Burger http://www.correas.ru
–STARE AT THE CEILING: Inside St. Basil’s and Ivan’s room at the Kremlin Palace (the Kremlin Palace is not open to the public, but can be visited through special tours) the ceilings are painted in the most intricate and colorful design. I could stare at the walls forever. The neck cramp is worth it.
–BALLET AT THE BOLSHOI: Really, the Russians know how to dance. It doesn’t matter if you see a performance at the Bolshoi, the Kremlin theatre or the Stanislavsky Nemirovich-Danchenko (the Stan & Dan)Theatre, but you must watch these lithe and nimble bodies grace the stage. I’m a sucker for seeing the Nutcracker at Christmas with the kiddos.
*And yes, even the youngsters should bring a fancy dress and shoes to wear after removing layers of snow pants & boots.
*And no, the champagne at intermission does not have to be Moet or Veuve, you can order Russian Champansky, which is not on the tourist menu and is super cheap (unlike the $50+ champagne offered to you).
-PUPPET SHOW & SPINAL TAP: The art of puppetry is phenomenal. The small Tolstoy museum has intimate shows and the grand Obraztsov Puppet Theatre on the Ring Road wowed our toddlers and mama. …
–VODKA TASTING AT THE RITZ: Go to the O2 bar at the top, stare at the walls of the Kremlin and sip or shoot Nemerioff, Kauffman, and Beluga between bites of pickled herring and brown bread. http://www.ritzcarltonmoscow.ru/
-CLASSICAL MUSIC AT THE CONSERVATORY: Newly refurbished but still old-school, tickets are very inexpensive but the talent is phenomenal. Whatever you save on tickets you can spend in spades by then heading to Coffee Mania, next door, for a delicious late night meal. Patio offers amazing people watching replete with serious bling and super-high stilettos. http://www.mosconsv.ru/
-SKATE ON ICE: During the 9 months of Moscow’s winter, you must find a way to enjoy the outside. I’m partial to the rink in the shadow of the White House, when the Christmas lights glow and church bells chime in the dark of night. I’m also partial to hot chocolate breaks.
–WINTER FESTIVAL AT PATRIARCH’S POND: Ice hill sledding, a small skating rink, an ice maze, pony rides, and a picturesque pond full of tiny colorful lights. It will take your breath away.
–SHOP & SHASHLIK: Trek out to Ismailavo for the best deals and the widest selection. Of course break from the spree for a shashlik (kebab) while clutching all your new purchases.
-DILLY DALLY DOWNTOWN: Assuming you have already tackled Red Square, seen the waxy dead guy and taken the requisite shot of St. Basils, now you can slow down and enjoy the center of the city. On the walk street Kamergersky, I like Address for original clothes, LePainQuotidian for the perfectly healthy meal and nonfat latte or Cafe des Artists for a special occasion. Of course too, I like Gum & TsUM.
–AMBLE ON THE ARBAT: On a hot afternoon or a late light summer evening this is the best place to stroll. Thousands gather on this pedestrian street and the people watching is spectacular. Admire statues of Pushkin and the golden dancer, buy affordable knick-knacks at the state-run souvenir store on the corner, grab a tea, whatever. Warning: Chugging from an open container of alcohol while ambling is required.
-RISE TO THE TOP: At the tippy top of the Radisson/ Hotel Ukraina, my favorite Seven Sister, the view is unbeatable. Go through the Italian place at the top, then ask for the Japanese restaurant, look authoritative and important to get past the zillions of hostess types, and then take the tiny elevator up to the tiny jewel of a restaurant on the top. The last two times I went I didn’t need a reservation. Breathtaking 360 view of Moscow.
–FLOAT IN STYLE: I’ve always been wary of boat cruises (trapped for 3 hours!) but a ride on the Radisson fleet is divine. Gorgeous boats, long warm days and a restaurant if you get hungry or want a fancy drink. Even the kiddos were captivated. http://www.radissonblu.com/royal-moscow/boat-trips
–ART, ART, ART: Red October, the site of the former Chocolate Factory, is full of run down warehouses cum art galleries. After crossing the bridge from Christ the Savior and taking in the perfect view of the Kremlin and those enormous golden domes, eat at Strelka or Art Akadamia, and tuck in and out of wonderful galleries. I am also a huge fan of Winzavod, which is full of tiny galleries and an uber cool cafe. (I also like Garage for food and art, but the exhibits, while always interesting are so small that the trek out there is not always worth the effort). http://www.winzavod.com/
–COUNT THE BRIDES: at Novodevichy on an autumn day. And while you are there, see the Make Way for Ducklings statue and, oh yeah, that amazing monastery and cemetery.
–RUN THE RIVER: The loud busy stretch from the Ukraina to just past Novodevichy offers glimpses of major monuments and even the Olympic ski jump next to MGU, if you go far enough. While the tree-filled paths under Sparrow Hills seem lovely, stray dogs roam more freely there and so I prefer getting into the thick of the city and racing by the traffic and concrete while on foot. Guaranteed golden onion domes, winding river, and awe-inducing views of the seven sisters.
Oh Moscow, I love you. I’ll miss you. I know there are so many things I’m forgetting for this favorite list and details I want to share, but I’ve got a plane to catch. Thanks for these two lovely years.