Monday, 14 November 2011

Episode 18 (part two): "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown"

hats off to anyone who gets the movie reference, boo and go watch it to those who don't

Thus continue Rob's adventures in Moscow:

GUM department store on Red Square
We rose after a long hibernation and crawled our way to Red Square again. We tried to get into the State History Museum but fell foul to bizarre Russian opening times and had to make do with exploring GUM and looking for a part of Moscow known as “Kitai Gorod” (which means "China Town" although is actually a mistranslation) According to Lonely Planet this is the GREATEST PLACE ON EARTH full of narrow streets, a gripping atmosphere and a vibrant cultural mix. We either failed miserably at navigation or found a string of unhelpful Muscovites to ask for directions from as when we finally entered the supposed area we were madly unimpressed. The supposed “narrow streets” must only have been narrow by Moscow standards (e.g. two lanes of traffic not eight) and in truth we never really felt the character of the place. It seemed like a string of restaurants offering Sushi or Arabic cuisine, a Mcdonalds and  Starbucks. Very meh. Defeated, we ate in a Russian, fast-food cafe, drinking Kvass (Russian bread beer) and planning how to get to Sparrow Hills for a stroll above the city that would hopefully reinvigorate us.

We met up with Jaya’s hostess’s granddaughter (yet another Sasha to add to our collection) at Sparrow Hills metro station and took a long stroll around the imposing state university that dominates this part of the skyline. Built as one of Stalin’s “Seven Sisters”, the university is one of the best in Russia and is characteristic of Soviet neo-classical and “wedding cake” architecture. In my opinion it is also absolutely terrifying. Even more so than the gargoyles of Oxford colleges and St John’s porters....

We then took a long trip on the Moscow metro to get back into town. Sasha wished to take us to the Tretyakov Art Gallery – Moscow’s equivalent of the Hermitage in St Petersburg and a pilgrimage for lovers of Russian art and culture. We were not disappointed. Several hours were easily filled here looking at some of Russia’s most famous portraits and landscapes. Unfortunately the cloak-room staff and security guards were a little too self-important and snooty which somewhat soured our impression at first, yet overall, the majesty of the place and the calibre of the collection won us all over. My favourite works were probably those of Vrubel who I would now rank as one of my favourite artists ( although I really enjoyed the portraits of famous Russian authors, a lot of which are reproduced on the backcovers of the editions of their works that I read at uni.
Taking a break in McCafe (don't judge us!)

It was with aching feet and sore eyes that we ended up deflated and in need of food, our brains swelling with stirring images from Russia’s cultural past. Sasha suggested we should try to eat at Moo Moo’s on the Arbat (Moscow’s most famous street) as not only was the food good, but the atmosphere of this part of town would make up for the Kitai Gorod disappointment.

Agreeing we parted ways and plummeted again through Moscow’s beautiful metro to the Arbat station – possibly one of the prettiest stops – and in no time we were queuing up for a mega buffet of Russian, edible goodness. I highly recommend Moo Moo as a stop for travellers and tourists wishing to eat things a la Russe and the two outlets on the Arbat are probably the most comfortable and convenient. After eating we strolled up and down researching souvenir prices in the obviously expensive stores that line the streets. The Arbat is something of a "Las Ramblas" for anyone who has been to Barcelona and also has its share of street entertainers. We easily killed another hour here and returned contented to our hostel for more sleep – we were still dead on our feet from the gallery.
Posing with the Moo Moo cow on the Arbat

More really soon, probably tomorrow as I need to get this all written up :)

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