What do I like about Moscow? It’s easier to say what I don’t like: traffic jams, grey skies and crowds. It’s a love-hate relationship really. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the national character – we move swiftly from love to hate, aggression to peace. And yet I love Moscow.
I especially love Arbat, where I live. It’s special for every Muscovite. It is a piece of old Moscow where Art Nouveau buildings mix with 18th-century Russian Orthodox churches, curvilinear streets and hidden gardens. It’s one of the few areas where you can walk rather than drive. A Russian poet said that Arbat is not a district, but a religion. I think he really got the point.
I like strolling on Sundays, going to bookshops – Knizhny Mir on Novy Arbat and Bookberry on Nikitsky Boulevard – and buying kilos of books, most of which I probably won’t read. The city is very quiet then. It reminds me of what it must have been like 100 or 150 years ago.
What I don’t like is the weather. It’s beautiful in spring and early summer, but the winters are long. It’s not even the cold, but the darkness. Also, climate change has had a negative effect. Now, the snow melts and makes a terrible mess with the traffic.
But there are plenty of bars, restaurants and entertainment. My favourite restaurant is Cantinetta Antinori. It combines very good Italian food with excellent service. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend a Russian restaurant. Our food isn’t very attractive.
You could try Georgian food at Kavkazskaya Plennitsa. There’s a long-established Georgian community in Russia, and their cuisine is more interesting. It’s similar to Lebanese; try Lobio, which is a classic bean dish in a rich sauce.
For a feel of Soviet Russia, Zhiguli is an exact replica of a popular drinking spot of the 1980s; but for a more authentic Russian experience, you should head to local food markets for people-watching at the weekend. Try pickled cabbage and cucumbers. You can also buy (relatively cheap) caviar.
For visitors, I would recommend the Tretyakov Gallery. It has one of the richest collections of Russian paintings and fine art in the world. The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts also has an exceptional collection of Impressionist paintings. Theatre has also experienced a resurgence over the past five years. Or try ballet or opera at The Bolshoi, perhaps Eugene Onegin or Boris Godunov. The Moscow Times will have details.
Garden ring hotels
To make the most of the city’s attractions, stay downtown, within the boundaries of the Garden Ring. The Ararat Park Hyatt is the best hotel. The Kempinski Baltschug across the river from the Kremlin is also nice, with good views, as is Le Royal Meridien National Hotel, close to Red Square.
Distances are huge in Moscow and the traffic is awful, so try to have all your meetings in one place to save time. You can rent a room in a hotel, but it’s common to meet in hotel bars and lobbies. If you have to take a taxi, just stand on the side of the road and wave – there are very few official taxis, so anyone can give you a ride. It’s safe and inexpensive, $10 at the most. All high-end hotels have their own taxi service but they’re expensive.
I would also suggest arriving late at night or early in the morning to avoid the rush hour. If you can, fly to Domodedovo airport, which is connected to the centre by train and is nicer than Sheremetyevo airport. A taxi to town is about $30.
First-time visitors might be surprised by how westernised the city is. If you plan your meetings so that you have some free time at the weekend, then your first visit shouldn’t be your last.
Stanislav Shekshnia is affiliate professor of entrepreneurship and family business at INSEAD, and chairman of the board of SUEK, Russia’s largest coal and energy company.
Until recently, the Intourist travel company acted as the state tourist board, however, it has now been privatised and broken up into separate companies. There is no official city tourist board. Information and advice is available from the tourist office in the Metropol Hotel, Teatralny proezd 1/4 (tel: (095) 927 6000), as well as from the embassies.
The Travellers’ Yellow Pages
The Moscow Times Travel guide
20 Denezhny Pereulok
+7 495 241 3771
+7 495 208 5177
Novy Arbat, right below Yolki Polki
Open 10am-7.30pm, closed Monday
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
12 Volkhonka St
+7 495 203 7998
Open 10am-6pm, closed Monday
ticket outlets +7 495 250-73-17, +7 (800) 333-1-333 (free)
Full listings will also be available in the Moscow Times
4 Neglinnaya Street
+7 495 783 1234
1 Balchug St
+7 495 230 5500
Le Royal Meridien National Hotel
1 Mokhovaya street
+7 495 2587000