For my last week in Moscow I treated myself to a stay in a flat in a famous building – the “Stalin skyscraper” on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment. This is one of the “seven sisters” – buildings commissioned by Stalin in the early 1950s in an imposing Soviet style that now dominate the central Moscow skyline. Today, two are ministries, one is the Moscow State University, two are hotels, and two are blocks of apartments.
To get to my flat I had to walk through a pretty central entrance, guarded by an old babushka concierge, and then take a small lift up to the 5th floor. I was really happy with my flat – the furniture was antique Russian style from the 50s, but very comfortable, and there was a spectacular view of the Kremlin.
I also managed to sneak up to the 24th floor, where the view from the emergency escape staircase was even better
From this amazing base I organised my last week in Moscow. First I hosted a party for all my Russian friends. I invited a lot of people, and luckily my (human) artist friends Oleg and Masha offered me use of their studio for the evening, which was bigger than my flat and a really cool venue.
I caught up with everyone’s news over food and drinks, before one of our musician friends gave us a short concert on a spinet (an old instrument like a clavichord) that had somehow found its way into the studio.
Then we all ventured up a steep, rickety staircase (the teddy bear equivalent of the north face of the Eiger) up into a long-neglected tower, to a spectacular outdoor viewing platform with a 360 degree view of Moscow. The view was amazing, but I had to hold on tight because of the wind and was glad that my fur protected me from the cold. The studio is on the “Garden Ring”, an eight-lane road forming a circle around the centre of Moscow, and in Stalin’s time KGB officers were stationed in the tower to report on the movements of suspected spies and other enemies of the people.
Next of course I had to revisit two famous cultural venues – the Bolshoi theatre, to watch the opera “Sadko”,
and the new concert hall in the Zaryadye Park, right next to the Kremlin. The park is a short walk from home and on the way there were nice night-time views of the building I am living in….
In the 1960s the area was a Soviet era hotel that was demolished to make way for a new conference centre, but the developer ran out of money and later had to flee the country after falling out with the new Putin government. For years the site lay vacant, until the current mayor hatched a plan for a new park and concert venue. Work lasted four years and was only finished in 2018. The result is really impressive – an artificial hill has been built, with a view of St Basil’s cathedral and the Kremlin, the old churches along Warvarka street have been restored and are beautifully lit up at night, and the new concert hall has great acoustics. I went to hear the famous (well in Russia anyway) pianist Matsuev play a programme of music by Tchaikovsky. After the concert I strolled around the park and took lots of pictures of the park at night, and in particular the imaginative lighting installations.
I also visited the Illusion cinema, housed in the very same building where I am staying. It’s a lovely old place, decorated in 1950s Soviet Style, and tickets for a film cost only 300 rubles (4-5 euros).
I could also use my new flat for business meetings. Russians are very serious in business and never smile when being photographed, even if you have concluded a deal with them.
I also had time to revisit some of my favourite drinks and dinner venues. Except for wine, restaurants are much cheaper in Moscow than in Paris or London. In the last few years the quality has improved enormously and it was very hard not to eat and drink too much.
First, I enjoyed the Bosco café on Red Square
And then I headed to Twins Wine Space, a very small restaurant specialising in interesting wines, with a short but excellent menu.
Finally, my new home was a good base to walk and explore the south of Moscow. I was lucky with the weather – my last two days were very sunny and warm (well, warm for Moscow in February – around +5C). Everyone was saying that spring had already come, and the streets were crowded with people enjoying the sun. I lost count of the number pretty churches with golden domes I photographed – here are just a few.
This one is one of my favourites – the Church of the Resurrection in Kadashi. On my first visit to Moscow in 2009 it was totally derelict, but now it has been restored to its former glory.
My walk also took me over the old bridge leading to the Kremlin and Red Square.
I finally got home in the late afternoon. My pedimeter said I had done 20,000 human steps – that’s 200,000 teddy steps! I slumped down in a big armchair and admired the sunset. A brilliant end to a fantastic month back in Russia!