MOSCOW: Russia’s capital city is big, much bigger than it looks on a map. Its enormous 10-lane roads and towering buildings are enough to inspire awe in the most seasoned traveler – just the way former leader Joseph Stalin meant it to be. And with so many unique and varied sights spread across the city – from Soviet sculpture to Caucasus cuisine – it can be daunting for tourists.Luckily there is a simple way to get around the city: The Moscow metro system is not only one of the most efficient in the world, carrying more passengers than the New York and London subway systems combined, but is also an experience in itself. Nevertheless, you’re likely to be on your feet quite a bit, so pull on your walking shoes and ready your map, this is Moscow in 48 hours.
Friday5 p.m. – Head straight to The State Tretyakov Gallery at Krymsky Val, the modern art branch of the famous Tretyakov Gallery. Immerse yourself in the socialist realist movement, a Soviet art form made state policy by Stalin in which the ordinary peasant and laborer are king. Other gems include the abstract works of Vassily Kandinsky and the constructivist paintings of Aleksandr Rodchenko.
7:30 p.m. – Wander through the “park of fallen statues,” a graveyard for Soviet-era sculptures and monuments. Look out for the creepy collection of bodiless stone heads.
8:30 p.m. – End the day at trendy bar Strelka, one of several on an island right by the River Moskva known as the Red October Chocolate Factory. Strelka often hosts live music and films, so check their website (www.strelka.com) for updated listings.
Saturday9 a.m. – Grab some apple pie and a coffee for breakfast at Shchisliva Cafe just down the road from the famous Red Square.
10 a.m. – Head straight to the mausoleum to see the Bolshevik leader and one of the founders of the Soviet Union: Vladimir Lenin. His nearly 90-year-old embalmed body is entombed in an eerie black granite pyramid on Red Square, a testimony to the enormity of his significance in modern Russian history.
10:30 a.m. – Double back on yourself and find your way into the Kremlin complex’s main square to marvel at the cathedrals and Ivan the Great’s Bell Tower, said to represent the exact center of the city.
11:30 a.m. – Head back out again to get your ticket to the Armory, a fascinating collection of Faberge eggs, gilded royal carriages and, of course, armor – for both men and their horses.
12:30 p.m. – If your feet can still take it, take a peek into the postcard-perfect St. Basil’s Cathedral, a jumble of pastel-colored onion domes and tiny, lavishly decorated Russian Orthodox chapels.
1:30 p.m. – Enjoy a well-deserved break with some lunch at Stolovaya No. 57 in the luxurious GUM mall on Red Square. Perched on the third floor, the restaurant is the perfect place to people-watch over some herring, a Russian salad and a beer.
3 p.m. – Hop on the metro and make your way to the Museum of Contemporary History for a crash course in modern Russian history. The wide-ranging and thoroughly engaging exhibition has everything from old uniforms and weapons to propaganda paintings and posters. English explanations for each room guide visitors through the major forces and characters that propelled the country through its turbulent past.
6 p.m. – Treat yourself to a pick-me-up at the renowned Cafe Pushkin. Dine on fine Russian food upstairs in the converted library, or indulge in a mouthwateringly thick hot chocolate downstairs on the wooden counter of the old pharmacy.
7 p.m. – After a heavy day’s sightseeing, what you really need is a bath. Russia’s banyas are a relative of the hammam and the Turkish bath, but are more about atmosphere than architecture. Sanduny Bathhouses, with separate sections for men and women, are the perfect place to scrub away the day. Being beaten with a birch branch optional; enjoying some lemon and honey tea while drying off compulsory.
9 p.m. – Reinvigorated and smelling fresh, head to nearby Petrovich restaurant (reservation necessary on weekends) to see how Russians do a Saturday night. Don’t be surprised to see tables with beer, wine and bottles of vodka, and if you’ve got the stomach, by all means join in. An excellent menu of local classics such as borsht and shashlyk is usually accompanied by live traditional music.
Sunday10 a.m. – Take the metro to Park Kultury and admire the marble bas-reliefs of scenes of sport and recreation, a hint at the importance Soviet Russia put on athletic prowess.
10:30 a.m. – The nearby Tolstoy House Museum is a must for anyone interested in Russia’s formidable literary canon. Made into a highly evocative museum in 1921, every single room feels like it would have a century ago when writer Leo Tolstoy lived there with his wife and their nine surviving children. Peer into the home of a man who was disenchanted with society life and strove to live more simply.
11:30 a.m. – Get back on the metro and take some time to explore the ambitious underground system begun under Stalin in the mid-1930s. Highlights include Belorusskya station with its mosaics of rural scenes, Mayakovsky’s art deco stainless steel and marble columns, and Arbatskaya, which when seen from above is in the shape of a Soviet red star.
1 p.m. – Get out at Tverskaya and nab a seat at Hachapuri to sample Georgian food such as kachapuri (filled flat bread) and khnikali (dumplings).
2:30 p.m. – To round off the weekend, make your way to the All-Russian Exhibition Center where you can spend hours admiring Soviet architecture. The highlight of the area, the Space Museum, is hidden underneath the soaring space rocket monument. Inside, artifacts of the Cold War’s race to explore the solar system include original shuttles and space suits, satellite models, and the two Russian dogs (stuffed) that made it back from their orbital expeditions alive.