Moscow Centre

Second exhibition day in Moscow. The show is busy and we have a brisk flow of visitors to our stand, most of whom speak nothing but Russian! This looks like being a good market – several large companies and prices at a decent enough level despite a strong Chinese presence (China gets tariff-free entry into Russia – preference for ex-Commie comrades!) We also meet a couple of potential distributors who could help us handle the smaller fry. These give us some instant analyses of the Russian market: it is said that 80% of business is done in the Moscow area, 10% around St. Petersburg and just 10% in the remainder of this vast country! Still, some of our visitors come from places out in the sticks: do Tatarstan and Ydmurtia sound exotic enough?

Evening arrives and the hungry exhibitors need sustenance: I select a restaurant near the centre of Moscow, a little way from the hotel. We haven’t yet been to the city centre, so we decide on a pre-dinner stroll, but take first the fabled Moscow Metro! The tickets cost a mere seven roubles (€ 0.20), allowing unlimited travel in the vast network. It is the Moscow rush hour, so we follow the crowds of people down fast-moving wooden escalators. Prospekt Mira station has lots of marble, and quaint Soviet hammer-and-sickle decoration. The metro trains themselves are clean, but somewhat elderly, rather resembling 1960s London Underground rolling stock. The metro map is clear and the cyrillic is transcribed in Latin characters, but station signs are few and far between, so counting the number of stops is a good idea! We get out three stops along at Kitai-Gorod, “Chinatown”. On the platform we are faced with a puzzle: there are several exits and all the signs are incomprehensible, which do we choose? We take our pick and inevitably it leads to the wrong side of the square. Never mind, it gives us a chance to look at the many trading stalls set up in the station, selling everything from electronics to piles of onions!

A few minutes walk in the streets lined with classical architecture buildings (ministries?) and we then find ourselves in Krasnaya Ploschhad – aka Red Square! The nerve-centre of Russia is a vast rectangular area, bordered by the Kremlin walls and the GUM department store on the long ends, and the many multi-coloured domes of St. Basil’s church and the National History Museum on the short ends. The night time illumination makes the square even more imposing. I can well imagine the empty platforms flanking Lenin’s mausoleum filling up with Soviet grandees to watch the October Revolution parades as in the old newsreels!

We go round the lofty Kremlin walls along the gardens, and pass by the Imperial Riding School – the Manezh – that was badly damaged in a fire just a couple of days ago. The smell of smoke still hangs in the air and firemen are still shoring up the walls of the building. Moscow gossip has it that the fire was started deliberately so as to redevelop the place with an underground carpark and shopping centre! Naturally the owners, Moscow city council, deny any such project…

We soon arrive at this evening’s restaurant: Karetny Dvor at 52 ulitsa Povarskaya. This is an Azerbaijani restaurant, with several small rooms and decorated with hanging plants. Fortunately the menu is partly in English and the waiter is a cheerful chap, so our order gets through quickly. Azeri cooking, as the language, has strong Turkish influences – lots of starters, green salads, cucumbers, aubergines and mixed kebabs to follow. Two unusual dishes stand out: a kind of ravioli with a vegetable filling, and satsivi, chicken breast marinated in a creamy garlic sauce. My companions are not too fond of exotic food, so we did not order the mutton testicles grilled on the spit… To drink, we try a bottle of Georgian red wine, supposedly the best available, but gag on the rough, acid taste! Next come a few excellent Baltika beers, but the best of all to accompany this meal is a bottle of Russky Standard vodka! Goes very smoothly down the throat! To round the evening off, a couple of baklava sweets. Recommended!

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