Moscow is perhaps one of the most intriguing cities I have ever been to. It has all the usual tourist traps like shopping malls and museums, but Russia also has another side which I came here to discover. Given that Moscow is the capital of the former Soviet Union, my focus was on Soviet relics of the past.
Wondering around the streets of modern Moscow it was easy to forget about its past. There is now a Channel, Bulgari and Ferrari shop on almost every corner! It also seems that in Russia you can only buy Mercedes, Rolls Royce and BMW. In all the time I spent there I could hardly see any Lada or Moskvitch cars or at least some cheaper Skodas or Volkswagens.
My First Stay in Russia
The main reason for my first visit in 2015 was for a conference where I gave a speech. It was in the Baltschug Kempinski, where I was lucky to stay for two nights. The hotel is absolutely luxurious and it is also the oldest five star hotel in the city. When it first opened in the 19th century it instantly became famous and has been operating ever since under various owners. The check-in process was slightly longer than expected because they had to register my passport in the system and it didn’t work. As I was filling out my details I asked if they had my membership number and she said yes and it turned out they upgraded me! I once stayed at the Pan Pacific in Singapore, and they belong to the same group so as a return customer they obviously wanted to please me.
The Local Trader
But then something funny happened. The receptionist asked if it was my first time in Moscow and I said yes. At the same moment a Russian guy walked past and I recognized him as one of the traders I was about to meet at the event. So we shook hands, big hugs and so on and that really confused the receptionist! How can I possibly know a local Russian if I’ve never visited? She probably thought it was quite odd.
Anyhow, after about 15 minutes at the reception she asked the concierge to show the room. She gave a tour of the hotel and even opened the door to the room. She then went to open the curtains and explained this is what she loves in her job: showing off the Red Square to everyone! And there it was, the Red Square and the Kremlin on the big screen! (Click the photos to enlarge)
Places I visited
During this stay I visited the most amazing Moscow Metro stations, the Museum of Cosmos, Lenin’s Mausoleum on the outside, the Red Square, the Kremlin and the Gum. I also went to the former Olympic Village, Stalin’s Sisters, and various local cafes and restaurants. I will go into more detail in future articles about what to do in Moscow, this is the introductory article to the series.
The Courtyard Marriott Paveletskaya
When the conference ended I checked out and went to another hotel that I could actually afford to pay for. I picked the Courtyard Marriott Paveletskaya which has amazing views over the city. It is a multi story hotel with huge glass windows. It has 360 degree views of the city, comfortable beds and a nice shower room. I loved every minute in the hotel! Since I am a silver member I got a room on the 14th floor, away from the lift with spectacular views. (Click the photos to enlarge)
The girl that checked me in was Oksana, the super recognizer. It is quite a funny story in itself. A year later I came to Moscow again but stayed at another Marriott where she transferred by then and she recognized me!
The Marriott Royal Aurora
My third visit to Russia was in May 2015 when I attended another conference. I again gave a speech and following the event I extended my stay. This time I stayed at the Marriott Royal Aurora, paid by the company again. If I can I try to stay at a Marriott unless the conference hotel is better or cheaper. The reason for this is that they are very good hotels, consistently good quality and not extortionately priced. They also have an amazing loyalty program. Thanks to my line of work I travel quite a lot and it so happens that these conferences are regularly at nice hotels – which I see as a bonus.
The Royal Aurora is in a great location and the staff were very friendly, although the views weren’t nearly as good as from the Courtyard in December.
In May I visited the Museum of History, the Military Museum, Gorky Park, The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and some other monuments. I also took the Red Arrow to St Petersburg for the weekend.
St Petersburg, the Happy Pushkin
I arrived in St Petersburg in the morning after a comfortable ride on the Krasnaya Strela (Red Arrow). This is one of the most famous trains in the world. Lenin used the train to commute between Moscow and St Petersburg and even took it to town before the start of the revolution! I stayed at the Happy Pushkin hotel, which is a nice hotel in a historic building with a modern touch. It was in a great location just by the water and an easy walk to the main sights. I spent two nights and three days in St Petersburg but I will write more about it later.
The Courtyard Marriott Moscow City Center
The conference organizers invited me back to give another speech at the Baltschug in 2016 so off I went! The Kempinski is quite an expensive place so instead I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott City Center. Although the Kempinski experience was great, I cannot say it is worth four times the cost of a Courtyard or even the Royal Aurora. They stay at the Kempinski was nearly £300 a night, whereas the Courtyard City Center was £75 and I slept even better less the great views.
When I check into a room I always look at the carpet and the Kempinski had worn out carpets, whereas the Courtyard was fresh and clean. Of course, the Courtyard is a relatively new hotel, but still. Hopefully some day I can stop being a hotel inspector and just enjoy a stay, but these little things can mean a lot.
Places to See
It was minus 14 degrees when I visited last and by this time I saw almost everything I wanted to. The two things I didn’t manage were the Bunker Museum and Lenin’s Mausoleum on the inside, but these can wait for another time. You might wonder how I managed to squeeze all this into short stays like this and work at the same time. The answer is simple: you need to be disciplined and give yourself a break, otherwise you will not enjoy your business trips.
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