The Experts' Guide To The World: Moscow

 

Pretty, low-rise architecture, pleasant and tasteful cafés and lazy summer strolls – it's Moscow, but not as we know it. The Russian capital can be a scary beast of a city, but in Patriarch Ponds it reveals its quieter, more domesticated side. There are no ugly Brezhnev concrete apartment blocks, and only a few tacky recent additions. It all makes for an atmosphere that feels almost Parisian, as the chaos and grime of Moscow are left behind.

The area is named after the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who once had his residence nearby and had fish for his banquets bred in the waters of the ponds. Nowadays there's only one big rectangular pond, fringed with trees and benches, but the plural name has stuck. In the Soviet era, with everything religious out of fashion, the area was renamed Pioneer Ponds, but Muscovites still referred to it by the old name.

The spot was immortalised in every Russianist's favourite book, Mikhail Bulgakov's subversive The Master and Margarita: on a bench by the pond during a hot summer's day in Joseph Stalin's Moscow, the devil appears as a mysteriously accented foreigner, and engages two good Soviet citizens in an argument about whether or not Jesus Christ existed, before predicting the imminent death of one of them in a tram accident.

Nowadays the area is one of the most desirable in Moscow, though it has retained a certain Bohemian charm. It's "Bohemian" in a very Moscow way, however – your pockets need to be deep to have fun here. Yet the tastelessness of many of Moscow's upmarket haunts is mainly absent. A few garish new luxury apartment blocks have gone up in the vicinity, and you'll still have to dodge the occasional Bentley or Hummer when crossing a narrow street, but for the most part this is still the preserve of the intellectual and cultural elite, not the oil and gas barons. Nowhere exemplifies this more than Klava, the fun little bar where a well-heeled artsy intelligentsia crowd drinks overpriced cocktails in cosy surroundings. The atmosphere is more relaxed, the smiles more genuine and the clothing more tasteful than at other similar establishments – though you do still run the risk of being turned away at the door if you don't look beautiful or interesting enough. Around are a number of great restaurants and cafés – Shafran for Lebanese, Suliko for Georgian and Café Margarita for a Bulgakov-themed Russian feast to the strains of live gypsy music.

If your budget is more peasant than oligarch, there are few better things to do on a hot summer's afternoon than pick up a couple of cold beers from one of the local shops and chill out on the benches surrounding the pond, watching a cross-section of Moscow life go by – from well-to-do wives hurrying to a boutique shoe shop to garrulous babushki exchanging the latest gossip and young indie kids strumming away on their guitars.

In winter, the pond freezes over and becomes a vast skating rink; every evening, hundreds of Muscovites rent skates cheaply and zoom around. Novices beware – an upbringing of spending half the year walking on icy pavements gives Russians an in-built advantage, and if you're not well-practised, you may be disheartened as the natives go flying by, doing acrobatic jumps.

And once you've had enough of pretending you're in Paris, it's just a five-minute walk to Tverskaya, the city's main thoroughfare, where a more familiar Moscow will be waiting to swallow you up again.

Shaun Walker is Moscow correspondent of The Independent

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map