I recently got back from a fun trip to Moscow and, having visited a couple of times now (we sell some SuperJam over there and I've also been kindly invited to share my story at a number of universities), figured I should share some of the highlights from my visits there. Probably not my favourite place of everywhere i've been this year, but definitely somewhere strange and interesting enough to justify a trip!
Both times I have been, i've come across surprising stories and people. I've also been lucky enough to meet a lot of young entrepreneurs. Mostly people who are taking inspiration from US and European start-up ideas and making them work in the Russian market - no mean feat in a country largely controlled by the mafia, characterized by endemic corruption and with terrible logistics services to boot. I'm always inspired by people who can create innovative and successful businesses in such harsh conditions; creating jobs and hopefully making their country a little bit better.
Many of the young entrepreneurs i've met are massively ambitious and have already built multimillion dollar companies in everything from Dot Coms to youth hostels and organic holiday retreats. They often speak quite openly about the hands they've had to grease, the incredible challenges they've faced and the ineptitude of their local government officials - definitely all things I was rather naive to, having never had to face such things in growing my own business (apart from inept government officials perhaps - I think they're universal!).
Aside from a few highlights (the area around Red Square, the old chocolate factory that's now an art district and the riverside), the city itself isn't necessarily that pretty above ground - probably as grey as you imagine - but underneath is a different story. The underground is a ludicrously opulent expression of Soviet power - grand marble-floored corridors, chandeliers and ornate statues along the platforms.
The most popular of all the statues is one of a frontier dog, one of 76 sculptures at Ploshchad Revolyutsii (underneath Revolution Square), which has been petted so many times by passers by - for luck - that it's nose is shiny.
Another place that I liked checking out was the Fallen Monument Park, which as the name suggests is a collection of loads of soviet statues of leaders, workers, peasants and other icons that were removed from public display after the fall of communism.
Getting around the city is kinda "fun". Mostly, because of the general absence of official taxis outside the touristy central areas, we just stuck our hands out into the road and jumped into the first car that stopped; a friendly enough Muscovite wiling to take a detour on their way to work to make a few extra bucks. I was with some Russians - I probably wouldn't feel safe getting into clapped out Ladas driven by some fairly ropey characters on my own - who told me that this was the main way that Russians get around. Like a sort of more capitalist version of hitch-hiking.
Next time I go, I want to check out the Moscow Memorial Museum of Cosmonauts.