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Note: Because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I don’t currently recommend traveling to this destination. I stand with Ukraine.
Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Moscow. It seems ridiculous to plan a perfect 24 hours in Moscow. Moscow is the capital of Russia! It’s an enormous city! How are we possibly going to narrow down our options? Well, in our last 24 hours in Moscow, we saw a lot of sights on the beaten track.
This time we’re going to get off the beaten track and see the more Bohemian side of Moscow. Then we’re going to visit a fascinating museum where we might be the only tourists. Finally we’re going to experience the last word in modern Russian cuisine. Sound exciting? I hope so! Who would want to read about a boring 24 hours in Moscow?
24 Hours in Moscow
Where to Stay?
Moscow is a huge city, and there are about a billion hotels. It can be difficult to narrow down the options. If you’re looking to save money, I recommend Hotel Maroseyka 2/15. Keep in mind that I was in Moscow during the World Cup, so prices were pretty high in the Russian capital. Maroseyka 2/15 was a great value, it was in a good location, and the room was clean and comfortable. I would definitely stay there even if I wasn’t on a budget.
24 Hours in Moscow
What to Pack?
The weather in Moscow can be rainy. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of Siberia.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out and about without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from Europe, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with either American or UK plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Moscow
Morning: Made in Moscow Shopping Tour
This tour is called a shopping tour, but that is a little bit of a misnomer. Yes, you visit a couple of stores, but it’s really more of a bohemian art tour of some of Moscow’s coolest galleries. I would certainly have had no idea where to find these places on my own, especially with only 24 hours in Moscow, so I was grateful for my local Russian guide, whom I shall call Maria. (I don’t like to use my guide’s actual name in case I accidentally write something ridiculous about them that upsets their boss. And I’m pretty much always saying ridiculous things.)
It wouldn’t be fair for me to reveal all of Maria’s secrets to you. But I’ll be happy to share…
approximately top 5: moscow art
The first place we visited was Winzavod, a complex that is home to many different craft shops and contemporary art galleries. These buildings used to be on the estate of Princess Catherine Volkonskaya. Her “dacha” or summer home is still standing right next to Winzavod, but it’s not used for any purpose now. (That anyone knows of. This is Russia, so I just assume her dacha is a secret spy house.)
Our first shopping stop in Winzavod was a store dedicated to children’s art. I don’t mean art for children, but art made by children. The children take art classes here outside of school hours. If the children want, they can sell their pieces at the shop. Obviously the prices are very good, since the artists themselves are not really old enough to pay taxes.
I selected a little painting of the Firebird on a piece of wood. I really don’t think it gets more Russian than the Firebird. Unless there were some way I could get the Firebird to sing “The Song of the Volga Boatmen”.
2) steampunk art
Trends in art, like trends in hairstyles or trends in Instagram doughnuts, tend to spread faster and wider nowadays than they used to, thanks to social media. That’s why I can see one art trend in Las Vegas and then fly halfway around the world and see it again in Moscow. And one of those big trends in contemporary design is steampunk. Steampunk is a bit tricky to define, but basically if it looks like it belongs in a Victorian science fiction novel, it’s steampunk.
Our first steampunk artist, whose work you can see pictured above, was shown at a gallery called Start. Start chooses a different artist to feature at a time. You have to apply to be considered. I really wonder how the pitch for this exhibit went. Did the gallery say, “You had us at creepy old dolls in rusty boxes?”
Our next artist isn’t exactly steampunk, but she does combine vintage techniques (in this case tapestry weaving) with industrial themes. Maria told me those bears were the symbol of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. I personally don’t support the 1980 Moscow Olympics because it was very mean of Ivan Drago to kill Apollo Creed and then gloat about it. At least, I assume Ivan Drago competed in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. It seems like the sort of thing he would do.
3) naive art
Here we get to a style of art that even a child can appreciate: naive art. Naive art can be any art that is made by an artist who hasn’t been formally trained. Sometimes in the United States it is called folk art. But from what I’ve seen in Eastern Europe, the naive art there tends to feature bright colors and unusual figures, like the squash people you can see in the mural above. Maria told me that the artist who painted this mural calls his style Perkinism. I assume Perkinism means that every character in the painting needs to be smiling and wearing bright colors and fabulous accessories. In which case, my whole life is Perkinism.
If you want a piece of naive art to call your own, stop at this store. The name translates to Naive? Very, and all the art inside is made by autistic artists. I bought a mug with a painting of the fox from the French novel Le Petit Prince. Also on the mug it says the fox’s quote,”It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye,” but in Russian. I don’t speak Russian, so I have to rely on Maria because she’s the one who translated for me. The mug could really say, “The person who owns this mug is a spy for the KGB.” I wouldn’t know the difference.
4) political art
I was impressed to see that some of the artists were engaged in political art. If I lived in Russia, I’d be too scared to put any political message in my art because I have an aversion to being poisoned, shot, or thrown out a window. The political criticism in the art above is a little subtle. The painter is influenced by Hieronymus Bosch, so she wanted to do works in his style that would criticize contemporary vanities and sins.
I assume the message of this painting is that it’s wrong to put cats in neon boxes and stand next to a table with a bunny and a whole bunch of fruit on it, especially if you insist on wearing a creepy bird mask. That’s a moral that could come in useful in a lot of different situations.
If you want to get more overtly political, this display is of suitcases with Putin’s picture on them that have been turned into crosses. Maria did tell me that the artist is a member of “the opposition party”, which means he’s against Putin. I’m not sure what the crosses are referring to. Perhaps they are a reference to Russian political dissidents who have gone to untimely deaths under Putin’s regime. (I’m not the one saying he had anything to do with it. Please don’t poison me!)
5) soccer art
I had my 24 hours in Moscow during the World Cup, so of course there was soccer-themed art everywhere. These collages depict famous international soccer players made out of the words of their native language. At least, I assume they are famous and not just a bunch of random hot dudes someone put in soccer jerseys. It is my absolute right as an American to refuse to care about soccer!
It’s not a bohemian neighborhood unless there’s some place you can get tasty vegetarian food. So the lunch included with the tour was a yummy, freshly made falafel along with some some strong black tea. Many Americans associate Russians with vodka, but don’t forget that Russians also love their black tea. I was told several times that it used to be difficult to get decent coffee in Russia, in part because tea is a much bigger part of the culture. So be sure to try some black tea at least once during your 24 hours in Moscow.
24 Hours in Moscow
Afternoon: State Museum of Oriental Art
Now that we’ve seen the finest contemporary art in Moscow, it’s time to get a little more traditional. We’re going to spend the next part of our 24 hours in Moscow at one of the hidden gem museums in the city: the State Museum of Oriental Art. Perhaps someone could tell them we don’t use the word Oriental anymore? But I don’t think political correctness has arrived in Russia yet. (The Russian name for the museum translates roughly to “Museum of the East”, which sounds better.)
In any case, during my 24 hours in Moscow, I was literally the only non-Russian there, which made me feel like a super cool explorer lady. But don’t just visit this museum because it’s a bit obscure. The collection of Asian art in this museum is truly stunning. People argue back and forth over whether Russia is more of a European or an Asian country, but certainly most of Russia is geographically in Asia. So it makes sense that the state museum would have so much gorgeous Asian art. I can’t possibly share all of it with you, but I can teach you…
three fun facts: asian art
1) what’s the biggest collection?
I can’t be exactly sure because I didn’t bring my tape measure with me. But it looked to me like the Central Asian art collection was the largest. This makes sense because many Central Asian countries, like Georgia and Armenia, used to be part of the USSR. In fact, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was famously from Georgia. But he’s just about the worst thing Central Asia has ever produced, so let’s quickly move past that. You know what’s an amazing thing from Georgia? Bread stuffed with cheese! Much better than Stalin.
There are many kinds of Central Asian art on display at the museum, from elaborate rugs to gorgeous robes. But I was especially interested in these traditional Armenian pots. They are so cute! This one’s like a chubby little pot man with incredibly skinny arms. Armenians have been making pottery for about 5000 years, which is pretty impressive. Is it as impressive as bread stuffed with cheese? I’m not going to say because I don’t want to get a bunch of angry emails from Central Asia.
2) what’s the prettiest object in the museum?
This is a subjective question, but the prettiest thing my eyes beheld were these intricate Indonesian shadow puppets. I especially liked how the Oriental Museum displayed the shadow puppets so you could actually see the shadows in the background.
I’ve never seen a performance of shadow puppets, so it was especially exciting to see the artistry that goes into the puppets up close. The puppets are traditionally made of leather. Then the puppeteer uses light to project the shadows from the puppets onto a linen screen. (You can see an example of the linen screen in my photo of the shadow puppets.) I’d love to see a real shadow puppet play some day. The only traditional kind of puppet we have in the United States is the Muppet.
3) are there any russian objects?
It depends on what you define as Russian? I mean, technically all the items in the museum belong to Russia. But this eagle above has a special significance for Russia. This sculpture has both artistic importance It was a gift from the Emperor of Japan to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia upon his ascension to the throne. The subject matter was chosen because the eagle is the symbol of Russia.
Of course this friendship between Russia and Japan did not last long. Soon the two countries were at war. The conflict started, like basically all of Russia’s international conflicts, over some important ports. Japan decided to SNEAK ATTACK Russia’s navy and knock them out without formally declaring war. This strategy turned out to be successful and eventually Russia had to negotiate a surrender. (Teddy Roosevelt led the negotiation because there was apparently not a damn thing that man couldn’t do.)
Their success in the Russo-Japanese War led Japan to think that SNEAK ATTACKING someone’s navy was a good way to begin any war. That’s why they got the United States into World War II by SNEAK ATTACKING Pearl Harbor. So basically this eagle is responsible for World War II. Thanks, eagle!
24 Hours in Moscow
Evening: Dinner at Selfie
We want to end our 24 hours in Moscow with some world-class dining! The biggest name in Russian cuisine right now is Vladimir Mukhin. He’s so famous for using traditional Russian ingredients in modern ways that he received his own episode of Chef’s Table.
I wasn’t able to get a reservation at his flagship restaurant White Rabbit, but I was able to dine at White Rabbit’s sister restaurant, Selfie. The name refers to the fact that the restaurant uses local ingredients; it’s got nothing to do with Instagram. Selfie is also ranked #65 on the World’s Best Restaurants list, so I wasn’t exactly crying that I had to eat here instead of White Rabbit.
Like many fine dining restaurants nowadays, Selfie is a tasting menu restaurant, which means you put yourself in the chef’s hands. This was definitely worth it, even though one of the waiters didn’t speak English, so I listened quietly while he enthusiastically explained the dishes in detail in Russian. I didn’t understand a word, but I enjoyed the show he was putting on with his hands, so I never told him.
However, you can understand me, so I hope you’ll be just as delighted with…
approximately top 5: selfie
I started the evening with a refreshing cocktail made with citrus and Onegin Vodka. Every fine dining restaurant I went to in Russia was serving this brand of vodka, and it was delicious. Tragically I cannot find this brand anywhere in the United States. Is the Russian government hiding it from the US because I keep making jokes about them poisoning people? I take it back! Please just let me have the vodka!
To be more precise, this was caulflower, truffle, and sheep cheese. Some dishes are interesting because they combine different flavors, and some intrigue because they focus on one flavor very intensely. This dish was delightfully umami through and through.
This freakish green radish was served with strawberries and goat milk mouse. The standout part of this dish was the strawberries. They were lusciously ripe and not too sweet. However this dish was a little messy because it was hard to keep everything on top of the radish. So it took a little extra effort for me to eat it like a classy lady.
4) Crab and almonds
Every tasting menu needs a real surprise or two, and this dish was the first shocker. It looked like ice cream and it was even served in a paper cup like the Italian iceys I used to buy after school as a kid. But it was actually fresh crab served with an almond foam. The sweetness of the almond brought out the very different sweetness in the crab.
5) Thymus glands and chanterelles
Thymus glands and chanterelles sounds like a Joni Mitchell album title to me, but it was actually the first of our main dishes. It was incredibly rich, so I was only just able to eat every bite of it. Poor me! And this is your regular reminder that if you don’t feel like eating thymus glands is up your alley, a tasting menu restaurant might not be for you.
6) Halibut and apples
Another feature of a good tasting menu is contrast between dishes. You don’t want two heavy dishes in a row. That’s why I was glad that the rich sweetbreads were followed with a much lighter halibut and apples dish. My one complaint is that it would have been cute if they brought a halibut out with an apple stuffed in its mouth. But I’m not 100 percent sure you can fit an apple in a fish mouth, so I’ll let that slide.
7) Sour cherry sorbet
Palette cleanser time! This sorbet was perfectly tart. It tasted like the sour cherries had just come off the vine. (Do sour cherries grow on vines?)
8) Deer cheek
I was a little surprised to get one more main course after the palette cleanser. But I had never eaten deer cheek before, so I was too excited to complain. The deer cheek looks kind of slimy in my photo, but it was scrumptious and so tender I didn’t need a knife. It was accompanied by more of those perfect strawberries and a little sorrel for bitterness.
9) Honeysuckle ice cream
I know that a lot of Russians have a sweet tooth, but neither of the desserts at Selfie were too sweet. So if you’re a sugar-phobe, you’ll be very happy. The first dessert was honeysuckle ice cream served with pine cones and goat yogurt. At least, my notes say goat yogurt, but that must mean goat milk. There’s no way you can turn a goat into a yogurt. I’m pretty sure any goat would kick you if you tried.
10) ice cream
Ice cream is one of the greatest things in the world, so I’m not complaining about getting two different ice cream desserts in one meal. This dessert contained the flavors of pear, sheep’s milk, and tarragon. I had never tried tarragon in a sweet before coming to Russia. It made me think of tarkhun, a tarragon soda from Georgia. (Like cheesy bread, it is way better than Stalin.)
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Moscow!
What would you do with 24 hours in Moscow? Can an ivory eagle really start World War II? And how definitely am I getting poisoned after publishing this post? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Moscow. If you have time for another 24 hours in Moscow, try this itinerary.