Why should I choose Moscow for my year abroad?
You can find pretty much everything here, from your average babushka to your bank-rolling billionaire, contemporary conversions to Byzantine creations, tacky pop music to cool jazz bellowing out of hidden enclaves. Moscow's inhabitants are hardly known for their people skills - in fact, the country's ethos on manners can seem a little cold and detached at first, but scrape beneath the surface and you're bound to make friends along the way.
Although not as stunning as St Petersburg, Moscow has quite a few tricks up its sleeve. If you're looking to get to grips with the history of the place, head on down to the Lenin Mausoleum and join in the debate to see if the embalmed body is still him. shame you have to leave your camera by the door, but it's definitely worth the detour. From here, you'll be in the very centre of the Red Square - a popular tourist destination, but nevertheless an impressive feat. You cannot help but be impressed by the monuments surrounding it, from St Basil's Cathedral, the State History Museum and one of the Kremlin's long brick walls. Speaking of which, what a site to behold! The churches are really impressive - you couldn't afford to come to Moscow without spending a day or two or even three making the most of the area, either exploring the intricate detail from inside, or enjoying a cool breeze in the tranquil gardens just outside.
Emblematic, cultured and most definitely one not to miss, you could even get some tickets to their matinee ballet shows - a treat to enjoy by yourself, or to really show off to your visitors. Speaking of beautiful buildings, the Choral Synagogue is a veritable treat you should let yourself in for - the oldest in the city, it was also the only synagogue to carry on being used during the Soviet period, regardless of talk to convert it into a worker's club. Well worth a pit stop, just to see the ornate interior.
History buffs will no doubt make a beeline for the Contemporary History Museum, formerly known as the Revolution museum; a huge collection of propaganda posters, some interesting photography of a time not-so-far-away and an impressive collection of bits and bobs all relating to the country's complex history.
If you're after some real hardcore Russian culture, make sure you swing by the Tretyakov Gallery - a vast array of some of the finest Russian art will happily keep you occupied for an afternoon. Similar to the Tate museums in London, each of these Russian galleries offers either classical or modern works. Tempted by something altogether a little more worldly? Stroll on over to the Puskin Museum, with its mammoth volume of works by all sorts of renowned and slightly less renowned artists. It's essential you put at least an afternoon (or day) aside to take it all in; make sure you stop for a coffee by the end to reflect on what you've just seen and experienced.
For all theatre enthusiasts: don't miss the Bakhrushin Theatre Museum, complete with stage sets, costumes and personal items of some of the most famous Russian artists. Thankfully, this buzzing city has its fair share of parks and green spaces - make sure you spend a little time contemplating the meaning of life, amongst other things, with a bottle of beer (or, ahem, a coffee) in hand, in either the Hermitage Gardens or Gorky Park, although there are many more spaces to choose from.
Being the capital, Moscow doesn't shy away from good eateries and happening bars - the large student population, both foreign and Russian, mean that deals and cheap eats are ten a penny! Justm ake sure you steer clear of obvious, and some less obvious, tourist traps, which all in all could reek havoc on your purse strings...Highly recommended, with a slight American twist (make sure you try their breakfast menu), Correa's on ul Bolshaya Ordynka. Expedition will have you coming back for more, the food's great and the décor... It has to be seen to be believed, but it's a pretty sure bet it'll tickle the inner James Bond in all of you. Mama Nina may not have the best soundtrack (queue bad music and a relatively slow service), but it does have aptly priced dishes, all Georgian and damn good.
Moscow wouldn't be Moscow if it didn't have theatres, cabarets and concerts coming out of its every pore; you can get cheap tickets to a show with your student card, and you really should go at least once to the Stanislavsky & Nemirovich-Dancheko Musical Theatre, applying both classic and contemporary techniques to the shows on offer. Bars come aplenty here, Art Garbage always seems to pull in an alternative, arty student crowd so grab a beer, and discuss with the friendly regulars anything from Sartre to Tolstoy to the importance of Queen's music in Russian culture. You might even get to debate the meaning of sporting a mullet.
Keks, a converted textile warehouse, is a gorgeous spot to share a short (or long) cocktail with some rather cultured souls. If you're after a real party, head to the Hungry Duck. Nudity seems de rigueur come the midnight hour. In terms of clubs, you can head to a number of places as the city comes alive in the early hours, but we'd recommend Osen, Propaganda with its gay-friendly vibe on weekends and Voodoo Lounge, although there are many more to choose from. So make sure you pack a good camera (mullets will make for good postcards), some thick woolly socks and a good sense of humour - you'll soon get the feeling that anything goes in this crazy capital city!