One of the first things visitors learn in Russia is that Moscow is the Center. People usually meant the "Center of Russia" but I think many missed being able to say, "Center of the Superpower USSR", complete with its 15 republics. Muscovites will almost always talk about the importance of their city, much to irritation of other Russians, especially those from St. Petersburg. But truthfully, there was no Russian city or region that came close to it in terms of wealth, influence or self-importance. With a population of nearly 10 million, it was by far Russia's largest city. (Actually, itís Europeís largest city!) Such was the place's importance that the Tsars were always crowned here, even after St. Petersburg became the capital in 1712. After 200 years of playing second fiddle to the northern upstart, Moscow was restored to its "rightful place" after the October Revolution. During Soviet times, most important decisions were referred there. Although regions in the New Russia had much more autonomy in the late 1990ís than before, most people still looked to Moscow for everything from political decisions to fashion trends.
Founded in 1147 by Yuri Dolgoruky, Moscow was the cutting edge of the new Russia. Given the long reach of the city it was only appropriate Dolgoruky means "of the Long Hand". Forget the old gray Soviet stereotypes about the place, especially in the center. These thoughts are as outdated a leisure suits. Turn of the millennium Moscow was full of colorful billboards, bright neon lights, beautiful floodlit classical buildings, staggering wealth, incredible artistic, architectural and other treasures -- and one hell of a wild nightlife. It was city full of gorgeous woman, epic construction projects, ongoing urban renewal and a constantly expanding retail sector. Mobile phones were everywhere -- and often rang with the Soviet national anthem. Patriotism was just a phone call away.
Unlike the perpetually struggling hinterland, Moscow had become a roller coaster boomtown with a rapidly improving infrastructure.
Forget the old news about food shortages. By the late 1990's, eating out had actually become popular -- and many restaurants were full, except when the ruble was acting up. This change was especially remarkable because most Russians never ate in a restaurant until a few years earlier. As they ate out more, Russians were getting more adventurous. By 2000, sushi was the rage. Back in 1998, there were only handful of such spots but two years later, there seemed to be a new sushi place opening every week. At the same time, Chinese and other "exotic" food was also becoming more popular, despite the Russian aversion to spicy food. The chefs better learn how to come up with bland Sichuan recipes.
Note: This is only a partial excerpt of the
book, which is available on request. I will be adding
photos to this page in the near future.