Traveling through Moscow feels incredibly surreal. The streets are beyond massive; we’re talking twenty lane freeways and gigantic sidewalks, but all in a strange blend of communist Russia and older European styles. Though this seems excessive, this is all happening in a city of over 20 million people. Moscow is so densely populated that one-fifth of the Russian population resides in the country’s capital. This makes sense on many levels as there is little to no high-level employment outside of Moscow, St Petersburg, or Vladivostok.
Moscow has some fascinating sites that are worth looking at, but it’s essential to spend at least a week in this enormous city. It takes significant amounts of time to get around because it is so widespread, particularly if you decide to rent a car and affront the monstrous traffic jams that constitute the bulk of the city. First things first: Moscow has an incredible subway system, but not necessarily in terms of the areas that it covers. Instead, the stations are a relic of pre-Soviet times, which means that they are beautifully decorated in a baroque style. Some shared features include crystal chandeliers, colorful mosaics, and stained glass, making these stations the most beautiful in the world.
The Russian capital also immortalizes its Soviet-style video games in the Museum of Soviet Arcade Games. Much like the Musée Mechanique in San Francisco, it is possible to enter the museum and play old fashioned games. Not all of the sixty-odd games are playable, but enough of them work that you can catch a glimpse of existence behind the Iron Curtain. Even though the instructions are all in Russian, even if you don’t speak the language, the processes are quite intuitive. For about $8, you can play a Soviet version of pinball, collaborative hockey foosball, or simple video games. This is a fun way to spend a snowy afternoon and is a much lighter Soviet-inspired activity.
For a more somber historic visit, the Lubyanka is worth at least a passing glimpse on the way to eat homemade pelmeni. This massive yellow building designed in a neo-classical style has always held some variety or another of Russian authority. Still, it is the horrors that happened in it during Soviet times that made it into the symbol that it remains today. Famed author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn told the story of the Lubyanka as he spent extensive time locked in its basement. There is even an old joke that the Lubyanka is the tallest building in the world because Siberia could be seen from its basement. Today, the building is home to two institutions: the KGB museum and the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. The museum is only available for viewership by appointment only, but it is worth taking a look at the Cold War propaganda from the other side’s point of view.
For those people who enjoy life underground, Bunker-42 is well worth a visit. Bunker-42 was designed exclusively for Stalin, who enjoyed the safest space in which to be safe from the potential damage of the West. After a series of nuclear tests, it was established that the bunker’s silo needed to be no higher than 165 feet beneath the ground in order to survive nuclear fallout intact. The biggest challenge was for the construction workers, who were to build such a colossal structure underneath the streets of Moscow without damaging the current infrastructure or communication pathways. This would be problematic because having the public find out about the bunker’s existence would alert the numerous spies and render it utterly useless.