Have you been out walking round the centre of Moscow recently? Noticed the changes? The cars are being slowly but gradually forced off streets which were only recently hell on earth for pedestrians and drivers alike. I took a Saturday after noon walk and rediscovered two such streets: Bolshaya Dmitrovka and Nikolskaya Ulitsa.
Not quite all the cars on Bolshaya Dmitrovka have been banned, because there are quite a few government buildings on this street, and no self respecting senior official is going to walk to work in any country. Orange car evacuators, wait with engines running at strategic points up and down the street. Meanwhile the street itself has suddenly started to reveal its glory, and Muscovites have started, cautiously at first, to claim back this street for themselves.
Starting from the North end of the street walking South, a vista of impressively clean mostly pre-revolutionary architecture sweeps down to the red steeples of the Kremlin. Why didnât I notice the beauty of this place before? Could it be because of the c a r s? There are a few people walking in the narrowed road between the widened pavements. On the right is the latest home of âGastronomic House of Hediardâ which moved from its spacious but empty pervious location on Sadovaya Kudrinskaya. Further down is the Moskovsky Musikalny Teatr, where you can catch a highly recommended version of Nutcracker during the New Yearâs holiday. On, past the Generalny Propkuratora of the Russian Federation, and then I am in top level boutique land which is making this street one of the most expensive and fastest growing retail areas in the capital. The exclusive Nobu restaurant is at number 20, and so are a whole range of brand boutiques such as Stefano Ricci and Prada, as the street crosses the also pedestrianized Kammergersky Pereulok. One of Moscowâs only vegetarian and vegan restaurants with the name: Fresh is here, which is indeed refreshing news. My publisher tells me that he enjoyed an amazing American salad here with avocado adorned with a totally delicious dressing, then Falafel and an Italian salad. All very good!
Further down, almost at the Southern end of the street on the left is the Moscow Operetta Theatre where holiday specials: Mowgli, Cinderella and Graf Orlov can be enjoyed this December. On the other side of the road one passes the heavy red walls of the Novy Manege, built in the end of the XIX century in the pseudo-Russian style. Novy Manage is still functioning today but overshadowed as far as exhibition spaces go, by its gigantic relative, the Manege on Manezhnaya Square.
The sound and aggression of the traffic hits you hard as you come out onto Okhotny Ryad, however respite is not far away in the form of an underground subway over to the Teatralny Metro stationâs Southern exit. Up through a winding pathway past the suggestively named âVanilânoe Neboâ âVanilla Skyâ bar and restaurant which must be one of Moscowâs best and least exploited locations for an eatery, and out into Nikolskaya Ulitsa. This street is another example of classical architecture, rich in history and deep cultural intrigue. A whole book could be written about this street. Here, at number 11, you can find the remains of the Nikolsky Greek Monastery. The building on this site became the centre of a small Greek colony in the city during Ivan The Terribleâs reign, until the main building was destroyed in the 1930s. The neighbouring Zaikonospasskiy Monastery faired only slight better.
Number 15 now houses a department of the Russian State Humanitarian University. The architectural styles of the gateway defies description, but seems to be made of up of an eclectic mixture of Gothic and Modern styles, a feast for any architecture student in Moscow. The building used to house the Synod Printing House, where the first book in Russia was printed; the Acts of the Apostles in 1564. Here also, in 1703, the first Russian newspaper, Vedomosti was printed. At number 17, the Pokrovsky Musical Theatre can be found, which currently boasts an impressive repertoire of operas, including one of Benjamin Brittenâs works for families âLetâs Make an Operaâ.
Further up the street towards Lyubyanskay Ploschad, The Nikolskaya Plaza fits in uncomfortably well with its ancient neighbours. Here you can find (on the left and side of the building) the re-branded Papaâs and of course the Tibet Indian restaurant where some of us meet on Tuesdays for a dose of curry. Almost opposite the Nikolskaya Plaza I found a genuine âhole in the wall,â the Lapsha Panda cafÃ©, the interior of which is a tiny concrete space carved out from under a stairwell, resembling a bomb shelter. Here you can buy real baodze, cooked whilst you watch, and Chinese soups for unheard of prices in todayâs Moscow.
In tune with the Moscow Mayorâs drive to brighten up the city, most of the buildings on Nikolskaya Ulitsa and Bolshaya Dmitovskaya are now lit up at night, giving the architectural ensembles a surreal, almost Disney land effect. Now that the cars have been forced out of these and other central Moscow streets you can walk, eat, catch a show in parts of Moscow that we knew existed but never really got to know.