Saturday, August 20, 2011

Internet Viewing: “Moscow Out”

Some of my friends have asked about my mild fascination with all things Russian, such as luxury shopping at GUM and TSUM and the Eurovision Song Contest (I make no apologies for the latter). Some friends have visited Russia and others have expressed an interest in visiting the former Soviet Union, but aren’t sure what sites to check out.

While there are a number of travel sites that will suggest tours and help you out with visa requirements, sometimes it’s daydreaming about travel in the dog days of August and seeing travelogues that hits the spot. That, and the thought of being stuck on a tour bus with loud tourists isn't to everyone's liking. 

Moscow Out host Martyn Andrews
My favourite English-language Russian travelogue is Moscow Out. It is a weekly Internet webisode series dedicated to all the pleasures in the Russian capital. Hosted by British expatriate and travel expert Martyn Andrews, the program is presented every Friday in English on the Washington DC-based Russian online news outlet Russia Today. The charismatic Andrews is clearly in love with his adopted hometown.

This is not a travelogue where they simply tell you about the major stops such as Red Square, the Bolshoi and the banyas. There is considerably more to the massive city than these central sites. The series is unique and compact, informing viewers of tourist sites that may not be picked up by the major travelogues or tours. The effect is that they encourage and inspire one to get off the tour bus and actually travel with a select guide or by yourself, rather than a massive group, to really explore the city. Andrews brings an economic approach to traveling, by presenting destinations and events with a bit of history, access to the sites, and giving you an idea of pricing. There are webisodes dedicated to such interesting sites as:

Contemporary Moscow skyline, at night
  1. Tsverskaya (formerly Gorky) Boulevard, the high-end retailer street home to free-standing boutiques for haute couture designers;
  2. Contemporary art galleries beyond the Pushkin, including the Garazh Centre for Contemporary Art, the Borscht Gallery and Winzavod, for the more adventurous and lovers of experimental art pieces; and
  3. Serybryany Bor, or “Silver Forest”, the famed forest, park and inner-city beach that is an artificial island planned around a waterway to keep cool (remember that Russian’s continental summer climate is just as unforgiving as their famously long winters);
amongst others.

The programs are becoming increasingly tourist-friendly, presenting a number of options that inspires one to stay longer than the standard one-week package tours. Moscow Out also includes a number of money-saving travel tips that come in handy in the world’s most expensive city, such as restaurant and hotel pricing, discount (donation) entry days at art galleries, brand-name clothing shopping and other delights that won’t break the bank. The producers clearly understand that the city is not just for the mega-wealthy, and that democratic pricing in the current global economy is probably a good idea. To that end, Moscow Out’s has an episode on getting by in the city on a (not literal) dime:

The famed Moscow Metro
Moscow Out strives to show the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of the city, with episodes dedicated to pockets of English, German, Chinese, French and other cultures within Moscow. There are also a number of episodes dedicated to health trends and other necessities of life in Russia. Almost every episode includes an interview with at least one expat from such disparate places as the US, the UK, Australia, Finland, the Netherlands and other countries who now call Moscow home. It’s an excellent way to hear from expats who have adjusted to life in a major global city where English is not only not the first language, but is also barely spoken by the local population. The language barrier shouldn’t put off enterprising visitors. Moscow is home to 79 of the world’s billionaires – more than any other city, even Manhattan – and is also now home to an increasing number of global glitterati, including supermodel Naomi Campbell.

And to give you a better idea of the culture, my favourite episode remains their New Year’s special, since it is the biggest and most festive holiday in Russia:

They even feature a restaurant where they celebrate New Year’s Eve every night of the year.

To see more of Moscow and to be inspired to visit the Russian capital, visit their YouTube channel, here for their Facebook page, and here for a list of upcoming episodes on the Russia Today homepage. Take note that the episodes are presented in higher quality on their YouTube channel than on the actual RT corporate site. There are a select number of my other favourite episodes below:

Moscow Out: Contemporary Art

Moscow Out: Shopping Malls and Supermarkets

Moscow Out: Garden Ring

Moscow Out: Sushi Mania