Monday, May 14, 2012

From Rags to Riches

Travel can be a study in contrasts.  From the high-rises of Hong Kong to the rural farmlands of Laos.  From the sweltering beaches of Thailand to the snowy mountains of Nepal.  From the spicy curries of India to the tasteless stews of Mongolia.  From our dump of a hostel in Yekaterinburg, to the first-class Hotel National in Moscow.

Truly, there are few things more satisfying than being picked up from your smelly, crowded cattle car of a train by a private chauffeur, and being whisked away to a swanky five-star hotel (free with Starwood points, obvs).
The Hotel National.
Oh, did I mention we had a giant suite with views of the Kremlin?  Well, we did and it was glorious.
If you think about it, our rapid ascent from third to first class is really a microcosm of the story of modern day Russia.  We were proletarians who became overnight oligarchs!  (Just like these guys!)

Only, not really.   

After six months in southeast Asia, where the average meal cost us about $1.50, Moscow was a real shock to the system.  In a city where a latte can cost $9, I guess it's no surprise that places like McDonalds were always incredibly crowded.
We came here every day for the most affordable coffee around.
[DSM - and actually McCafe makes a delicious latte] 
Proof that capitalism has won.
(That's the Kremlin in the background).
[DSM - And that's McDonald's in the foreground - oh you knew that, OK then]
McDonalds may be cheap, but it's still gross McDonalds (except for McCafe, we love McCafe).   The best deal in all of Moscow was whispered to us, passed surreptitiously from one traveler to another, as if out of fear that if we spoke too loud, someone would hear us and notice what was clearly a pricing oversight on the menu.  [DSM - I guess the efficient market has not totally reached Moscow.] I'm willing to break the code of silence today though, and strongly urge you to visit Bosco Bar if you ever find yourself on a budget and in Moscow's Red Square.  Not only is the location fabulous, the restaurant chic, and the wifi free, but the eggs benny with smoked salmon or bacon is delicious and weirdly affordable.  (And I don't even really like eggs benny).
The contradictions:
Eggs Benedict (two poached with bacon or smoked salmon on an english muffin and sauce hollandaise) - $ 5.00
Side of smoked salmon - $ 5.00
Latte (not pictured) - $ 8.00
Two fried eggs with bacon, tomato and mushrooms - $11.33
French toast - $15.00
[DSM - and now in New York the only thing interesting about these prices is how low they all are]
Now that is a happy man.
We also enjoyed some reasonably priced Uzbek food with the notorious pen thieves Dale and Liddy (you may remember them from our train from Beijing to Ulanbataar!).  As far as I can tell, Uzbek food is sort of a poor man's Turkish food (no offense to any Uzbekis out there who may feel I unfairly judged their cuisine based on my experience at one restaurant).

Once Lynda and Steve joined us, our QOE (quality of eating) improved dramatically.  Our first meal at Cafe Pushkin gave us a sense of how the Russian nobility used to dine (that is to say, lavishly!)
Steve gets ready to eat the first of a thousand beef stroganoffs
Live music set the scene
Far from home!
It wasn't all fancy food, though - we made sure to hit Steve's airport favorite in the underground Red Square shopping mall food court.

Somehow, a post that was supposed to be about Moscow: A Study in Contrasts turned into a post about food.  I'm not that surprised.  Not to worry, we'll get to the things we did (rather than the things we ate) in our five days in Moscow soon enough.

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