Saturday, June 13, 2015

Coffee to go: The independent coffee shop scene in Moscow

One of the many changes I've noticed in Moscow in the past few years is the rise of the independent coffee shop. While I remember local and independent coffee shops being popular in the U.S. since the 1990s, it's only in the last year that I've seen these outfits popping up in Moscow. Although some of them tend to be rather pricey ($5 for a cup of cocoa, for example), they're a welcome relief to the Starbucks, CoffeeShop, Shokoladnitsa, and Coffee House chains peppered throughout the city. Because, really, if you're traveling all the way to Moscow, why would you want to go to Starbucks??

Double B Coffee and Tea is a Russian chain of coffee shops with an independent vibe. We visited one of their cute little coffee shops, which was tucked on a small street in the Kitay Gorod neighborhood of Moscow. When you walk in, you are immediately greeted by a tall, wall-to-ceiling bookshelf. The shop serves all sorts of coffee, and you can also get hot cocoa (Kakao) if it's late at night and you don't want caffeine-related jitters keeping you up. There is also a loft-style space on the second floor, where you can stretch out and relax with your cup of joe. (As you can see from this picture, it looks like someone is doing just that!) There's also a sketchpad and pencil provided for each table, so you and your friends can entertain yourselves if conversation fails.

LES is a short uphill walk from Trubnaya Place (between Tzvetnoy Boulevard and Lubyanka metro stations), but it's worth it. The shop's decor plays on the theme of woods and forests ('les' means 'forest' in Russian), and they have free wi-fi, so if you're a location-independent worker bee who's staying over in Moscow, it's a nice and pleasant place to spend a few hours working. Bonus: they also have four different kinds of lemonade, in addition to coffee.

Visitors to Moscow have most likely seen Russian designer Art Lebedev's work in the form of the Moscow subway map, but in Russia, Lebedev is known for much more: web design, industrial design, travel programs, etc. He was also arguably a pioneer in the independent coffee shop movement: I remember first visited one of his cafés in 2010, way before any other independent coffee shops showed up in Moscow.  Both cafés are located in the center of Moscow; the one pictured is at Bolshaya Nikitskaya Boulevard, a short walk from the Arbatskaya metro station. Downstairs, you will find a store that sells Lebedev's products; I bought a set of Tetris magnets for my sister from there two years ago.

Last of all, if you order a cup of coffee to go, you get this cute little sleeve. The text reads: Я пойду с тобой! / I'm coming with you!

These are the coffee shops we've visited while here, but there are many more in Moscow. Have a favorite? Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

What we've been doing in Moscow

This visit makes it my sixth trip to Moscow, yet, in many ways, the city is still a mystery to me. Since I usually go out with Mitya and/or his friends and family, I don't pay attention to our route and I don't have a clear sense of where everything is. I know where his parents' apartment is in relation to the city center (i.e., Red Square), Novodevichy Monastery, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, and Christ the Savior Cathedral (and the relation of each of these to the other), but for almost everything else, I would be at a loss to locate on a map.

At the same time, though, I do feel like I've seen the main sights in Moscow: Red Square (which includes GUM, the Kremlin, and St. Basil's Cathedral, pictured above), all the main museums and a few secondary ones, Russian writers' homes (Bulgakov and Tolstoy), Novodevichy Monastery, Arbat Street, Christ the Savior Cathedral, Izmailovo Flea Market (although it's not the one I visit to find things for Misha the Bear), Moscow State University, etc., etc., etc. (I haven't been to the Bolshoi yet though! It's on my list.) So, what to do when I've seen almost everything?

Well, my approach was to experience Moscow like a local would - or basically, as if I were actually living there. I looked for events and festivals that I could be interested in, and searched for recommended restaurants and cafes. The resources I used to find events/cafes/restaurants were Spotted by Locals Moscow and the Moscow Times. We were also told by Mitya's friends and family about several events as well. Some of the things we ended up doing were:

1) Going to a craft fair at ArtPlay, a former tea factory that has now been converted into an art exhibition space. I loved the space, too, it was like a mini-city. I was also able to check out Svoya Polka, one of the first secondhand and handmade shops in Russia.

2) Going to a food festival at the Museum of Moscow. They've been popular in the US for about 7-8 years now, but they are just starting to gain traction in Russia.

3) Participating in the Moscow "Bike Parade". Last Sunday, they opened up several lanes of the Garden Ring to cyclists. It was a lot of fun, although I hated the hills under the bridges!

4) Checking out the museums on Museum Night (this one was at the Multimedia Art Museum).

5) I love theater, but haven't seen a play in ages, since I left NYC. So Mitya graciously accompanied me to the Pushkin Theater to see Chekhov's "Cherry Orchard" play.

6) This isn't new, but I do love checking out my favorite flea market on the outskirts of Moscow every time I'm here.

7) We also discovered a new, good, and cheap Georgian restaurant: Vay me!


Hello! Although Mitya and I have a long history of abandoned blogs, that hasn't stopped me from starting this new one. I'm hoping to document and discuss our travels in more detail. Since Mitya is now a college professor and I can work from anywhere, that means that, approximately 5 months out of the year, we can travel and work in different places around the world. For example: for Thanksgiving break, we spent 10 days exploring New Mexico and Arizona; for Christmas, we spent 3 weeks in North Carolina, Moscow, and New York; for spring break, we went to LA and Chile (the photo above was taken outside the village of Parinacota in northern Chile), and now that it's summer, we're back in Moscow with plans to travel more. Watch this space for more soon!