Sitting in my flat, planning our route around the world, there were two destinations I couldn't wait to lay my eyes on: China and Moscow.
I'd heard so much about Russia, and since reading Martin Cruz-Smith's Gorky Park, I'd become a big fan of the Soviet Union, so I was anxious to get to Moscow.
Moscow has the biggest population of any European city and boasts plenty of cool sites. The most obvious one is probably the The Kremlin, a big Russian citadel in the centre of town where the President hangs out. In its centre is Red Square (also the title of a Martin Cruz-Smith novel), which is surrounded by Lenin's Mausoleum, the luxurious GUM Department Store, and the photogenic towers of Saint Basil's Cathedral.
Having read the book, I was keen to check out Gorky Park. I had pictured expansive greenery that would make for a pleasant afternoon stroll and was thus rather disappointed to find it was in fact a children's theme park that required paying to enter. If you're looknig for a big ferris wheel, then Gorky Park's the place to go, but don't expect tree-lined avenues!
During our stay, we read a newspaper article claiming that Moscow was the fourth most expensive city in the world (Tokyo, Osaka, London...) and the most expensive for a cup of coffee. Naturally, our next destination was a swanky cafe for just such a beverage. I found it to be pretty reasonable (I'm a Londoner, but I've been to plenty of cheap places). Costs on the metro are rock-bottom--somewhere around 20 cents a go. We even ate some really tasty, inexpensive Georgian food on two occasions (although we did deliberately follow our guidebook's recommendation of low-priced restaurants). There are plenty of cheap stalls selling most things you could think of, from snacks to batteries to clothes and more. If you take the time to look around, it shouldn't be too expensive a city to stay in.
Accommodation might be a little harder to get on a budget. I don't think there are many hostels in Moscow, but we found a good one: G&R Hostel International (or 'Hostel Asia'). It's quite a ways out from the centre, but with the underground as cheap as it is, it wasn't really an issue. In fact, the subway is a tourist outing in itself. Some of the architecture is quite special—by far the most impressive platforms I've stood on underground. The main circle line is particularly exciting (we went the long way around on one occasion just to see some more places!), with many of the stops looking like palaces. Apparently, it's illegal to take photos down there.
Another highlight of Moscow, and no doubt the primary reason for many a tourist's visit there, is that it is the departure point of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The longest railway in the world (some 6,000 miles) stretches all the way to Vladivostok on the east coast or, alternatively, down to Beijing. The five-day journey is without doubt one of my fondest memories of the whole trip.