Most seasons in Moscow have some sweetness in them, whether it's shining icicles or spring flowers, gold leaves falling or gold domes in the snow... But there comes a time - usually around this time of year, although 2008 has had more than its fair share already - when the snow turns to black sludge and what Pushkin called "the tedious thaw, stink, mud" of early spring sets in. With this in mind, the next three weeks of walks will explore some of the colourful under-cover delights of mud-spattered Moscow in March: the markets, the museums and the metro. Kicking off this week with a spot of retail therapy, we wander through the hills of herbs and smoked cheeses in the Dorogomilovsky Market before sidling over - by way of contrast - to the ever-gleaming Evropeisky Mall. Coming out of Studencheskaya Metro (1), cross the road and take the next right into Rezervny Proezd. Just after the "Kopeika" Super market, turn left along a fence and right through a little gate into the back of the market complex. This huge rynok has recently started to cash in on the elite restaurant and gourmet scene in Moscow and prices have risen accordingly, but it still has some of the freshest produce in the city. You can head for the big red sign of the Dorogomilovsky Domik (2) to fortify yourself with sticky slices of baklava and lethally strong espresso or you can plunge straight into the shops just beyond. This first section is the least interesting - kiosks selling clothes and household items that have grown up around the main food market like barnacles on a rock. When you finally enter the the central hall (3), the space, smell and sounds are amazing. For anyone feeling starved of color in the long grey Moscow winter, this is a great place to come and stock up - even if you don't buy anything.
Turning right along the aisles of smoked fish and red caviar, you reach a tempting bakery with fresh Khachapuri (Georgian cheese bread) and a clay oven for flat Uzbek loaves. Further on are a couple of brilliant stalls selling all kinds of spicy salads and hor d'ouevres: bamboo or beetroot, water chestnut or baby squid, they're pretty sure to have it and - what's more - they're very generous with the tasters. Nearby is a fungus and berry corner where last autumn's harvest spills out of tempting wicker baskets lining a square of freezers. In the neighbouring rows are heaps of spices where you can find everything from star anise to saffron, fringed by bunches of fresh tarragon and purple basil. The center of the hall is piled high with fruit and veg: bursting pomegranates and blood oranges and bright lemons with the leaves still on. The dangling strings of sticky yellow or orange above the fruit stalls are traditional caucasian sweets made by dipping walnuts in boiled grape juice, now available in several syrupy varieties.
A little further on, you stray into the pickle area: garlic stained pink with beetroot juice, patty pan squashes, all kinds of gherkins, vine leaves and tomatoes tempt anyone with a salty tooth. This far end is the meat section - pig's trotters, huge round chopping blocks and hanging carcasses - not great for anyone squeamish, but the golden corn-fed chickens are definitely better than the bland supermarket variety. Behind this on the right are mounds of Georgian-style dairy products, from colanders of cream cheese to brown strips of smoked sulguni. In this area, you can buy dozens of types of honey, homemade jam and unfiltered sunflower oil which smells delicious. There is also a fresh juice bar.
Having completed a circuit of the hall, finding your own culinary treasures or just soaking up atmosphere, exit through the doors opposite where you came in, near the fish section. In the tank by the door, king crabs stand guard over trussed lobsters and bags of mussels, like sea monsters over sunken treasure. Just outside is a stall selling everything you need for the banya: bunches of birch twigs, bottles of aromatic oil and loofahs.
Ahead of you, is an area of small stores and wholesalers which stretches as far as Platovskaya Ulitsa. Prices are lower here and quality varies, but there are bargains to be had in season among the fruit stalls and plenty to discover. Head straight ahead and to the right until you reach the exit in the far corner, just beyond a basket shop and a little cafe with the motto "better beer for better people"(4). Coming out onto the road, turn right, cross over at the crossroads and walk straight ahead along Bryanskaya Ulitsa towards the glass and steel cliff of the Evropeisky ahead (5).
The claim to be the " largest in-town mall in the world" is a little hard to credit if you've been to - say - Bangkok recently, but it certainly is big, with the concept seeming to be not so much a shopping city as a whole retail continent. The four satellite atria, named "London," "Paris," "Berlin," and "Rome" are ranged around the huge central "Moskva" Plaza where escalators and neon lifts ply up and down like space ships above glowing fountains and a giant clock. The most direct route through to the Metro is to turn left at the first atrium ("London," hence the telephone and letter boxes) and then right at the lifts, but you might want to explore the seven floors in a bit more detail.
A couple of floors up are useful international clothing chains like Marks and Spencers and Monsoon while the fourth floor food court includes the recent import Le Pain Quotidien, serving gourmet open sandwiches and overlooking the river. In the hermetic atmosphere of the mall, it can be any season; currently, of course, an artificial spring is flowering in contrast to the icy streets outside.
You can exit from the mall straight into the metro, but if there is anything you still haven't found, there is a popular household goods' vernisage just beyond the end of the railway station as well as a flower market selling roses in every shade of pink, cream and crimson, carnations, lilies and the early season's red and yellow tulips. N
Family friendly Features
The juice bar was a hit and the smoked cheese can be addictive, (but the dead piglets proved a bit too authentic). The Evropeisky Mall is crowded on weekends, but it has glass lifts, an Internet cafe and an ice rink on the top floor (open 10 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. and all night on Fridays and Saturdays. 600 rubles per 90 minute session including skates. Lessons available.)