Anthony Bourdain travels to Russia, a "xenophobic" nation, which in he's assessment, is suspicious of outsiders, in love with poetry, literature and songs, yet far from anything you'd call romantic, and in love, it seems sometimes, with their own suffering; sentimental about their own sacrifice and loss. Anthony's always been fascinated with Russia. As a child of the Cold War era, he grew up in an America both menaced by and obsessed with spies, "commies", the arms race, and "the bomb". So Anthony's glad his old friend Zamir is happy to shows off his homeland.
Russia is the largest country in the world, covering more than one eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area. Russia is also the ninth most populous nation with 143 million people. It extends across the whole of northern Asia and 40% of Europe, spanning nine time zones and incorporating a wide range of environments and landforms. Russia has the world's largest reserves of mineral and energy resources. It has the world's largest forest reserves and its lakes contain approximately one-quarter of the world's fresh water.
Founded and ruled by a Varangian warrior elite and their descendants, the medieval state of Rus arose in the 9th century. In 988 it adopted Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next millennium.
Kievan Rus' ultimately disintegrated into a number of smaller states; most of the Rus' lands were overrun by the Mongol invasion and became tributaries of the nomadic Golden Horde. The Grand Duchy of Moscow gradually reunified the surrounding Russian principalities, achieved independence from the Golden Horde, and came to dominate the cultural and political legacy of Kievan Rus'. By the 18th century, the nation had greatly expanded through conquest, annexation, and exploration to become the Russian Empire, which was the third largest empire in history, stretching from Poland in Europe to Alaska in North America.
Following the Russian Revolution, Russia became the largest and leading constituent of the Soviet Union, the world's first constitutionally socialist state and a recognized superpower, that played a decisive role in the Allied victory in World War II. The Soviet era saw some of the greatest technology achievements of the 20th century, such as the world's first human spaceflight. The Russian Federation was founded following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today, Russia has the world's 10th largest economy by GDP.
Tourism in Russia has seen rapid growth since the late Soviet times, first inner tourism and then international tourism as well. Rich cultural heritage and great natural variety place Russia among the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The country contains 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, while many more are on UNESCO's tentative lists. Major tourist routes in Russia include a travel around the Golden Ring of ancient cities, cruises on the big rivers like Volga, and long journeys on the famous Trans-Siberian Railway. Most popular tourist destinations in Russia are Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the current and the former capitals of the country and great cultural centers, recognized as World Cities.
Moscow is is the capital and the most populous city of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent. Moscow is the most northern city on Earth with a population of 11.5 million people, the most populous city on the continent of Europe, and the sixth largest city proper in the world.
Situated on either bank of the Moskva River, the city of Moscow gradually grew up gradually around the Moscow Kremlin, beginning in the 14th century. In the course of its history, the city has served as the capital of a progression of states, from the medieval Grand Duchy of Moscow and the subsequent Tsardom of Russia from 1340 to 1712, to the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1991, and since 1991 of the Russian Federation. The Moscow Kremlin, an ancient fortress, is today the residence of the Russian President and of the executive branch of the Government of Russia. The Kremlin is also one of several World Heritage Sites in the city.
Moscow is one of largest city economies in Europe and it comprises approximately 24% of Russian GDP. Primary industries in Moscow include the chemical, metallurgy, food, textile, furniture, energy production, software development and machinery industries. Moscow accounts for 17% of retail sales in Russia and for 13% of all construction activity. Since the 1998 Russian financial crisis, various business sectors in Moscow have shown exponential rates of growth. However, while the overall stability has improved in the recent years, crime and corruption continue to remain a problem hindering business development.
Based on Forbes 2011, Moscow had 79 billionaires, displacing New York as the city with the greatest number of billionaires. Overall, Russia lost 52 billionaires during the recession. The nouveau riche, also called the "New Russians", often pejoratively, have a reputation for flaunting their wealth; the avenues for doing so, and subtly, have also increased in recent times—a sense of fashion and self-consciousness has instilled itself through the many haute couture and haute cuisine spots in Moscow.
Russians are the largest ethnic group in Moscow, with a population of 8.8 million (85%). There are also Jews, 253,644 (2.4%) Ukrainians, 59,353 (0.6%) Belorussians and 166,177 (1.6%) Tatars, as well as increasing number of refugees and immigrants from Afghanistan, the Caucasus, the Baltic States and Central Asia. Orthodox Christianity is a predominant religion in Moscow. The city also has communities of Protestants, Roman Catholics, Judaists and Muslims.
Moscow boasts of its numerous attractions: Kremlin, Red Square, Tretyakov Gallery, Bolshoi Theater, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Armory, and St. Basil Cathedral among many others. There is a vibrant night life in Moscow. The major and one of the most popular nightlife areas is around Tverskaya Street. The southern part of Tverskaya Street near the Manege Square and the Red Square area is known as an area with many expensive, luxurious bars and restaurants, and is considered to be a playground for New Russians and celebrities. Tverskaya Street is also one of the busiest shopping streets in Moscow. The adjoining Tretyakovsky Proyezd, also south of Tverskaya Street, in Kitai-gorod, is host to upscale boutique stores such as Bulgari, Tiffany & Co., Armani, Prada and Bentley.
Vladimir is city located on the Klyazma River, 200 kilometers (124 mi) to the east of Moscow. Vladimir is part of what is called the Golden Ring, a ring of cities northeast of Moscow. These towns are among the most picturesque in Russia and prominently feature Russia's famous onion domes. The towns have been called "open air museums" and feature unique monuments of Russian architecture of the 12th-18th centuries, including kremlins, monasteries, cathedrals, and churches.
Traditionally, the founding date of Vladimir has been acknowledged as 1108. Vladimir was one of the medieval capitals of Russia. It was under Andrei Bogolyubsky (1157–1175), that Vladimir became the center of the Vladimir-Suzdal principality. Thus began the city's Golden Age, which lasted until the Mongol invasion of Russia in 1237. During this time Vladimir enjoyed immense growth and prosperity, and Andrei oversaw the building of the Golden Gate (1158-64) and the Assumption Cathedral (1158-60, 1185-89).
Scores of Russian, German, and Georgian masons worked on Vladimir's white stone cathedrals, towers, and palaces. Unlike any other northern buildings, their exterior was elaborately carved with the high relief stone sculptures. Only three of these edifices stand today: the Assumption Cathedral, the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius (1194-97), and the Golden Gate. During Andrei's reign, a royal palace in Bogolyubovo was built, as well as the world-famous Intercession Church on the Nerl, now considered one of the jewels of ancient Russian architecture.
Vladimir was besieged by the Mongol-Tatar hordes under Batu Khan, and finally overrun on February 8, 1238. A great fire destroyed 32 limestone buildings on the first day alone, while the grand prince and all his family perished in a church where they sought refuge from the fire. The bishop of Vladimir managed to escape. After the Mongols, Vladimir never fully recovered.
Today two of its cathedrals—Assumption Cathedral and the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius—as well as the Golden Gate are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Anthony Bourdain starts his trip in Moscow where he meets his old Russian friend and guide, Zamir. In a scene reminiscent of a spy movie, the two rendezvous in the famous Gorky Park, an amusement park in Moscow, named after Maxim Gorky.
Gorky Park, first opened in 1928, was planned by Konstantin Melnikov, a world-famous soviet avant-garde and constructivist architect. The park was written of in the novel Gorky Park, a 1981 crime novel written by Martin Cruz Smith set in the Soviet Union, which was later made into the 1983 film Gorky Park starring Academy Award winners William Hurt and Lee Marvin.
Alexander Garden: Zamir takes Anthony to visit Alexander Garden, named after the Czar Alexander. It was one of the first public parks in Moscow. It occupies all the length of the western Kremlin wall in front of the Moscow Manege. The park's most prominent feature is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is a Russian custom for newly-weds, on the day of their ceremony, to visit the tombstone and pay their respect.
The remains of the unknown soldiers, killed in the Battle of Moscow in 1941 and initially buried in a mass grave at the 41st km of the Leningrad highway, were relocated to the Kremlin Wall in December of 1966 (25th anniversary of the battle). The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was unveiled on May 8, 1967. In front of the tombstone, there is a five-pointed star in a square pit, which emanates the Eternal Flame of Glory from its center. The flame illuminates a bronze inscription saying "Your name is unknown, your deed is immortal". To the left of the tomb, there is a granite wall with an inlay saying "1941—To Those Who Have Fallen For The Motherland—1945".
Izmailovo Flea Market: Zamir takes Anthony to the Izmailovo Flea Market, an outdoor market where every Russian shops. Flea markets are a relatively new phenomenon in communistic Russia. With the return of the free market to Russia, people are free to buy or sell. Anthony finds historical relics from World War II and the communist era sold as common knick knacks. He's almost ecstatic when he stumbles upon a vintage poster shop that sells Soviet-era propaganda—in particular, a gorgeous, colorful instructional chart for how to cut meat, "commie" style.
Food Stall: They stop at a market food stall and Zamir treats Anthony to lavash bread (soft, thin flatbread) and shashlykh which is a form of Shish kebab made with skewers of meat that are either all meat, all fat, or alternating pieces of meat, fat, and vegetables such as bell pepper, onion and tomato. Shashlyk is originally lamb (in some extent pork, beef or fish) depending on local preferences and religious observances. While it is not unusual to see shashlik listed on the menu of restaurants, it is more commonly sold by street vendors who roast the skewers over wood, charcoal, or coal.
Lubyanka Building: Zamir takes Anthony to see the Lubyanka Building, the site of the old headquarters of the KGB and affiliated prison on Lubyanka Square. The Lubyanka was originally built in 1898 as the Neo-Baroque headquarters of the All-Russia Insurance Company, ad was noted for its beautiful parquet floors and pale green walls. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the structure was seized by the government for the headquarters of the secret police, then called the Cheka.
Although the Soviet secret police changed its name many times, its headquarters remained in this building. Thousands of inmates have been held, tortured and interrogated there. After the dissolution of the KGB, the Lubyanka became the headquarters of the Border Guard Service of Russia, and houses the Lubyanka prison. In addition, a museum of the KGB was opened to the public. In 1990, the Solovetsky Stone was erected across from the Lubyanka to commemorate the victims of political repression.
Red Square: Zamir takes Anthony to Red Square. Anthony confesses that now he can appreciate how beautiful Red Square is, but as a child of the Cold War in the 1960s, the Red Square was a symbol of the constant threat nuclear destruction from the Soviet Union. Zamir admits to the Russians sharing a similar paranoia with respect to the U.S.
Red Square separates the Kremlin, the former royal citadel and currently the official residence of the President of Russia, from a historic merchant quarter known as Kitai-gorod. The buildings surrounding the Square are all significant in some respect. Lenin's Mausoleum, for example, contains the embalmed body of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union. Nearby to the south is the elaborate brightly-domed Saint Basil's Cathedral and the palaces and cathedrals of the Kremlin. On the eastern side of the square is the GUM department store, and next to it the restored Kazan Cathedral. The northern side is occupied by the State Historical Museum, whose outlines echo those of Kremlin towers. The Iberian Gate and Chapel have been rebuilt to the northwest. The Kremlin and Red square were together recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990, due to their inextricable links to Russian history since the 13th century.
Vintage Car Ride: Zamir hires a Volga car to take him and Anthony to meet the retired Soviet spy Victor Cherkashin in his home in the Moscow countryside.
Volga is an automobile brand, manufacturered by GAZ (Gorky Automobile Plant), that originated in the Soviet Union in 1956. Modern in design, it became a symbol of higher status in the Soviet nomenklatura. Volga cars were also traditionally used as taxi cabs, road police interceptors, and by the KGB.
KGB Exurb: Anthony and Zamir join Victor Cherkashin in his favorite pasttime—gathering edible mushrooms from the forest. They take the mushrooms back for Victor's wife, Elena, also a former KGB officer, to prepare for brining. Over a cup of tea and a plate of cookies, Victor talks about the difficulties of living the double life, a lifetime spent undercover posing as a diplomat.
Victor Cherkashin was a counter-intelligence officer of the KGB. He joined the KGB in 1952 and retired in 1991. He was the case officer for both Aldrich Ames, a CIA counter-intelligence officer, and Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent, when they spied for the Soviet Union. This Cold War spy was responsible for some of the greatest security breaches in U.S. intelligence history. For his distinguished service, a grateful nation gave Victor a dacha, a traditional country home, in the exclusive KGB exurb outside Moscow.
Assumption Cathedral: Anthony and Zamir travel to the city of Vladimir. They attend a mass at the Dormition Cathedral (sometimes translated Assumption Cathedral).
A classic example of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Dormition Cathedral used to be a mother church of medieval Russia in the 13th and 14th centuries. The exterior walls of the church are covered with elaborate carvings. The interior was painted in the 12th century and then repainted by the great Andrei Rublev and Daniil Chernyi in 1408. The Dormition Cathedral is part of the World Heritage Site entitled White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal.
In 1990, Patriach Alexy II ascended the Patriarchal throne and presided over the partial return of Orthodox Christianity to Russian society after 70 years of repression, transforming the Russian Orthodox Church to something resembling a state religion. Some 15,000 churches had been re-opened or built by the end of his reign.
Blacksmith Shop: Anthony and Zamir visit the blacksmith shop of Alexei Borodin. He still uses much of the same techniques from the Iron Age. Anthony tries his hand at the craft.
A blacksmith is a person who creates objects from wrought iron or steel by forging the metal; that is, by using tools to hammer, bend, and cut. Blacksmiths produce objects such as gates, grilles, railings, light fixtures, furniture, sculpture, tools, agricultural implements, decorative and religious items, cooking utensils, and weapons.
Country Dinner: Anthony and Zamir visit the home of the well-known landscape artist Victor Smirnov, who provides a glimpse into the Russian soul through his paintings. Victor lives in what remains of a Soviet-era agricultural community. After a tour of Victor's garden, he invites Anthony and Zamir to a homecooked dinner his wife has prepared. They dine on caviar and the various fruits and vegetables from Victor's garden. And, of course, there's lots of vodka.
The table looks like one of Victor's paintings. With the exception of the caviar, it is fairly representative of the peasant food of the Russian rural population with a combination of the plentiful fish, poultry, game, mushrooms, berries and honey. Crops of rye, wheat, barley, and millet provide the ingredients for a plethora of breads, pancakes, cereals, kvass, beer, and vodka. Soups and stews full of flavor are based on seasonal or storable produce, fish, and meats. This wholly native food remained the staple for the vast majority of Russians well into the 20th century. This sort of peasant food is the foundation of Russian cuisine and derive its varied character from the vast and multi-cultural expanse of Russia.
Fallen Monument Park: Back in Moscow, Anthony and Zamir visit the Fallen Monument Park and see once Russian gods of government confined to a secluded section of the park with virtually no relevance. In October 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, smaller socialist realism statues of Soviet leaders were removed from their pedestals, hauled to the park and left in their fallen form. They were rectified later, although missing the original pedestals, and in some cases their noses or parts of their faces.
Tretyakovsky Proyezd Mall: Zamir introduces Anthony to Victoria Lopyreva, Miss Russia 2003, who is now a model and a popular television hostess in Russia. Victoria embodies the new Russian dream, for those capable of achieving it or even dreaming of it. She now has several business interests and runs the Miss Russia program. Victoria takes Anthony shopping at the "mecca of shopping" in Russia, the Tretyakovsky Proyezd Mall. Anthony is astounded by the price tags on some the high-end ticket items.
Tretyakovsky Proyezd Mall is essentially a short street with boutiques and shops that feature many luxury goods. Located in Kitai-gorod, it is known as one of the most expensive shopping areas in the world, rivaling Rodeo Drive of Beverly Hills. Its medieval-looking archway was designed by architect Alexander Kaminsky (1829–1897) in 1871.
Gorki Restaurant: Anthony and Zamir are joined by Victoria for dinner at Gorki Restaurant, a swanky, high-end resturant that serves Russian fusion cuisine. Chef Mikovich works within the realm of Russian taste while incorporating elements of Mediterranean and French cuisine. They dine on caviar served on a pillow of whipped potatoes and truffle oil; foie gras imported from Paris; seafood carpaccio made with salmon, tuna, and shrimps; and for the main course rabbit—legs stuffed with basil, liver soaked in cognac before cooking, and crunchy rabbit backbones. It's Russian cuisine as decadent as anything found in France.
Dyagilev: Victoria takes Anthony and Zamir to Dyagilev, Moscow's hottest nightclub. Dyagilev's like most trendy new nightclub: bottle service in the V.I.P. lounge, oligarchs on the dance floor, gorgeous "go-go girls" in cages, luxury goods' logos flashing from the JumboTron, and molar-rattling techno music from last year.
Aldo Coppola: Anthony treats Zamir to some metrosexual grooming at Aldo Coppola day spa. Aldo Coppola offers cutting-edge Italian spa technology, such as the lymphoderm procedure and the Dibitron.
Soviet Fighter Jet Flying Lesson: Zamir treats Anthony to a farewell gift: flying lesson at MiGFlug in a high-powered Soviet Air Force surplus two-seater fighter jet at 600 miles an hour. After some cursory classroom time with a flight instructor, Anthony first enjoys some pre-flight food and beverage: blintze (a thin pancake somewhat similar to a crêpe) with meat and Black Stork brandy. Then Anthony gets to log some actual flight time with a Russian pilot; one seat occupied by the pilot while he enjoys the flight from the second cockpit. Anthony's jet is one of three that fly in fight-formation, before breaking off to perform such stunning maneuvers like loops, rolls, immelman turns and, spectacular low-passes above the airfield. Anthony manages to keep his pre-flight meal down.
Back on the ground, Anthony reviews what he's learned from his Russian experience: the pleasures of revenge and friendship; a little about Russia, the old and the new; and a little about the Russian soul and Russian soul food.