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Moscow - Russia

Moscow could be said to be like Paris by day (tree-lined boulevards, 18th century and art nouveau facades), New York by night (bars, clubs and restaurants) plus a bit of Las Vegas for luck. At the centre of all this is Red Square with the spellbinding onion-domed St Basil’s Cathedral, The Kremlin within whose red-brick walls what passes for the government of Russia is administered, the elegant spires of the Gum department store, and Lenin’s mauseleum.

Get a good panoramic view of the city from the observation platform at the university on Sparrow Hill (you might be lucky and be offered a glass of champagne from one of the many wedding parties that take place there). Buy a souvenir from Izmaylovsky Market to the northeast of the city then have a traditional Russian bite to eat at Café Pushkin on Puskin Square and then pop into Tretykov gallery of modern art to get an eyeful of Chagall, Malevich and Kandinsky.

The life of an average Russian gay is much the same as in the West. Gay Moscow has also a lot to offer visitors. Cruising places known as 'pleshkas' swarm with cuties from sunset till the dawn. But, above all, Moscow is the city of genuine and sincere souls. Of famous Russian gay charm.

Moscow, once the capital of the 'evil empire', has changed more radically in the last half decade than over the previous half century. Once-empty shops have become expensive restaurants, designer boutiques and 24-hour convenience stores. The nightlife, which used to be restricted to cheesy singers at bad restaurants, has exploded into one of the most vibrant and decadent party scenes in Europe.

The politically ambitious mayor, Yury Luzhkov, has transformed the centre of the city by rebuilding the magnificent Christ the Savior Cathedral and constructing a huge, three-story-deep shopping mall under Manezh Square, next to the Kremlin. The crime wave of the early '90s has tapered off - the notorious mafia have become more subtle in their dress and business methods. The ruble has stabilized after the runaway inflation of 1992-94. Moscow is acquiring all the attributes of a Western European city at breakneck speed - but all interpreted with an unmistakably Russian panache. Young Muscovite women read the Russian-language Cosmopolitan, dress in Benetton, rollerblade on weekends and order goat-cheese-and-basil pizza by phone. The clientele at the city's stylish restaurants wouldn't look out of place at the Ivy or Spago, and mobile phones are commonplace.

Unlike Amsterdam or Paris, Moscow does not have a specific red-light district. The main area where hustlers can be picked up is located at Kitai-Gorod, which is both an outdoor gay cruising spot and a place to get sex for money. Again unlike its Western counterparts, Russian gay saunas and bathhouses have not been conceived with the exclusive purpose of facilitating anonymous sex encounters. You will be disappointed if you expect to find usual lines of private rooms with doors invitingly left ajar. The sex action is much more discreet in Russian gay saunas, it is ok to cruise others in showers or the steam-room, but the action takes place either in locked private rooms rented by the hour, or elsewhere, outside of the sauna. However, now there is a notable exception to these rules - the Mayakovska Sport sauna.

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