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The best way to orient yourself in Moscow is via the city's efficient and highly ornate metro system. Learning the Cyrillic alphabet will prove infinitely useful in helping you to distinguish between metro stops. When asking locals for directions, it's often more fruitful to discuss locations by the nearest metro stop than by neighborhood names.
Moscow is laid out in a series of concentric circles that emanate from its heart—the Kremlin/Red Square area. This epicenter, encircled by the tree-lined Boulevard Ring (Bulvarnoye Koltso), is rich with palaces and churches. Although the individual streets that make up the Boulevard Ring have different names, most of them have the word for boulevard, bulvar in their names. The Boulevard Ring passes by stations Arbatskaya, Pushkinskaya, and Chistye Prudy on its way around the city. Much of your time may be spent near metro stop Pushkinskaya, located a few hundred yards up ulitsa Tverskaya, the city's main street which goes north directly from the Kremlin.
Marking the outer edge of the city center is the Garden Ring (Sadovoe Koltso), a wide boulevard which sadly has lost all the trees it was once famous for. The metro's brown number 5 line almost follows the route of the Garden Ring. Metro stations Smolenskaya, Barrikadnaya, Mayakovskaya, Sukharevskaya, Krasniye Vorota, Taganskaya, Paveletskaya, Oktyabrskaya, and Park Kultury are all located on the Garden Ring road.
Northeast of the Kremlin/Red Square area and within the Boulevard Ring is Kitai Gorod. This neighborhood began as an outgrowth of the Kremlin and contains sights such as the Bolshoi Theatre, Sandunovskiye Bani, and numerous cathedrals.
North of the Kremlin is the famous northern road to St. Petersburg, Tverskaya ulitsa, which extends from the Kremlin through the Boulevard Ring and out to the Garden Ring. This is Moscow's main shopping street. The Museum of the Contemporary History of Russia on Tverskaya ulitsa provides an interesting look at Moscow's evolution. Farther west is Bolshaya Nikitskaya ulitsa, another main thoroughfare and home to the Tchaikovsky Conservatory.
The next two main streets radiating out of the Kremlin to the west, are the Stary Arbat (Old Arbat) and the Novy Arbat (New Arbat). The Stary Arbat is referred to by Russians simply as "the Arbat" and is a cobblestone pedestrian street with cafés, street performers, and all manner of souvenir shops. Novy Arbat is a modern thoroughfare with casinos and upscale restaurants.
Southwest of the Kremlin, the Kropotkinsky District is home to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and the Tolstoy Memorial Museum. South of the Moskva River, the main area of interest is Zamoskvoreche neighborhood located around the Tretyakovskaya and Polyanka metro stations. Among other sights here are the Tretyakov Gallery and several beautiful churches.
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