In case you missed it, this year has been Leningrad's - sorry, St Petersburg's - 300th anniversary. The former capital created by Peter the Great has spent much of 2003 improving its image, which has involved erasing traces of the Soviet Union. The current capital, Moscow, though, is a fine place to view Bolshevism's folie des grandeurs, especially with the 86th anniversary of the Great October Revolution marked next Friday, 7 November (an anomaly explained by the fact that the Gregorian calendar was in force under the Tsars). Don't delay: Russia has been rewriting its history since Trotsky was airbrushed out of the Revolution. They're rapidly tearing down what remains of the Workers' Paradise.
ARRIVING: true aficionados will fly Aeroflot, even though the plane is now an Airbus or Boeing. You arrive at Sheremetyevo airport, whose surly babushkas, 40-watt bulbs and ceiling apparently made of old cake- tins are pure Brezhnev-era nostalgia. Take care not to fly BA or Transaero - you'd arrive at the pristine new Domodedovo airport, whose efficiency and smart design completely undermine an authentically sovok experience. Literally, sovok means "owl", but now it is a word play on "Soviet", implying Soviet era tat or junk.
SIGHTSEEING: some people think the Kremlin is some kind of bunker or military HQ. In fact, it is a 17th-century fortress that was little changed (except for an ugly building that served as the Council of Soviets) by Soviet power. The rumour that there was a secret tunnel leading from the Kremlin to KGB headquarters is probably fanciful, but Soviet-searchers will find the same walk above ground a fruitful one.
The Hotel Moskva's asymmetrical appearance is said to result from Stalin signing off two contradictory architect's designs while in a drunken stupor, so they combined both schemes. Already shut down, by February next year the hotel will be just a hole in the ground. Few tears will be shed. Revolution Square itself features the Metropole Hotel, where Lenin's spin doctors concocted a fictional meeting with his Mongolian counterpart Sukhebaatar. The revolutionaries scheduled the Bolshoi Theatre (across the road) to be burnt to the ground. Instead, it was used a venue for public meetings, and it was here that Soviet government was declared. At the top of the street, you reach Lubyanka Square, home of the KGB. The flat roofs of the building form a circle. Soviet prisoners were exercised on top of the building - unpopular prisoners might "accidentally" fall to unseen deaths in the courtyard. The KGB Museum here (pre-arranged groups only) whitewashes the organisation's brutal history.
Let's backtrack to Petrovka. Where Alpha-Bank now stands there used to be a public lavatory. In the Communist era the Ladies was occupied by black-market traders, and became the best place to find fashionable women's clothes. The cops - all men - never thought to go inside. The Great Petrovsky Monastery, further up the street, was turned into communal housing by the Soviets.
WHERE TO STAY: hurry to catch the final closing-down months of swirly- carpeted rooms at the Hotel Minsk (Tverskaya 22; 00 7 095 299 1213, minck@ chat. …