GUM: the Main Universal Shop. The 120th anniversary.

Before 1815 the site had been occupied by trading stalls. Retail trade and whole sale prospered there. The stalls needed renovation badly but the tenants were against it since it would decrease their revenue. The building was in such a bad condition that "once a layer of plaster fell on the buyers, but another time, a lady, trying on a velvet dress that suited her very well, failed through the rotten floor, broke her leg and so was taken to the hospital in the unpaid new dress. The owner was afraid to remind her about it, at the meantime being happy that she didn’t recover for her loss."

However, after a long-term opposition between the government officials and merchants who owned the stalls and the plots of land on which they were located,  in 1893 the grand opening of a new building of the Upper trading stalls took place. You can learn more about the GUM building construction on its site.

Nowadays it is  an enormous boutique with hundreds of departments. Its one side overlooks Red Square and the others - picturesque old-fashioned narrow Moscow streets. It also houses the Gastronome №1 (a large food shop), some cafes, and occasional exhibitions.

You can find almost all the world brands in the GUM. They sell mostly clothes at low (less), average (most of them) and high prices. Since they are the brands presented anywhere in Europe, the attraction of the GUM is the building, not  the shopping. However, the departments are usually empty, the Russians can't afford to buy many of such expensive clothes, so you can enjoy the trying on and the searching for a particular piece of wardrobe: the fitting rooms are free and shop assistants are available.

The GUM building is amazing, it gives a relaxing sense of celebration: solemn and festive trading aisles, marble and wrought iron fences and railings everywhere. You should go there in the afternoon or morning, when there are not many people to spoil the atmosphere and interfere with the views. Most of visitors are Russians, to my regret, I can't say we, Russians, contribute to the atmosphere of festivities. On the contrary, with our sour faces, we neutralize any kind of festivities. So, you should go to GUM when we, Russians, are not there yet.

View GUM in a larger map

There is also  special branded GUM ice-cream kiosks on the first/ground floor. The ice-cream that is made by our Soviet prized family recipe which dates back to the Soviet Union era. Very tasty, really.  I remember what it was like back in the USSR and that was the best ice-cream I've tried in my life. It still can be bought in Belorussia and you can buy some in supermarkets in Moscow that sort of "Soviet" ice-cream, the one that doesn't contain vegetable fat.

Anyone, who's eaten the Soviet ice-cream never forgets it and never acknowledges any of modern ice-creams, which are sugary and mawkish with so many toppings you can't distinguish the taste of ice-cream.

Gastronome №1 is on the first / ground floor and I'm sure was the only place where one could buy good sausage, fruit and vegetables, wines of all kinds before Perestroika and back then  it was a miracle.

Now it looks like a rather scarce supermarket. The seafood department, the meat department, bakery etc, they all look miserable compared to even a regular supermarket in Europe. By the way, overall quality and variety of foods in Russia is low and bad. The only impressive department there was the wine department, but that's what Russians are into. Self-explanatory. Maybe, some of you will enjoy the rare opportunity to buy two spoonfuls of black caviar at 200 dollars?

You may go to Red square first and then after taking a walk - to GUM where you can eat out: there are some cheap cafes and a couple of restaurants. The cheap cafes are on the top floor but they are overcrowded and I found a seat there with difficulty.

Stolovaya №57 (picture below) is a reminiscence of the USSR when there were very few restaurants and catering industry wasn't developed, but there were some eateries of this kind, something practical and down-to-earth with no-frills service and mostly - no-frills self-service.

There is a queue to Stolovaya  № 57 in the photo, so be ready to stand in a queue for some time, and then not be able to find  a vacant seat at the table. It's better to occupy a table in advance so that you don't have to ramble about in search of a table to eat at.

Nowadays there is a bazaar on the ground floor with russian style New Year decorations. Prices range from 5-8 dollars to 800 dollars per decoration. The samovar below is about 16 dollars=550 rubles. The ball is 10 dollars = 300 rubles. They both make a perfect souvenir.

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