It feels like a very extravagant hotel when you enter the Gum department store in Moscow’s Red Square. I literally paused at the entrance for a few seconds because I was so shocked. And to say I was surprised was a huge understatement.
GUM (pronounced “goom”) is an abbreviation for Gosudarstvennyi Universáľnyj Magazín or “State Universal Store”. When it became privatized in 2005, the name changed to Glávnyj Universáľnyj Magazín or “Main Universal Store”.
Mike and I both went to Russia with preconceived notions about the country. I mean let’s call it what it is, we were stereotyping, right?
We thought Russia had soldiers with machine guns in the streets, rows, and rows of drab concrete storefronts, and propaganda signs plastered on every corner. Not to mention, the old babushka ladies selling food on the sidewalks.
Man were we wrong.
The Gum was just another one of those Russian stereotypes blown out of the water for us. Of course, we only visited 2 major cities, so I suppose you can’t really judge a whole nation by 2 cities, but I bet it’s pretty close.
In reality, the Gum is the most luxurious, vibrant, and upscale mall I have ever seen!
This historic Russian landmark has gone through a few transformations since it’s inception in 1893. It started out as a huge trading center that stretches along the eastern side of Red Square. Then from 1917 to 1950, it was used as Soviet offices.
In 1953 it was remodeled into a luxurious shopping mall and tourist attraction with 60,000 visitors a day. It is billed as a “shopping block” because of a vast array of stores, restaurants, and things to do.
AND THAT CEILING!
I think its most astounding feature besides the stunning architecture is Vladimir Shukhov’s glass heaven or glass ceiling, an innovation in its time.
Over 20,000 glass panels are attached to the steel framework that covers the long and wide arcades. 50,000 metal pods make it strong enough to hold the Russian snowfall.
The glass ceiling not only cut construction costs it also provided illumination and the impression that you were outdoors.
WHAT’S IN THE GUM?
There are 3 levels to this gorgeous mall and they have everything you can think of. A cinema, stores, cafes, restaurants, galleries, markets, pharmacy, bookstore, and even a fur store.
The demonstration hall can hold fashion shows, concerts, exhibits, weddings, you name it.
You’ll also find rows of kiosks with the most notable being the GUM ice-cream stand. The famous waffle cone delight has been around since 1954. It’s an all natural, handmade recipe that hasn’t changed since it’s inception. Be prepared it’s probably the longest line in the mall.
HOW ABOUT FOOD?
There are lots of places to eat in the GUM but for affordable Russian style canteen food, try Stolovoya 57. Here you can find Russian foods like salad, herring, borscht, pelmeni, fountain drinks, and desserts. The lines are long and you need to bus your own tables.
But, if you’d rather have Russian caviar and vodka instead then Beluga Caviar Bar is the place for you. They offer 20 varieties of caviars with the most expensive being about $75 USD. There are also appetizers, desserts, and wines.
WHAT’S SO HISTORIC ABOUT THE TOILET?
Of course, you can’t write about the Gum unless you mention the toilet. The historic toilet was originally constructed using marble and granite during the Imperial Russian era.
For a fee, you can sit on the luxurious toilet or even use the shower facilities to freshen up. There’s cologne/perfume, cloth towels, a coat closet, bidet and leather chairs to relax.
But the absolute best part of my historic toilet experience was the paper liners. I realize this is TMI, but you just don’t find them much overseas, so I was elated.
During the Soviet Union Era, the historic toilet was closed because it was considered too bourgeois and converted to a warehouse.
However, it was resurrected during the privatization in 2005 using marble for the walls and Venetian for the glass lamps.
I hate to end with a toilet, but I guess if you think about it, it fits. Anyway, I hope we ‘busted’ a few stereotypes for you. There weren’t any machine guns or propaganda posters, maybe a few babushkas.
Moscow is very safe and clean with a beautiful subway system. It was great to learn about the culture, history, and architecture. Make sure you get a good guide so you can get a local’s perspective.
It was an experience we will never forget. If you don’t have it on your travel list, add it. The visa process is a bit cumbersome, but it’s worth the effort!
Happy Trails 👣
PIN for later