Oligarch 1: "Nice tie"
Oligarch 2: "Thanks - I spent $900 on it in Paris"
Oligarch 1: "You fool... you could have stayed in Moscow and spent $2,000 on it!"
If you're coming to Moscow for a spot of shopping, you'd be well advised to remember this joke. Whilst GUM - an acronym for the Russian "Glavnii Universalni Magazin", or Main Department Store - is home to some of the best luxury shopping in town, this is certainly not the place to pick up a bargain.
Demand is arguably the word that epitomises GUM in its twenty-first century guise. In fact, GUM has been astutely described as an "exhibition of prices". With its 150 separate stores - many of which are western luxury and designer brands - there is high-end (window) shopping and people-watching in abundance here. On top of this, GUM is home to a number of eating establishments: from much-loved ice cream parlours, to upscale restaurants to watch the high life go by.
The time it will take you to roam through the isles is entirely dependent on the thickness of your wallet - or your window-shopping stamina!
Architecturally, GUM is evocative of many great European buildings of the nineteenth century, such as those typical of Paris and Milan. The grandeur of the architecture is also akin to many great railway stations - with its vast glass vaulted ceiling, ornate ironwork, and elaborate limestone structure.
The "Upper Trading Rows" (the present building's first incarnation) were built in 1890 to replace an earlier wooden construction; and the structure was in fact known by this name prior to the 1920s. Visitors to this most beautiful of shopping arcades may be surprised to learn that, during the early Soviet era, GUM was used as office space for those administering Stalin's famous Five-year Plan. More startling, however, is the subsequent use made of this space by Stalin: GUM was in fact the resting place of Stalin's wife, Svetlana, following her suicide in 1932. Svetlana's ghost is said to still inhabit the walls of GUM to this day.
GUM was converted back into stores in 1953, and was the scene of long, winding queues for the remainder of the Soviet era. Due to its prominence - in terms of status and location - GUM was one of the few stores routinely stocked whilst other shops faced frequent shortages. In all weathers, queues would snake out of the grand doors onto the cobbles of Red Square, such was demand for life's essentials.
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