But the reality of this place is nearly the complete opposite.
Moscow is a bright, beautiful, cosmopolitan city. I've always found Moscow to feel more European than most European capitals, with gorgeous architecture that never seems to end.
Moscow is easily as nice as Paris, London, or Vienna… with a population larger than all three. I like it here more and more every time I visit.
It has some of the nicest restaurants in the world, beautiful parks and monuments, and a highly sophisticated, educated, cultured population.
The city is quite prosperous too. But it wasn't always that way.
Moscow was once the capital of the Soviet Empire… the most infamous and failed experiment with Socialism in the history of the world.
Russia's humiliating tale of Socialism grew out imperial discontent– a period starting in the 1500s when wealth was concentrated in the hands of the Tsar and his key lieutenants. Everyone else lived as peasants in abject poverty.
My friends and I toured a museum at the Kremlin over the weekend and saw endless artifacts from the days of the Empire– golden chalices, diamond-encrusted silverware, magnificent carriages.
No doubt the royals lived absurdly well at the expense of everyone else. And by the early 20th century, the seeds of revolution had been firmly planted.