Free Moscow Brochure
Hi there! Welcome to Moscow Russia Insider's Guide brochure. I know, I know, you're going to ask I decided to write this brochure anyway? After all, I already created a whole site dedicated to Moscow!
Well, you see, there's a difference between reading a site and downloading a convenient handbook that you can print out or upload to your PDA so that you can access it anytime you wish. After all, wireless internet is still expensive and you don't always have it. If you're going to fly to Moscow one day, wouldn't you prefer to have all the information you need in one little file?
However, ease of use and accessibility are not the only reasons I decided to write this little handout. Recently, I've been doing a lot of things to improve and rework my website. While at it, I noticed that some areas needs more polishing and content. I'll be updating them of course, but I think the best thing to do is to give you the chance to get all that improved content in one place.
After all, you've already been to my site, so it won't be enough just to improve certain pages – you won't even know about the work I've done. However, putting that new content in my brochure is different, as you will be presented with all the updates right after you open this file.
However, I don't want you to think that this eBook is just a bunch of updated articles already found on my site. No, the idea is to put here the content you won't find at Moscow Russia Insider's Guide. With time, I might be sharing parts of it online, but most of the things I write here will be unique.
In short – don't worry, you aren't going to waste your time and bandwidth reading this. On the contrary, I hope the information I'll share will help you know Moscow even better. But – don't forget you don't have to choose between reading this and visiting my site from time to time.
A Little About Moscow
A Little About Moscow
Alright, so what is Moscow? Where is it, and what is it really about? Well, as you probably know, Moscow is the capital of Russia. The city itself is more than 850 years old, and these days it covers the area of more than 1,000 square kilometers. Moscow is home to approximately 13 million people, with new migrants coming almost every day, and is probably the richest and most successful city in Russia.
Today, Moscow is everything the big city could dream about, namely a political, economic and cultural capital of Russia. By the way, it hasn't always been the case. After Peter the Great built St. Petersburg, he moved the capital from Moscow. However, later on, when Bolsheviks seized power, the capital was returned to its historical place.
As I said, Moscow's history is very rich. It had its upturns and downturns, it has seen Tsars and Communist leaders. When you think about it, the history of Moscow is like a one big layer cake. Well, every city's history can be compared to layer cake I guess, but Moscow's "layers" are much more interesting!
What's even better is that you don't have to be an archaeologist to learn about all the turns and twists of Moscow history. On the contrary, all you have to do is dress up and walk out to the street. If you pay attention, you'll see how many unmixable things peacefully coexist in our city.
Want examples? You got them. Take Moscow Kremlin for example – this place has probably seen all forms of governments we had in human history. It belonged to Tsars like Ivan the Terrible, it saw countless wars and medieval intrigues, the "westernization" of Russia during Peter The Great's time. Later on, after Bolsheviks revolution, Moscow Kremlin saw a different kind of leaders that managed the Soviet state, the most famous (and cruel) being of course Joseph Stalin.
I think there aren't that many countries in the world whose leadership continues to occupy the same quarters as those medieval kings that ruled Europe centuries ago. Well, that is the case with Moscow, although personally I would prefer if government would moved out to a more modern residency, and Kremlin was transformed into a tourist spot. All that historic atmosphere, you know....not very good for our leaders!
Another excellent example of that crazy historic mix is Moscow metro. Have you heard of it? If you haven't AND you're going to visit Moscow sometime soon, I truly, honestly recommend you to check out that Soviet achievement.
Why do I call Moscow subway an achievement when there are so many countries in the world that also have it? Well, first of all, Moscow subway was founded in 1930's. The state was still very young and had not yet recovered from the horror of the civil war. Soviet Union neither had money nor qualified professionals to do the job, and yet it decided to give Moscow a transit system that only the most advanced world capitals had back then.
Another reason why I call it an achievement (and what brings us to the original topic) is the fact that Moscow metro represents nearly all the years of
Soviet history plus a few stations built by modern Russia. For example, if you walk around the core stations of Moscow subway (like "Kievskaya" or "Kurskaya") that were built during the reign of Stalin (and shortly after), you'll see a lot of sculptures and other artwork, because it was important for the USSR to show how much it cares about the common folks.
However, as you advance towards the more modern stations that lie outside the ring line, you will see that the stations become less and less decorated, as during the times of Khrushchev and Brezhnev it was believed that the state should not waste too much money on designing the metro and that every station should cost less and be more functional.
However, if you look at the stations built recently, like "Park Pobedy" on "Poklonnaya Hill", you will see that Moscow government (led then by Yuri Luzhkov) tried its best to restore the early Soviet design. Not only is "Park Pobedy" one of the most beautiful and even pompous stations, but it's also the deepest one, which obviously refers to early "Stalin's" design.
It's funny, but the history seems to repeat itself, as the new Moscow mayor Sergey Sobianin recently decided that Moscow won't invest too much money in design but would rather have stations built quicker and cheaper.
In addition to Moscow metro, there are all kinds of places where you can find the symbols of the Soviet past coexisting with the modern life.
For example, we still have "Leninskiy prospect" in Moscow – a huge avenue in the south part of the city with thousands of cars driving through it every hour. Why didn't we change the name? Personally I think it's more convenient that way although on the other hand I don't think that someone like Vladimir Lenin deserves to have streets called after him.
A little about Russians
A little about Russians
Now when we've talked about Moscow, I'd like to speak "from my heart in English" like during Vitaliy Mutko's terrible speech before the Olympics committee Anyways, now that you read about the history of our city, I think it's time to pay attention to people who inhabit it.
After all, if you're truly interested in Moscow (and hopefully you're going to visit us one day), you shouldn't only study the history and geography, as you will have to interact with a lot of Russians during your travel. So, what are we, Russians, really about?
Well, let's be honest – we are so very different from Europeans and Americans! Although we share the same continent with European Union, we
have different historic and cultural backgrounds. Even our religion is different – we are Christians, yes, but Orthodox Christians, and Orthodox tradition isn't really that similar to Catholic or Protestant ethic.
To illustrate my point, let's see how we treat the very basic concept of human relations – smile. In the West, it's widely accepted that a person should smile when communicating with somebody, be it someone he likes or not. I tend to agree that smiling is a really good tradition that makes talking to each other simpler and more pleasant. However, in Russia we use a different approach.
You see, in Russia we don't consider people who constantly smile pleasant or even fair. On the contrary, we believe that we shouldn't play with our facial muscles, and those who do otherwise will probably not do us any good.
It's hard to say why we treat people who don't show their feelings with such suspicion, I guess it's something that spans from our past. However, while we don't tend to smile that much, there's a good side to it as well. If one day you have Russian friends, you can rest assured they won't hide their emotions from you. They laugh when you're funny, and they'll probably frown when you do something wrong. Don't know about you, but I prefer it that way.
By the way, in case with Russians, looks can also be deceiving, but it works the other way around here. For example, when you want to know what time it is, you look around and all you see is gloomy faces of Muscovites hurrying in all directions. If you keep your Western mindset, you'll probably not want to approach anyone, as you'll think they are not welcoming to say the least.
However, if you overcome your fears and approach a person on the street, you have good chances they will not only tell you what time it is, but will also be happy to give you directions or answer any other question you may have. I know out of my personal experience how deceiving the appearance can be, as not once have I met people who acted exactly the opposite to their exterior.
I think when communicating with Russians, it's best to use the old wisdom of Zen and leave your judgments behind. Moscow is a different world, not like Paris or London. It looks similar, but it's not, and your prior experience will probably lead you nowhere. Think of it as a chance for self-growth. After all, you won't get anywhere in life if you stay forever in the comfort of your own home, right? And Moscow, by the way, gives you an excellent chance to experience a different life.
The Tao of Moscow
Speaking of Zen, I would like to add that your entire trip to Moscow (and Russia, if you wish to extend it), should be performed with a certain approach. This approach I call "the Tao of Moscow", and it basically states that you should clear your mind as much as possible and not let your judgments cloud your perception.
This is exactly what Zen masters teach us, but my goal is not to endorse any religion or philosophy. You see, as I said – Moscow is a very unique place. Our city is something you haven't probably experienced yet, because it blends a lot of things that seems to be completely contradictory.
We have European architecture and Indian traffic, rich, out-of-town districts like Rublevka and poor neighborhoods like Perovo, high-speed Internet access and people who don't even have a phone. Is it good? Is it bad? There is no answer to that (just like with many other things in life).
Ask yourself this – are you here to judge or enjoy? If you're coming to Moscow to judge - it's a shame, because you will just waste your time here. After all, you can do all that judging in the comfort of your own home. Plus, as I said, judging will distract you from all the interesting stuff you can see and experience in our city and to be honest – it will ruin all the fun.
I agree that you can be unhappy about many things. Crowds, traffic jams, bad service in certain places – those are the things that unfortunately can happen to anyone. However, whether to dwell on them or not is your choice. And why bother? After all, we only live once, so why throw our lives away on being unhappy about something?
Think of it this way – whatever situation you take, you can find good and bad things in it. For example, a lot of us want to be rich and lead the life of a multi- millionaire. However, be sure that if you do get there, you will immediately find the situation has a lot of disadvantages as well. Too much media attention, people who'll want to be your "friends" just to get closer to your bank account, and even conflicts with less fortunate members of your own family! Now wouldn't that make you unhappy and depressed?
On the other hand, if you choose not to become too attached to bad stuff you might (only might!) experience, then Moscow can offer you so much more!Sights, walking tours, river boat cruises, fascinating night life and centuries of history full of tragic and happy events. If you let go of your previous experiences and try to interact fully with that big, thriving city – you will see it's so much better than to hold back and be unhappy about everything!
...and that, my friend, is what I call the "Tao of Moscow".
Planning your trip
Planning your trip
One of my most favorite Russian books is Mikhail Bulgakov's novel "Heart of a Dog". First of all, I think you should read it, because this is truly a masterpiece written by one of Russia's most famous writers. Second, there's that phrase that I remembered for my entire life – "if you want to be on time everywhere, you shouldn't hurry". That is exactly the principle you should follow while planning your trip to Moscow.
You see, Moscow is a big place. Really big. And although Moscow transit system is quite good, it will still take you quite a lot of time to travel from point A to point B. So, the first thing I believe you should do is stop hurrying. Hurrying won't help you see more, but will in fact make you see less and won't let you prioritize Moscow sights in a correct order.
In order to avoid the unnecessary rush, I think it's best if you prioritized the places you want to see before you get on the plane, ideally – before you even book the hotel and buy the tickets. Think about it – what is it that you want to do in Moscow? What is the goal of your trip? If you want to go there with your spouse and kids, then most probably all you'll want to do is the visit the city's sights and not party in Moscow clubs all night long.
In that case, you should squeeze in your trip as much sightseeing as possible, and never mind anything else. Walk around Kremlin and the Red Square, take lots of pictures that you'll share on Facebook, get down to Moscow metro at least once and of course buy a portrait of Vladimir Putin
While making your schedule, keep in mind it will be hard to visit more than 2- 3 places a day. First of all, even if they look close on a map it means you'll still have to walk quite a lot, and second – all those new impressions you'll get can be quite exhausting. As I said – don't be in a rush, you don't have to see everything in Moscow during your stay. Yes, you should make efficient use of your time, but that doesn't mean you should give up on your comfort, otherwise you'll start hating your trip very quickly.
So, lay out the landmarks you consider most important (go here if you need assistance). Make sure you have enough time to see them all with comfort, because again – the rush can kill all the fun. Well, honestly I can't be speaking for both of us because you may actually like to not waste a single second during your journeys. However, most of the chances you would prefer to avoid having to run from one tourist spot to another and spend no more than 5 minutes watching Moscow Kremlin.
After you prepared the list of landmarks you'd like to visit AND made sure you'll have enough time for all of them, you should also try to match them together geographically to avoid moving across large portions of Moscow.
Sure, most of the sights are located in historic center of Moscow, but it doesn't mean they are too close, as such term almost doesn't exist in big city like ours. Plus, don't forget that there are at least some landmarks you won't find in the city center and thus you'll have to do at least some walking.
For example, if you're going to visit Kremlin then you should probably schedule Red Square for that day as well, because those two are basically a one single whole. It would be stupid to first visit the Red Square, then go to, say, "Poklonnaya Hill" located in western part of Moscow and then return to see the Kremlin the next day.
I'm exaggerating, of course, but the point is it's important to look at the map while planning your trip. If I were writing a brochure about Luxembourg, I probably wouldn't even bother you with all that planning stuff because you can walk around the entire country within a couple of days. However, Moscow is a real "time-burner", so it's necessary to plan ahead if you want to get the most out of your trip.
Same principles apply to every other goal you might set before yourself. If, for example, you're coming to Moscow for a piece of big city's night life then the schedule should be totally different. However, you still should have a clear goal in your mind so that you'll only focus on nightclubs and parties and avoid all that stupid sightseeing I've been blabbering about
All that stuff I wrote might make me look like sort of a control freak, but I'm not, really. Planning is good, of course, but you can't and shouldn't foresee everything in advance. Leave some space for improvising, otherwise your trip may get too boring. Personally, I prefer to use mixed approach, with fixed plans to see the most important/beautiful sights but also with good portion of spare time in case I want to move the upcoming trips or do some unplanned activities like taking a nap
Speaking about naps, it's very important to get enough rest. Personally, I believe that no trip can be good if you only get to sleep for 5-6 hours. Sure, during your stay at Moscow you will most probably fall in situations where you won't have enough time to rest, but overall I always try to have as much sleep as I can get. After all, what good is your vacation if you came home even more exhausted than you were before the trip?
Getting a visa
Getting a visa
Getting a Russian visa is a true pain in the neck. As you probably heard, Russia is a very bureaucratic country. Actually, "very" is not the word, as I like to compare Russian bureaucrats to Vogons from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". Plus, there's a good deal of corruption going on, so my advice is – try to avoid applying for visa yourself at all costs.
If you have money to spare, it’s best to turn to a travel company that will help you out with all the problems. Near every Russian embassy has one, often they even share the same building. It all depends, of course, on their rates, but on average I would say it will cost you anywhere from $50 to $150 to get Russian visa through an intermediary. That is not a small sum, I agree, but don’t be in a hurry to say “no”.
If you’ve never been to Russian embassy in your country, I suggest you visit it before you make a final decision. You don’t even have to go inside – you will most probably see a huge line in front of the building long before you approach it. I know it’s hard to spare your hard-earned money on something you’re supposed to get for free, but that’s the downside of visiting Russia, and I want you to be very clear about it.
However, let’s suppose you can’t afford (or don’t want) to pay tens of dollars for a visa to Russia. In that case, all that’s left is to apply yourself. Although I still insist you apply through an agency because it will save you a lot of headache, it’s surely possible to get the visa if you follow several guidelines.
First of all, you should clarify as much things as possible before you come to the embassy. You can visit the embassy’s website, of course, but I think it’s best if you call them by phone. You see, a lot of bureaucracy means there are loads and loads of unnecessary instructions that get constantly cancelled and renewed.
Therefore, the information on the website may be simply outdated, as the embassy might have just received a new instruction from Moscow just yesterday. However, even if you do call them by phone you should still be ready that this information won’t help you too much once you actually arrive, which brings us to rule number 2….
Be ready for anything. Russian embassies belong to the twilight zone where normal rules do not apply. Although fundamental laws like the law of gravity are still intact (but who knows what happens tomorrow?), the rest is totally in the hands of our dear bureaucrats. Forms you filled and brought in may be claimed obsolete, the embassy may be closed although they assured you by phone it won’t be, and of course lines. Terrible lines.
I will have to write a separate paragraph about it, because standing in lines will probably be a considerable part of your embassy experience. First and foremost – be patient. You won’t get a good and fast service, so better get used to it as soon as you can. Everything you do, even the simplest and most basic things, will be preceded by a long waiting.
Be also ready for people who’ll try to “cut the corners” by trying to get in line before you. Don’t pay attention to them, there’s no use fighting everyone who’s trying to be “the smart guy”. Whatever happens, you will get there and achieve your goal, so stay calm – you’ll need that calmness.
By the way, you may have to come to the embassy long before it opens to get in the line, otherwise you may not even get inside that day. Try to check that by phone as well or visit the appropriate Internet forums in your country, there’s plenty of them these days. It’s best to get in touch with Russians that live in your country and ask them, because most of the chances they had to deal with the embassy in the past. If they’re any good, they will tell you everything and give you the exact instructions on what and how to do.
Being patient also means not arguing. I really suggest you to do whatever you’re being told no matter how foolish that may sound. Do not, I repeat, do not attempt to prove them wrong. Trust me, they know they act like idiots, but the thing is they do it on purpose. The point is to make you apply through the agency and thus “earn” a few bucks. It sounds terrible, but the entire system is inefficient not because it can’t be improved, but because it doesn’t want to be.
They will do whatever they can to drive you over to their next-door neighbors, and they will in fact get disappointed if you persist and force them to do their job without any extra payments.
I know I drew a very unpleasant picture here, but I just want to be honest. If you come prepared, you will most probably get your visa relatively fast, while if you’re having illusions then reality will deliver you a terrible blow. So, brace yourself, pick up that phone and start acting.
By the way, recently there’s been an anti-corruption campaign initiated by President Medvedev. Our friends living in Israel reported there’s been a significant improvement in speed and quality of service. Who knows, you might just be lucky enough to ride another anti-corruption wave and get your visa in no time. But you know what they say – “Put your trust in God but keep your powder dry”.
Alright, now when we talked about getting a Russian visa let’s see what are your accommodation options. While you may think Moscow is a large city with lots of pompous and extremely expensive hotels (which is partly true), you can still find a good and inexpensive place to live during your stay.
If you have a large travel budget and if you’re accustomed to comfort and luxury in your surroundings then you should probably book one ofMoscow’s 5 star hotels. Oh, there are so much of those I’m sure you won’t leave disappointed! It would be safe to say that every respectable hotel chain serves its clients in Moscow as well, so don't you worry about not finding your favorite one here!
Apart from your hotel, there are so many places in Moscow that can provide you with the best service money can buy! Casinos, nightclubs, stylish cars for rent....ahhh, I could tell you so much more about those if only I was a couple of millions richer! But – life is life I guess, so while you're planning how to spend your outrageous travel budget, I'm humbly writing this brochure to help you out
Alright, but what if your budget isn't that outrageous but you still want to visit Moscow? Oh, you've probably heard all sorts of scary things about our city, like that hotels here charge terrible, terrible prices for accommodation without giving anything in return, am I right? Well, the thing is – if I'm right then you're wrong, because Moscow has plenty of middle-class hotels that will provide you with all you need during your stay in Moscow while charging only a fraction of a price compared to 5 star "monsters".
Of course there will be some tradeoffs but trust me – they're nothing you couldn't handle. For example, take a look at this nice Moscow hotel called"Soyuz". It's cheap, it's comfortable, it sits right on your way to "Sheremetyevo" airport which means you won't have to cut through city's traffic on your way to or from Moscow – what else is there to ask?
Well, here's the deal – as I said, "Soyuz" sits on "Leningradskoye shosse" that connects Moscow with "Sheremetyevo", but it's still quite far from Moscow center. Is it a problem? Well, it depends on how you look at it. You could think and act constructively and find out there are plenty of buses that go right to "Vodnyi Stadion" metro station from which you can travel to nearly every point of Moscow.
Yes, it means you will have to get up a little bit earlier and plan your trip better so that you won't have to go back and forth between the city and your hotel during the day, but look on the bright side – you're saving so much money on accommodation in Moscow while still getting a very decent hotel!
Another good example is "Cosmos". This one is slightly more expensive than "Soyuz", but it's still can be considered a "budget" Moscow hotel. "Cosmos" sits right in front of "VVTZ" or "VDNH", a former place of Soviet agricultural and scientific exhibitions. While "VDNH" is not a common Moscow landmark, you could very well visit it, especially if you're a fan of Soviet architecture.
There's not much to see there these days, as the entire place was basically turned into a one big marketplace with a couple of rollercoasters here and there. However, as I said – this place is soooo Soviet! If you're a fan of "Red Alert" games and movies like "Red Dawn", you'll know what I mean
In addition, "Cosmos" hotel is closer to Moscow downtown than "Soyuz". You will still have to ride the Moscow metro, but it will take you much less time to get to the Red Square from "VDNH" subway station than from "Vodnyi Stadion". Plus, unlike in case of "Soyuz", you can get to the metro by feet, without taking any buses. I'd say you should go for something like "Cosmos" if you have a little more money to spend on your trip.
Of course, you could say something like "I ain't gonna wake up earlier! I don't want to get down into that terrible Moscow metro to see the Kremlin! I want to see the Red Square out of my windows, and I don't wish to settle for less!"
Well, if you take that approach – good luck and better get ready for a huge disappointment. But you know what? With that approach you won't be happy even you get to stay in presidential suite of "Metropol", so better drop it before you ruin your vacation. Remember the Tao of Moscow!
Alright, but what if even the affordable Moscow hotels don't look too affordable? Does it mean you should drop the idea of visiting us anytime soon? Of course not! There are still plenty of options, and one of them is renting an apartment in Moscow.
Think about it – why pay a significant sum of money for a room in Moscow hotel when you can basically pay much less by renting an entire apartment and living amongst the common Moscow folk? Again, there are some small tradeoffs, like that you will have to prepare a meal by yourself, but first of all
– you will probably be eating out all the time and second – preparing a meal by yourself can actually be good because it will be much cheaper and you get to control what products are used.
However, the entire thing has much more advantages than problems. First of all, as I already said, you save quite a lot of money, because short-term apartment rental is cheaper than booking an hotel. Second, the location of such apartments is usually very good. Many of them sit right in the center of Moscow so that you won't even have to get down to Moscow metro if you don't want to (although I strongly recommend that you do at least once).
Third – living in apartment is different. When you live in hotel, you see and experience Moscow mostly from your windows. Sure, you go outside and see people, but you don't really understand how they live. You only see the facade, the "tourist" side of life – and that's really not all. So, if you truly wish to experience the life in Moscow, I would say that renting apartment is a must.
But what should you do if even an apartment seems too costly? Well, there's solution to that as well. Luckily, Moscow has plenty of hostelsthat'll be happy to accommodate you while charging negligible amounts compared to hotels and even apartments. Now, don't think that Moscow hostels have bad looks and terrible service. On the contrary, most of them are built and run according to the Western standards, so you don't have to worry about the quality of you stay.
Plus, don't forget that like apartments, Moscow hostels are located in the very center of Moscow. Well, not all of them, of course, but many. So, chances are you will be staying closer to Moscow historical center then people who paid for hotel room, although you will have to give up a little bit on your comfort.
Speaking of comfort – Moscow hostels are surely comfortable, but don't forget you will still have to share the room with other people. If that's OK with you then there's no reason to pay more for a separate room. In fact, it may even be more fun that way – where else will you have the chance to talk to people from all around the globe who share your passion for Moscow?
As you see, there are plenty of accommodation options to choose from, and Moscow isn't that unfriendly and expensive. Oh, by the way – if you managed to make yourself some Russian friends, you can sure check with them if they're willing to let you stay at their place during your visit.
While I can't speak for all of us, we, Russians, are generally very friendly and more than willing to help our foreign friends. Plus, your friends might just want to improve their English by communicating with you, so it can be a win- win situation for everyone. I would say that staying at your friends place while visiting Russia is the best accommodation option there is, so think well before you decide to pay money for hotel room.
Alright, let's say you solved your bed & breakfast issues, got a visa and lived through a 10+ hours journey in case you're coming from US. You arrived at your place, woke up in the morning and this is your first day in Moscow. Let's also assume you have laid out a plan for visiting Moscow sights and basically all that's left is go out and make it happen.
Now, there's a small problem with all of that – how are you going to move around? After all, Moscow is huge. Even if you only want to travel through its historic center, you can't do this by feet - you will need to use Moscow transit systems to move around.
What was that? You wanted to rent a car? Well, that may or may not be such a good idea depending on what your priorities are. First of all,car rental is costly in Moscow, but price is not the main problem – the real pain is traffic. Moscow traffic jams have been getting worse recently. Yes, we got a new mayor now, but he doesn't really seem to handle the problem. No wonder – I can't imagine anyone who would.
You see, Moscow has inherited its infrastructure from Soviet times, and during Soviet times the city's population was strictly regulated. In addition, it was widely accepted that the people will not have personal cars in such proportion, and so the road network was planned accordingly. Well, the Communism has fallen but Moscow remained, and now we suffer from severe lack of roads and too many cars that use them.
On the other hand, a personal car can still come in handy during your Moscow trip. For example, you may prefer to get stuck in a traffic jam to getting squeezed in metro during rush hours, or you have also business matters to attend to while in Moscow. If you feel that you will need a personal vehicle – click this link to learn how and where you can rent it.
However, if you don't have a good reason to rent a car, I suggest you use Moscow public transport. Now, unlike many other big cities, Moscow has got a very well laid-out transit system. What do you know – the Communists may not have been such a bad planners after all!
So what are your options? First and foremost, of course, is metro.Moscow subway is the backbone of the entire transit system, without it the city would have simply collapsed. Just look at those figures – it transports more than 9 million people per day! Nine million! Now you understand why I'm saying the city wouldn't hold without it!
So, for most of your Moscow journeys you will have to use the metro. Let's see what things you'll have to know before you can go down there and be sure you'll resurface in the right place at the right time.
First of all, you must know that unfortunately, Moscow metro is not very tourist-friendly. All the signs are written in Russian, and there's no way for a foreigner to read them.
In order to avoid getting stuck down there forever, I advise you the only method I know. When someone from abroad asks me how to use the metro, I always give them detailed instructions. I don't tell that person "you have to go from VDNH to Okhotnyi Ryad and get through the exit that leads to the Red Square". That would work great for someone who speaks Russian, but if they don't – I instruct them differently.
I would tell that person something like "get down to VDNH station, turn right, get in the train, pass five stations, get out, turn left, walk up the stairs on your right..." well, you get the idea. I also make sure that person writes down those directions because you can't rely on your memory when there are so many fine details involved.
It's very important that you have the exact directions while using Moscow metro. Don't rely too much on people you'll be riding with down there – they may be able to help you in theory but in practice they may very well not speak any English. If you're hopelessly lost, just get off at the nearest station and out to the city. There, you can catch a taxi and travel to your destination. It will cost you, but probably not too much provided you haven't missed your stop by a dozen stations.
It would be great if you manage to get someone you can call in case you're lost. It may be your friend or even a receptionist. Write down your hotel's number, and call them if you need assistance. They may not be able to help you out in every condition, but it's worth trying. Plus, receptionists can give you those exact directions you need to move around by metro. Again, don't forget to write everything down.
In addition to that, there's another advice I'd like to give. Remember I said it's sometimes better to get stuck in jam to be squeezed in the metro during rush hour? Well, it's time to say it again – avoid the peak times at all costs.
Moscow metro is seriously overloaded these days, which is the direct consequence of road jams. Every day, more and more people decide to give up driving and use the subway, especially if they're in a rush. Therefore, with time there are more and more passengers in the metro, and they won't be that happy to see some tourist taking up their space.
I would say the best time to use the metro is between 10:00 and 16:00, then take a break to let all the people get back from work, and then you can use the subway again from around 19:30 or even 20:00. If you're an early riser, the metro is also pretty empty from 5:30 to around 7:00, but stay away from it after those hours.
As I said, the best time to use it is between 10AM and 4PM – this is the time when most of the people are working, and thus the chances to get smashed against the wall in an overloaded train are next to none. So, make sure you use those six hours wisely!
Another piece of advice – beware of pickpockets! Try to leave as many valuables as you can in your hotel's safe, and make sure everything else is put in secure pockets inside your clothes. Don't risk it – if someone steals your money or documents, your vacation may suffer a severe blow.
That's pretty much all you should know about Moscow metro. Don't worry – although it may sound like a really unfriendly place, in reality there are lots of foreigners who use it every day. I personally saw a lot of such folks, and they didn't look lost or confused to me. On the contrary, they seemed to enjoy their ride, and that's something I hope you will do as well. After all, don't forget Moscow subway is not just a transit system, but a significant historic landmark, so take your time to study it.
However, subway or not, but there is plenty of other traffic means in Moscow that you should at least know about. One of the most widespread ones is the so-called "marshrutka". I'm sorry, but I can't think of any appropriate translation because I don't think Western countries have something that even remotely resembles this.
Basically, "marshrutka" is a minivan suited for transporting passengers. It holds up to 12 people and is very versatile. Plus, "marshrutka" is not more expensive than buses and trams – well, maybe by a couple of rubles. As I said, its strong side is speed – you will save quite a lot of time by choosing "marshrutka" over slow and clumsy bus that stops at every station ("marshrutka" only stops on demand).
Another reason to choose it is the fact that this means of transport is much more widespread than anything else. You can find those minivans occupying almost every possible destination. Their coverage is excellent – it's almost impossible to find a spot in Moscow that's not accessible by "marshrutka". This is partly due to the fact that "marshrutkas" are a private enterprise unlike buses that belong to the city. Therefore, it's in their best interest to go where no one has gone before.
Alas, there's also a downside to "marshrutka". The main problem is safety – as I said, this is a private enterprise, and so the drivers are interested to earn as much money as they can. Therefore, they'll often be speeding like mad in order to make as much rounds as possible. Plus, the drivers qualification is often questionable – there were several cases when they were caught not having a valid license.
Overall, I think you can't escape "marshrutka" – if you choose to travel around Moscow on your own, you will have to use it here and there. You may be able to avoid it if you only wish to visit Moscow center, but overall I would say you should be ready for "marshrutka". If you do get inside, don't try to pay the driver right on the spot. Instead, sit down, put out a necessary sum and ask someone to pass it forward. You don't even have to say anything – just hand the person before you the money and they'll know what to do.
If, on the other hand, you choose to travel by bus, tram or trolley, you will be required to purchase a ticket right after you board. By the way, you can only enter through the front door, the rest are only for exiting. Once inside, give the driver a money, get your ticket and pass through the turnstile. Oh, one more thing - you'll have to put a ticket into a slot and wait for the red light to turn green. Once it does, don't forget to get your ticket back!
Once inside, don't throw away your ticket! Just because you passed through a turnstile doesn't mean you can't get checked by a conductor. This is not very obvious – I was fined once for not having a ticket because I thought I don't need it anymore. Well, don't make my mistake and keep your ticket until the end of the ride.
Overall, Moscow public transit system is very well balanced. Wherever you need to go, you can rest assured there's at least one public transport alternative, so think twice before you order a taxi. Plus, if the weather's good and the place you need to get to isn't that far away – consider walking! Who knows, you may just see something cool that you would have missed otherwise!
...and yes, it's best if you have friends in Moscow who will assist you in your quest
Alright, now it's time to talk about the "darker" side of Moscow life, namely insuring your personal safety. While I don't want you to think that Moscow is a dangerous place that every foreigner should avoid, it's true
that Moscow requires you to take some basic protection measures.
Don't worry, those are nothing you can't handle, I'm talking about the very basic things. For example, if you decide to use Moscow metro(or any other means of public transport), I advise to not keep any valuables uncovered. Wallets, cameras and banknotes should be inside your clothing, not hanging on the outside.
However, the main danger is not pickpockets but the street gangs we call "gopniki". Those youngsters belong to the lowest strata of Moscow society and are quite widespread these days. Now, these guys can get real dangerous. They are often drunk and/or doped, and can get really aggressive out of nothing.
I would say you won't run into them in the center of Moscow – the Red Square and surroundings have probably more police than the entire N.Y., but if you plan to travel to the outskirts of the city – this is where your chances to meet one of those gangs skyrocket.
Alright, so what are the risky areas? Watch out for neighborhoods like Butovo and Perovo. As a rule of thumb, nearly every Moscow district that's located far out from the center should be considered dangerous unless you know pretty well it's not. For example, be careful when traveling to "Vodnyi Stadion" metro station – that neighborhood is full of suspicious youngsters. Same for "Rechnoi Vokzal" that sits on the same line.
While it's important to watch your surroundings, it's also important to mind the time you choose to appear in certain places. For example, Butovo can be quite friendly during the day, but you shouldn't wander alone there late. Same goes for many other places, so remember this – it's unadvisable to appear in remote neighborhoods alone in the evening and especially at night.
Alright, but what if you absolutely have to get there? For example, your friends invited you over for a birthday, and they happen to reside in the town of Mytischi that's adjacent to Moscow. How can you make sure you'll get in and out safe enough?
The best way to make it in one piece is to order a taxi to- and from there. It will probably cost you quite a lot of money (if you're staying somewhere near the center of Moscow), but it's your safest option. If you're taking a taxi, ask
your friends the exact address and call them couple of minutes before you arrive to have someone waiting for you on the street.
You should ask for this not because you're a VIP that deserves a special treatment but in order to avoid searching for your friends' apartment once you get there. You see, in Russia we often have those wide, old buildings with many entrances and without any signs on them. Even taxi drivers often don't know which entrance you need, so if you don't know where to look for your friends you're risking running around the place looking for trouble. Again – either ask your friends to go meet you outside or make sure you know exactly where you're going to spend as less time on the street as possible.
After the party (and it will probably be very late), make sure you either order a taxi right from the entrance and up to your hotel or, as another option, stay for the night. It's much safer to return home in the morning, although I still insist you order a taxi because unlike vampires, "gopniki" can be there even during the broad daylight.
Here's another very common scenario – getting in trouble while using Moscow subway. As I said, our metro serves more than 9 million people daily, so needless to say there can be those you'd really like to avoid. Who am I speaking about? The same problematic youngsters who're poor, don't have a stable job and are often simply bored. They're may actually be picking up on people not because they need money but because it's the only form of entertainment they know.
Just like the city above, Moscow metro can be divided into many "districts", starting from central, most "respectful" ones like "Okhotnyi Ryad" and ending with same, old "Butovo" and "Novogireevo" stations where it's very easy to run into street gangs especially while traveling late.
Now, how do you spot those people? How do you know which ones are fine and which to avoid? Unlike you may think, it can often be tricky. You see, just because a person is wearing sports outfit and shaves their head (those are first things you should be looking for) doesn't mean they're necessary a "gopnik" - they may just as well be a student or even an off-duty cop. I personally have seen several times that looks can be very deceiving, witnessing people who were supposed to belong to a street gang acting completely normal and even friendly.
However, I still think you should exercise caution and act with "maximum prejudice" as they say in the army. If you see a young person wearing sports outfit and drinking a beer from a can – do your best to stay away from them, it's not worth checking if your guess was right.
If you see a group of such people, especially if they're wearing typical blue or red scarves – keep as much distance from them as you can. Those are football fans, and they have been a real pain recently. This is especially true if you don't have Slavic or Anglo-Saxon looks, because any skin color different then white can make those people enraged.
As a rule of thumb, stay away from people who're being aggressive or whom you fell CAN be aggressive. Unfortunately, I can't foresee every situation you might get into, but as I said – better safe than sorry. Don't be afraid to look like a coward, there's nothing brave about getting in a street fight against couple of dozens of drunken youngsters.
There's another problem with them – as I said, you're risking even more if you aren't white. Yes, it's very embarrassing to write that, but many members of those street gangs are radical nationalists and even neo-Nazis. They may let a white foreigner get away because it's not easy to spot one in the crowd, but they will immediately pick on you if you're, say, Afro-American. So, always remember your looks can be an additional risk factor and act accordingly.
In general, I can't say the cases of street gangs attack are very common, especially in Moscow metro. To make sure you'll stay out of trouble, follow several simple rules:
1) Do not travel far by subway. If your friends in Novogireevo invited you over, it's better to order a taxi and not go there by metro, especially if we're talking about late hours. Your chances of stumbling into a gang increase dramatically once you cross the ring line.
2) Try to watch out for suspicious behavior. People who're drunk can become aggressive, especially if they're young and physically fit. If there's a crowd of such people entering the metro train, it's best to get out and wait for the next one.
3) Again, don't present your valuables to the rest of the world. Keep low, especially if you have expensive gadgets on you. There's no need to show off your camera during your ride in the metro – you'll only need to take pictures once you get back to the surface.
4) While it's true you're risking when traveling to the peripheral metro stations, don't get too relaxed even if you're staying in the very center. Sure there are many more cops and cameras around, but you can still get in trouble theoretically, so stay vigilant.
Couple of things I'd like to say before we're through. First of all, I'm really happy you're still here with me. That was sure a lot of reading, and I appreciate your effort! I guess it means I have some writer's talent after all....
Second, I really don't want you to think bad things about Moscow after you read the last chapter. Our city is truly wonderful, and it can give you a unique experience you won't get anywhere else! However, just like any other big city (like New York or Hong Kong), Moscow has a few problems here and there.
Now, the key is not to get fixated on them but to focus on your goal, and that is to get the most out of your trip to Russia. You can surely achieve that by thinking it through, setting a realistic schedule and acting, acting, acting. Don't be too concerned with your personal security – follow several basic rules I described above, and you'll do just fine. Now come on, we've got work to do. Get to that embassy, apply for a visa, buy a ticket to Moscow – and see you in Russia!
If you have any questions, you're always welcome to visit my site,Moscow Russia Insider's Guide and learn more about our city. Plus, I also have set up that nice little forum you can use to ask questions. Go ahead, check me out – I'm really useful!
Oh, and by the way – if you think my site needs a little bit of woman's touch – check out my wife's blog. Among the rest, she loves to talk about Russian cuisine, so if you can't live without borscht – don't miss that one!
It was sure nice writing that brochure, and I hope you'll be dropping by from time to time. Remember – I'm there for you, so don't hesitate to drop me a line.