How to Avoid "Black" Moscow Guides
There's been an explosive growth in numbers of Moscow guides. Each year, more and more of them are willing to take you around the city and share the exciting facts about Moscow history.
Those are great news to you mostly because the competition naturally drives the prices down. However, there's also a disturbing side to that. Recently, there's been an increase of the so-called "black guides" - people who do not have official license.
You see, in Moscow (as in probably every other tourist destination), each guide has to have a license. To get that license, one needs to pass exams that make sure the person has adequate historical knowledge.
While the exam does not guarantee your satisfaction with that guide, it at least guarantees that the person knows what they are talking about. However, the exam and all the licensing process cost money - and therefore the official guides cannot go below a certain price if they want to make profit.
Black guides, on the other hand, do not have such problem. They can charge as little as they like and still make money out of their work. The problem is you can never know if what they are telling you has anything to do with reality.
They usually approach you on the street and offer a walking tour around Moscow's historic places for a very reasonable price. Many would agree - after all, who doesn't want to save? And then, when you're walking around the city, the guide will start telling you absolutely fantastic stuff.
You may hear that Rasputin was a lover of Catherine the Great - never mind he was born more than 70 years after her death. Or, you may learn that Peter the Great was the last Russian Tsar. Heck, they might even tell you that Stalin was the founder of Novgorod!
It's very hard to tell which of the facts are false. I myself would have a very hard time - after all, I'm not such a big expert in Russian history. But while I have access to all those Russian books and websites, plus a lot of friends who might correct me, you will probably return home telling everyone Moscow was founded by Romans. Again, this is not your fault - I would also be easily fooled if I stumbled upon a black guide in, say, Paris.
Not only do these guys fool Moscow visitors, but they also cause official guides to get out of business by driving down the prices. Therefore, if Moscow government doesn't do anything about that, the day may come when there will be no official guides left in town. Well, I'm probably exaggerating a bit, but the problem still remains.
So, what you can you do to protect yourself from such unscrupulous people? Well, first and foremost - do not buy the tours on the street. It's best if you ordered one through your hotel or a respectful agency. By the way, the "do-not-buy-on-the-street" rule is valid for pretty much everything in Moscow. Whatever you're looking for - it's best to purchase it in a trustworthy place.
Another good rule of thumb is not to go after lowest bidder. If guide A offers you a tour that's twice as cheap as the one offered by guide B (with other things being equal), it's time to become suspicious. I'm not saying you should go after the more expensive tour, but it would be a good idea to ask around and see what the average price is.
If you decided to purchase the tour "on the spot", it's also great to check your guide from time to time. Ask questions, remember what you were told, then after some time ask the same question again. If you see there's a significant discrepancy between the two answers then the guide is probably inventing them as he goes along.
If you have a smartphone, you can also check your guide by using online resources such as Wikipedia. Wi-Fi is widely available in Moscow these days, so go ahead.
If the guide made couple of small mistakes here and there - that's OK. After all, different historic schools treat historic facts differently. However, if you see that the guide doesn't even get close to the official timeline - you're probably being fooled.
Again, it's best to order a tour through the agency or your hotel. Yes, it will cost a little extra, but at least you can rest assured your guide is a true professional. Trust me, the history of Moscow is wonderful by itself...
...and there's absolutely no need to invent anything
- The Kremlin
- St. Basil's Cathedral - a must see!
- Park Pobedy - a great place to visit
- Ostankino Tower
- Moscow walking tours - plan your own Moscow city tour!
- Visit Moscow Red Square - an ancient symbol of Russia!
- Moscow parade - the pride of Russia.
- True historic center of Moscow
- Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, Russia
- The magic of Arbat