Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Way back in 2008 we had planned to visit Moscow. Finally we made it happen.

- Visiting Russia took a bit of work and some hefty visa fees. Through our travels we've definitely learned that it doesn't pay to be an American in need of a foreign visa, because they are often double or even triple European rates.

- After warnings that the Russian consulate is very pedantic, even on German terms, we decided to have an agency handle the rules and paperwork for us.

- Once we arrived at the Domodedovo International Airport and I instantly recognized the scenery from photos of their January attack. Everything was repaired and extra security had been installed.

- It's a strange feeling to see a place and have a personal connection to it when something tragic and heartless happens there. It was a similar feeling to knowing the bombing in Marrakech last month was directly across from the shop where we bought a lantern. It all becomes so real.

- Getting to the city center requires a 45 minute journey on an Airport Express Train and some sturdy elbows to get your ticket beforehand. Evidently people feel very rushed and waiting in line isn't a strong point.

- After entering the subway our map reading skills were tested, because everything, except for several ads, is written in Cyrillic. We typically read the first three letters and devised mnemonics and phrases. There really isn't much that is made to offer any type of assistance to tourists. It made me wish we had one of those photo translator apps, such as SpeakLike or PicTranslator. (I'm among the most techno-unsavvy people, but small translators
like this make me want to enter the 21st century.)

- I printed a bilingual metro map before we left, which was a great asset. I was also hoping to see some of their famed stray dogs riding the subway. There were a couple waiting outside the train station when we arrived, but none navigating the carriages. It could be due to the fact that it was a weekend.

- We did a self guided Metro tour, which is actually quite easy to do. One ticket allows you to stay underground as long as you'd like, so it only costs 28 rubles (approx. 0.70€ or $1) to change between stations.

- It is also permitted to take photos in the Metro, which really is like a museum.

- Being in the subway was interesting, because there are always people standing around. Evidently it's a popular place to meet up with friends. It made me a little bit nervous, because there weren't clearly marked exits. Typically we followed the crowds, but it would be nice to even have some kind of directional icon for safety's sake.

- The militia police roam everywhere and it is advisable to carry your passport - or a copy - at all times. Our hotel had a small informative booklet about local customs, which also recommended this.

- I also read that should you be stopped it may be best to open your passport yourself to the proper visa as opposed to handing it over. We thankfully did not encounter any issues, but were extra cautious having known friends that have had problems.

- Russians are extremely superstitious, so said our guide book. It was comical to see people tossing coins and almost immediately after the coin would hit the pavement someone would take it. There was even a little old lady with a magnet. She was certainly shameless.

- The guidebook also stated what a huge deal it was to have clean shoes, which appeared to be a big object of pride.

- St. Basil was really striking, yet smaller than we had envisioned. The colors are vibrant and the architecture is certainly beautiful.

- More onion domes can be seen by going to the Kitay-Gorod area.

- There were several trends we noticed: brown cars, expensive over the top flashy cars, excess polyester, a love of white, white shoes and white pleather, virtually every woman wearing mile high stiletto heels, baggy bottom tapered leg sweat pants for guys, and one that actually looked nice was flesh toned tiny fish net tights for women.

- We saw an enlightened Homer Simpson before an unknown movie premier. Every day we passed this square close to our hotel there were metal detectors and a lot of security.

- We paid a visit to the Novodevichiy Convent, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

- The neighboring cemetery is the second most prestigious place to be buried and includes the graves of Boris Yeltsin and Nikita Khrushchev.

- Most of the food wasn't anything special, however they did have Hazelnut M&Ms (they tasted a little smokey) and a lemon lime mint soda (which was great). We were expecting things to be more expensive and had quite a bit of cash left over at the airport, so we picked up a key chain to transform into a Christmas ornament and a bottle of cranberry vodka in a matrioshka bottle.

- Overall Moscow was a lot how we had envisioned it, although there were a few things I didn't quite expect. Racism is rampant. The tourist booklet at the hotel said not to venture out at night if Asian or dark complected. It wasn't dusk until around 22:00 in mid-May.


andrea said...

I was there in July (years ago!) and couldn't believe how late it was when the sun went down! And I agree about St Basils! Lovely pictures, as usual.

JoernandAllison said...

Sounds like a very interesting visit. It does make you think though when you "know" a place due to something bad that has happened there. I am sure it was a bit moving to walk by the areas you saw on television during the news coverage of the bombing. Your comment about fashion made me smile, Joern and I have noticed you can always pick out the Russian women in Venice, because they're the only ones walking around in stilettos. But yes, appearence, both big cars and looking good, seems to be of high importance in Russian culture.
Thanks for another awesome blog post! I love following you two all around the world!