Last weekend I spent in Moscow. This was a short visit after 2 years since I left the city for Amsterdam. I had some business to do but there was also time for walking round the city. It has been changed a lot. However I still think that coming in there with someone without Soviet Union background would surprise them in many cases.
After I had came back to Helsinki I got a lot of questions like “How is it in Moscow?“. Ok, in this post I will try to answer.
Moscow (and I guess other Russian cities’) airports do not have normal taxi system. Meaning, there is no special place where taxis wait in queue for their passengers. Instead, you face some people in the hall shouting “taxi, taxi”. They are mostly swindlers trying to catch someone not familiar with the system and drive them for 5x or 10x price. Versed people call for taxi by phone in advance, ask friends to drive them or use smartphone applications to order a cab. We did the last. (Well, they say that there is official taxi somewhere, not the queue of cars but a place to order. Anyway we couldn’t find any sign pointing to it :-)
It seems that air in Moscow smells like exhaust everywhere. No wonder for 12-million city but quite a big difference with Helsinki.
If you are lucky not to live in a hotel but surf a friend’s couch or book a room/apartment, this is a good chance to learn the people’s life. If it happens to be outside the 3rd Ring Road, it may be in 17- or 20- floor building.
Nothing special inside. Besides, the bathtub is the must. Take the bubbles, the water is cheap.
Although the taxi is still the most comfortable transport for moving around (besides the rush hour) and today’s currency rate encourages to use it, try metro sometimes. It is extremely noisy, even at the lines with modern trains. But do put up. You may discover that train comes every 90 seconds. Then, the stations of the Ring Line and everything inside are often architectural and design masterpieces. When living in Moscow we used to give a guide book about Moscow underground to the couchsurfers. Yes, there are guide books with the most amazing routes of Moscow metro, like there are books for walking round Paris and Amsterdam.
Walking on Moscow streets has become better. It used to be challenging due to the cars parked on the pedestrian paths. There is no such thing any more: higher fines and almost immediate evacuation do their part. But it is yet ordeal. Streets are sometimes enormously wide with rare crosswalks. Prepare to walk a lot, twice or thrice longer distances than in usual touristy.
You will however be rewarded by a lot of cafes and restaurants on your way where you may have a short break. Remember the favourable currency rate and don’t miss a chance to taste something you don’t get in your country. Not necessarily Slavic food, Central Asian cuisine is far more popular in Russia than in other places. Besides the -stan countries, of course.
For the risky ones I would recommend to rent a car. Or ask a local friend to drive you round the city if you are not that brave. Driving in Moscow lets experience up to 120 km/h right on the city streets. If not such speed, it provides charming mess of cars in 6-10 lanes with every driver sounding their horn at those who are frozen for a second.
The trip we got was just 3 days, 2nd of those was busy with the conference and the last was all used to a lazy get-to-the-airport. So, that’s all for the tips yet. In the other cases you need to discover your own Moscow.