Archive for November, 2012

Ten Things the Guidebook Don’t Tell You About…. Moscow

November 15, 2012

1. Crossing the Road is like an episode of Crystal Maze. Finding that underpass that leads to that bridge where you can find the traffic lights which lead to the next underpass can get pretty ridiculous at times! At one point when trying to get from Red Square to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour I had to just stand there and laugh – there seemed to be no realistic way of getting across the 10 or so lanes that converged at this point.

2. Opening Hours are not set in stone. If you read in a tourist guide that something is open on Wednesdays, according to my research – it will be closed for cleaning. After an hour getting lost wandering around in ice rain, our trip to the Chekhov Museum came to an early end. Our Lonely Planet said you can do the Kremlin in an afternoon – but according to other signs it closes at 1. I wouldn’t know for sure, however, as when we visited – on a Thursday – it was closed. No reason given.

3. Lenin closes for the winter! Who’d have thought that a man kept in ice would need to be closed because it’s cold?!

4. All right, positives: The food ain’t that bad. The one thing people who had been to Russia said to me was ‘the food is terrible’ and ‘I ate everyday at McDonalds’ so I was expecting gruel every day especially as a vegetarian. But actually – it was fine. We went to two vegetarian restaurants – something I doubt you’d find in Moscow ten years ago! Jaggernath is a vegetarian canteen where you can get a salad, curry, rice and drink for about £10. The curry was good; the flavour was authentic despite a serious lack of chilli kick.

5. They understand their coffee. It might be expensive (generally around £4 for a cup!) but man does it taste good. They also have loads of variations so you can have a Halva Latte or Mocha with real melted chocolate at the bottom that you mix in yourself. Mmm.

6. A Hot Chocolate is just that: A hot cup of chocolate – like a warm chocolate mousse. If you want a (what we call) Hot Chocolate you have to request cocoa. The hot chocolate option is obviously quite novel though, if you like that sort of thing.

7. Nothing is signposted. Seriously. Not even the supermarkets. The bakery near our hostel was just a black door. If you need to get the Express train to the airport, get someone who knows to give you exact directions before you leave – including which exit out of the metro and the exit you take after that. There are no signs. Not even in Russian.

8. You can barter. Although Customer Service certainly isn’t something the Russians are completely sold on, at markets you’d be advised to barter. Everything is expensive, sure, but I managed to get a matryoshka doll and some soviet shot glasses knocked down to reasonable prices without too much difficulty. I did have Olya – who lives in Moscow – translating for me at the time though.

9. They love smoking. I mean seriously – it’s a tobacco company’s dream world. On the side of the road people are paid to give out free cigarettes, to swap people’s boxes of cigarettes (even if there are only a few left) for a brand new box of their brand. It’s brand advertising in a big way – ‘here, try this cigarette for free and get used to them and then always pick our brand!’ – Crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it.

10. The Soviet Era is a tourist attraction. I can’t think of many places where a political era has become an actual attraction – with Soviet posters on postcards and pictures of Stalin on mugs. When I was in Chile in July and August, there were museums on Allende and Pinochet – and Allende in some ways was glorified but Pinochet? The one who murdered many of their people? No, you would not want his face on a mug. I guess communism has more of a tourist pull… apparently.