If you ever considered to conquer one of the Greatest countries in the world, this article is for you to help to start exploring Russia, city by city, as I started to do so on my last trip to Moscow and Saint Petersburg in November of 2012.
Russia is one of the largest countries in the world. The last territory lies in the Eastern part of Europe and the Northern part of Asia. Russia is washed by 12 seas and 3 oceans. The oceans are: the Atlantic, the Arctic and the Pacific. The seas are: the White sea, the Barents sea, the Okhotsk sea, the Black sea, the Baltic sea and others. The climate of Moscow is of the continental type, modified by the temperate influence of westerly winds from the Atlantic Ocean. Winters are cold and long, summers are short and mild . The moderate annual precipitation occurs predominantly in the summer months, often in brief, heavy downpours. In November I had to wear a nice warm furr coat. I would recommend you to do the same regardless of how natives dress (typically thin leather coats and a sweater). You will get cold if not dressed warm!
The capital of the Russian Federation is Moscow, with the population of about 10 million people. This is the city that I stayed in for work and would like to share my experience about culture, people, food and adventures in this city. Night life (for those that can’t sleep at night), typically starts at 1am and goes till 10am. Walk a little downtown and see for yourself how the city transforms itself to a beautiful iluminated Red Square. Make sure you have cash when going out. Not all places accept credit cards. Since restourants are on every corner, you will have plenty of choices from International Cusine. Moscow is not a cheap place to eat, so make sure you are full before you go out.
Moscow is located in western Russia and lies in the broad, shallow valley of the Moskva River, a tributary of the Oka and thus of the Volga, in the center of the vast plain of European Russia. This region is one of the most highly developed and densely populated areas of Russia. The city was founded by prince Jury Dolgorukiy and was first mentioned in the chronicles in 1147. At that time it was a small settlement. By the 15th century Moscow had grown into a wealthy city. In the 16th century under Ivan the Terrible Moscow became the capital of the State Moscovy. In the 18th century Peter the Great transferred the capital to St-Petersburg. During the war of 1812 three quarters of the city were destroyed by fire. But by the middle of the 19th century Moscow was completely rebuilt.
Places to visit while in Moscow:
- The center of the city and the historic heart of Moscow – Kremlin;
- Famous to everyone Russian Red Square;
- The State Department Store – GUM;
- The Garden Ring;
- Theaters, museums, and art
- Russian Cuisine (Food)
- A few tips while visiting Moscow
Now let me go through those items based on the firsthand experience I had while conquering Moscow, one of the greatest cities in Russia.
The Center of the City and the Historic Heart of Moscow – Kremlin
The center of the city and the historical heart of Moscow is the fortified enclosure of the Kremlin. This is the main tourist attraction in Moscow. Its crenelated redbrick walls and 20 towers (19 with spires) were built at the end of the 15th century and were partially rebuilt in later years. The Moscow Kremlin used to be a fortress. In 1156 a small settlement of Moscow was surrounded by a wooden wall and became a Kremlin. The word “Kremlin” means “fortress”. The town and the Kremlin were burnt in 1237, but they were rebuilt. In 14th century Prince Dmitry Donskoy built a white stone wall around the Kremlin, and in the 15th century the Kremlin was surrounded by a new red-brick wall. Within the walls of the Kremlin are located the meeting places of the government of Russia. Among these are the former Senate building (1776-88), the Kremlin Great Palace (1838-49), and the modern Palace of Congresses (1960-61). Other features within the Kremlin include the central Cathedral Square, around which are grouped three cathedrals, all examples of Russian church architecture at its height in the late 15th and early 16th centuries; a group of palaces of various periods; the white bell tower of Ivan III the Great; the Armory Museum; and the Arsenal (1702-36).
The Kremlin has a famous clock; one can hear the clock on the radio. The Usspensky Cathedral is the largest one. Russian Tzars were crowned there. Outside the Kremlin wall there is the famous Red Square.
Make sure that you get up early. If you are traveling from the airport (SVO) by taxi, as I did, make sure to leave at least 3 hours on a road before getting to your hotel.
The public transportation is available. This is what you should remember about the public transportation:
- Moscow is the center of the country’s airline network; the Sheremetyevo airport, in the north, handles international flights;
- These days a lot of people in Moscow own automobiles, not as it used to be a few years back;
- There is also heavy reliance on public transportation provided by the Metropolitan (Metro) subway, buses, streetcars, and trolleybuses, so plan where you are going in advance;
- Taxi is not cheap in Moscow, so try to use public transportation as much as possible;
- There are no manners while travelling by public transportation, expect to be pushed, yelled at, and stared at.
And remember, to not worry, you will get to your destination! Keep your map of Moscow at hand, it will provide information about subway and streets of the center of the city.
Famous to Everyone Russian Red Square
Along the east wall of the Kremlin lies Red Square, the ceremonial centre of the capital. The Lenin Mausoleum stands beneath the Kremlin walls, and the Church of the Intercession, or Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed, is at the southern end of the square. The State Department Store, GUM, faces the Kremlin, and the State Historical Museum (1875-83) closes off the northern end of the square.
The name Red Square comes neither from the colour of the bricks around it (which, in fact, were whitewashed at certain times in history) nor from the link between the colour red and communism. Rather, the name came about because the Russian word красная (krasnaya) can mean either “red” or “beautiful” (the latter being rather archaic; cf. прекрасная, prekrasnaya). This word, with the meaning “beautiful”, was originally applied to Saint Basil’s Cathedral and was subsequently transferred to the nearby square. It is believed that the square acquired its current name (replacing the older Pozhar, or “burnt-out place”) in the 17th century. Several ancient Russian towns, such as Suzdal, Yelets, and Pereslavl-Zalessky, have their main square named Krasnaya ploshchad.
The square was called Veliky Torg (Great market) or simply Torg (Market), then Troitskaya by the name of the small Troitskaya (Trinity) Church, burnt down in the great fire during the Tatar invasion in 1571. After that, the square held the name Pozhar, which means “burnt”. It was not until 1661–62, when it was first mentioned by its contemporary Krasnaya – “Red” name.
The State Department Store – GUM
GUM – this is not a shop “for the rich” or “the poor”, it is a shopping district, in which there is a pharmacy and a bank branch and flower shop … It is a monument of architecture. This is a comfortable lounge area with restaurants and cafes. This is an art gallery and cultural venues. It is an integral part of Russian history.
In 1993, the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the largest retailers, today bears the name of JSC “GUM Trading House”. The main building of GUM opened shops selling souvenirs and handicrafts with the anniversary logo, held exhibitions and sales from different suppliers. In 1993 GUM was allowed to open the central door of the store, which was closed for so long. Entrance to the store is now from the Red Square area.
Since 2007, visitors once again pleases the fountain in the center of GUM – the legendary construction, captured in the official chronicles of the twentieth century, and private photo albums Muscovites.
Make sure you have enough money to spend for different gifts and luxury for yourself and your close ones. ATM and banks are available inside of GUM. I would recommend to always have cash and to not expect any receipts back. If you are considering to purchase souvenirs you should do so outside of Red Square (cheaper).
The Garden Ring
In the remainder of central Moscow, within the Garden Ring, are buildings representative of every period of Moscow’s development from the 15th century to the present. Examples of the Moscow Baroque style, the Classical period, and the revivalist Old Russian style may be found. In the Soviet period streets were widened, and much of the old part of the inner city was demolished and replaced by large office and apartment buildings, government ministries, headquarters of national and international bodies and organizations, hotels and larger shops, and principal cultural centers.
Beyond the Garden Ring is a middle zone dominated by 18th- and 19th-century developments; many factories, railway stations, and freight yards are located there.
Since 1960 extensive urban renewal has occurred, producing neighbourhoods of high-rise apartment buildings. The outer zone has been the site of modern factory development and extensive housing construction in the 20th century. Beyond the newer suburbs are areas of open land and forest, together with satellite industrial towns and dormitory suburbs.
Theaters, Museums, and art
Theatre, music, and art are important in the city’s life. The State Academic Bolshoi (“Great”) Theatre (1825), Maly (“Little”) Theatre, and Moscow Art Theatre are especially renowned. There are more than 80 museums in Moscow. Of the many museums and galleries, the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and the State Tretyakov Gallery are notable.
The Tretjakov Gallery is a major research, artistic, cultural and educational center. The Gallery takes its name from its founder, the merchant Pavel Tretjakov, who began to collect Russian paintings in 1856. The collection was donated as a gift to the city of Moscow in 1882. Later it was supplemented by collections from other museums and private citizens. The Tretjakov Gallery has a rich collection of old Russian Icons from the 11th to the 17th century, many fine examples of Russian paintings from 18th to the early 19th century. The Gallery contains halls devoted to old Russian paintings, to great master such as Ivanov, Serov, Surikov, Repin and Levitan. Levitan was one of the first painters of the Russian scenery to reveal its beauty. He is a real poet of the Russian countryside. Levitan is a very special sort of painter. There is something in his landscapes that reflects our moods. He deeply felt what he wanted to depict. A master of landscape, he never introduced figures into it. Though if you look at “The autumn in Sokolniky” you will notice the figure in the center. Everything seems to underline the loneliness of this figure: the trees loosing their leaves, the remote indifferent sky, the path going off into the distance. But the fact is that it was not Levitan who painted this figure. It was Chekhov’s brother Nikolay who did it. Levitan’s influence over lyrical landscape painters can’t be over estimated. His paintings have won the love and gratitude of people.
Lenin was an revolutionary, scientific genius, a great politician and statesman. Throughout his life, Lenin gave to the liberation of the working class and all working people, the cause of communism. January 21, 1924 Lenin dies. It was decided to perpetuate the leader of the world revolution by erecting his tomb in the heart of the capital (and thus the country) – in Red Square. The funeral is scheduled for January 27, and to this day the architect Alexey Shchusev is building his first, temporary mausoleum. In May 1924, Shchusev begins to design a second version of the mausoleum, not temporary, but it should have been for many years. But the second version had lived only for 5 years. In 1929-1930 the familiar and recognizable silhouette of the mausoleum was built from granite. However, the third version of the mausoleum was built for the ages, and each of us has seen it – even in pictures. For example, as you see me standing by the museium in the front.
Today this museum is closed. I’ve heard that there were some weird things happening on the body of Lenin, such as hair growing, nails growing, etc. So the public access to view the body of Lenin is closed.
Russian Cuisine (Food)
Russian cuisine, just like any other cuisine, developed under the influence of various environmental, social, economic and historical factors.
Russian cuisine is more rural and simple kitchen. Because of the long Russian winters there are a large number of home canned pickles, and pickled mushrooms, in addition, there are a large number of Russian suitable for the storage of vegetables, such as beets, cabbage and dried mushrooms. There are not many fresh fruits and vegetables. Typically they are best during the summer.
The main feature of Russian national cuisine is the abundance and variety of products that are used for cooking, a variety of baked goods, cakes, pies, pie, rolls, etc. Russian national culinary arts for many centuries of its development has managed to create a wonderful combination of large samples of other products – vegetables, milk, eggs, cheese, fish, etc.
Another distinctive feature of the Russian national cuisine – a variety of methods of thermal processing products. Great influence on the cooking of food was a Russian stove, which has been around for four thousand years. It required the creation of a special form of utensils (pots, cast iron), and identified unique cooking methods of geese, ducks, chickens, pigs – carcasses, meat – large pieces, baking hams, etc.
The third feature of Russian cuisine is that, using a variety of products, popular chefs have created whole group of unique dishes brought our kitchen a well-deserved reputation in the world: baked dough products. Russian cuisine has a wide range of fish, meat, vegetables, snacks and cold dishes. From ancient times remained extremely rich foreigners always admired assortment of entrees (which could be very expensive – see the menu).
As a result, the mutual interpenetration and Russian cuisine has been enriched with new dishes from other national cuisines. Russian people used especial technology of cooking dishes from other cuisines so the dishes keep their special taste. That is why the Russian cooking has always been unique and original.
I wrote a little bit about Russian Cuisne to awaken an appetite in you, so next time you visit any Russian dining or restaurant, you order traditional Russian food as I did while visiting. Plan to spend on average of $50-60 per dinner, including drinks. See my tips on food and drinks below.
A Few Tips While Visiting Moscow
While in the city, try to explore other places, museums, churches and theaters. It is worth your time and a little of your money! You will be talking about expiriences you had in Moscow to your friends for a long time. Numerous travel agencies offer tours to suit all tastes, to include a visit to Moscow, visiting Moscow museums, galleries, theaters and concert halls.
The beauty of Russia that for money you can do anything. When visiting museums and churches (that are museums today) for little money you will be permitted to take pictures inside. By putting a little of your time and doing research and chatting with locals through social networks, such as vk.com (V Kontakte) you will be able to make new friends that at no cost (for social reasons) will guide you through Moscow and even translate for you. It is always a good advice to know locals so you are “protected” from unexpected and unfortunate circumstances (robbery, rippery, police, etc.). Make sure to reward your new friends with dinner or some treat. They love it.
Here are some tips to remember while visiting Russia:
- Make sure you have all necessary equipment with you before your trip to Russia. Even though it is not very hard to find things you need in Russia, but prices are too high for me to pay;
- Learn common Russian language phrases (dont ask me what those are, just Google them);
- Ask questions in a very large number of people. If more than half the answers match, the probability that it is true, is very high;
- Always carry a map with you. Your map may have important numbers to call and will guide you where you need to be and even to the places where you don’t want to be;
- Always bring some cash with you (green bills, euro, or Russian rubles). If you brought money in your currency you should not have any problems to exchange them. The exchange currency locations can be seen on every step;
- There are no manners while traveling by public transportation, expect to be pushed, yelled at, and stared at.
- Don’t even think on renting the car. Moscow drivers are crazy. Most likely you will be either in accident or stuck in a long traffic line because of your politeness. People are mean there, especially drivers. Don’t do it! I saw 4 accidents in two days while visiting Moscow.
- Remember, when eating out you will be asked to pay for everything, including water. BTW, when asking for water, ask for ice at the same time. Water that is typically offered is most likely with gas. Ask for “Negazirovanya voda”; Don’t even dare to ask for Tap water, it may cause your hair to fall. Remember, Russia is not far from Chernobyl! Watch “Chernobyl diaries” if you want to know what it is. The Russians’ stomachs are used to the water but tourists coming from America where we are blessed to have as clean of water as you want, might not be able to handle it. I’ve had friends get parasites because they weren’t careful. Who knows what else will start growing in your stomach!
- Because you are foreigner, no one has the right to overcharge you for their services. Make sure you call for taxi to the agency and ask in advance how much it would cost to get from point A to point B. If you don’t know in advance, you can always bargain with the driver. If he says 200 rubles, you say 150 rubles and we will go, otherwise you will find someone else who will drive you. Believe me, there are many willing drivers to make extra cash;
- Make sure you try a lot of Traditional Russian dishes. They are yummy! Vodka is cheap of course. Try something you have not tried before;
- People like to stare at you, just because you are a foreigner and maybe dressed differently. Just ignore the eye contact at all times. Some of the drunken people may find something wrong with you and will start yelling and swearing, in Russian of course. Just ignore them;
- If you really need to pee, there are small bathrooms located on the street and you will see a “Babushka” sitting by them. She is not a beauty queen, she is there to collect your money for using her stinky bathrooms.
- If you want to buy some cheap gifts, don’t buy them at the heart of Moscow. Go somewhere outside the city and buy them on the market, unless, of course, you are really rich. Then you should tell me and we will have another conversation about visiting Russia.
- As I mentioned, it is a very good idea to know someone local who speaks English. Remember, Men may approach you wanting to take you out to the clubs and introduce you to women or have women they can set up for you. Some want to rob you or use you for money while others just want to provide…Get to know a person in advance rather than meeting someone spontaneously;
- When crossing the streets, even if you have right way, always make sure that the road is clear on both sides. Cars drive on full speeds on turns and at pedestrian crossings. No one even cares what may happen to you while you are crossing the street. If an accident happens, the driver may even get out of the car and kick you and yell at you for crossing the street. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
- Russia uses 220 volt electricity (America uses 110 volts). Most electrical devices support both. You can look at the back of the power adapter to discover its supported voltage. If you see “110-240 volts,” you can bring your device with you. If it says “110 volts,” you will not be able to use it in Russia. Russia uses 2 round European outlets. (Google it!)
- And last one, try to explore Russia during the Summaer. It is always beautiful and not as grey as I saw it in November.
Share your feelings and comments about your adventures and excitement while visiting unique places.