Traveling to Moscow, Russia
September 7, 2005 2:22 AM   Subscribe

I'm heading out to Moscow, Russia in the first week of October for the first time.

I'm only staying 4 days and am looking for first hand tips on what to see and what to avoid. I will definitely be taking in Red Square, the Kremlin and some of the Moscow Subway, but otherwise I'm pretty lost.
posted by jedrek to Travel & Transportation around Moscow, Russian Federation (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Moscow *shudder*. There are good things. Don't miss the VDNKh exhibition park in the north of the city. Built as a Stalinist Disneyland it has neoclassical pavilions intended to illustrate the achievements of communism. In it's heyday the pavilion for atomic energy (still visible) had a working nuclear pile that you could watch glowing, apparently, under a protective layer of, err, water. It's now rather tatty but there's still some wonderful sculpture and kitch, in particular the "Space Obelisk" and the 'Worker and Peasant Girl' just away from the entrance.

A lot of Moscow just isn't nice, for the real experience you need to include some lemon. I'd include the Arbat, a desperately depressing attempt at street life (don't even try and get served) and the Lubyanka, still there, still hated, a truly evil place.

To cheer up, a walk at dusk around the White City, in the centre of town which can give a brief taste of a vanished past.

Always keep some, but not too much, money on you, and keep about $20 in your shoe. You need to worry about the police as much as robbers, keep an wary eye on both.
posted by grahamwell at 5:14 AM on September 7, 2005

I was there in the late 80s when I was still a kid. One of the most memorable things now that I have actually read some Tolstoy was going to see Tolsoty's Moscow home. I have no idea what it's current condition is though.

Red Square is pretty amazing given the history of what has gone on there.

Any other info I would have to give is so dated it is probably useless.
posted by jduckles at 5:38 AM on September 7, 2005

Best answer: Hmm, pretty thin response. Some more comments in the absence of anything better:

Moscow's a tough town. You're coming from Warsaw so you shouldn't be too shocked, nevertheless it's not the kind of place that's easy to just wander around. The most interesting part of the Moscow experience is studying the faces on the subway, you are really on the frontier of Asia and Europe watching the edgy interplay of peoples from the Baltic to China. Try the "yes it's Europe", "no it isn't" game and see which wins.

Some basics are really rather difficult in Moscow (even with a local guide). Food can be nasty or ludicrously expensive. You'll quickly see why Macdonalds caused such a sensation, you may well end up dining there. Travelling around is easy, as a tourist you can flag down private cars as long as you pay in dollars, but the traffic behaviour is truly horrifying and the experience feels dangerous and weird.

It's a photographer's dream, with endless opportunities for truly great pictures in its crumbling grandeur and dramatic contrasts.

If you can plan ahead, opera and ballet are astonishingly cheap and plentiful, just follow a queue and you might find yourself in "Swan Lake". If it's in the Kremlin Theatre you'll probably recognise the place from news film of the Soviets - it's that strange modern hall in which all of the grey men in suits stood and clapped to order.

I ramble. The point is that the more planning, of events and sights, that you do in advance the better. This and the parent Newspaper looks useful, they have it right about the Airport. Victory Park looks interesting, stand where Napoleon stood and take in the Great Patriotic War museum (War museums the Russians do really well).

I hope someone who actually likes the city can cut in and save the day.
I wasn't kidding about the cops.
posted by grahamwell at 1:42 PM on September 7, 2005

Response by poster: grahamwell, thank so much for your feedback. Via the moscowtimes site, I found Go Magazine (which includes great stuff, like street wise) - exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for. I'm only going to be there for 4 days, so I'm sure I'll find enough stuff to do to fill my time.

I do plan on taking a lot of photos while there, so your comments have made me really happy.

I do want to add that I was surprised by stories of cops shaking down tourists. My brother (who'll be with us on this trip) had a layover in Moscow a few years ago and ended up sleeping on a bench somewhere near Red Square. He's spoken about the cops being surprisingly curteous and speaking excellent english. After checking his ID, they told him he can sit on the bench, but they can't let him sleep there.

He left after the 3rd patrol.
posted by jedrek at 3:51 PM on September 7, 2005

Check out The Exile, a Moscow-based alternative newspaper.
posted by spork at 5:43 PM on September 7, 2005

Jedrek, I have to agree with the posters about Moskva being on nobody's Top Ten list, but here are a few suggestions:
• The Metro, absolutely. Great people-watching, as almost everybody uses it to get around. Particularly spectacular stations include Park Kul'turi, Dobrynskaya, Taganskaya, Komsomolskaya, Prospekt Mira, Kievskaya, Sokol'niki, Mayakovskaya.
Vorobyov Hills (formerly Lenin Hills), site of Moscow Univ. (#1 Russian univ.) and Christ the Savior Cathedral (beautiful mid-19th c. Orthodox church destroyed by the Soviets, recently rebuilt). Highest point in the city, with great views (other than Ostankino TV tower).
Gorky Park, again great people-watching.
Pushkin Museum, for fine arts, and Tretyakov Gallery, for Russian art.
Novodevichy Convent, a magnificent grouping of Russian Baroque buildings, in a beautiful setting.
•Of course, I second the votes for Red Square and Kremlin, the scale, setting and history of which is just mind-boggling. And St. Basil's Cathedral and Lenin's Tomb are both impressive, more so their exteriors, in my opinion.

However, if you get a chance to go to Peter(sburg) -- now, that's a city!
posted by rob511 at 2:01 AM on September 8, 2005

Jedrek, I think the problem with the cops is that there are so many of them coming from complex overlapping organisations. As a tourist, its very hard to understand whether the person addressing you is a policeman or not, what the fuck is their problem and what to do about it. The GAI (traffic police) are famously corrupt but you probably won't encounter them and any ways your mileage will vary. Approach the whole thing with a lively sense of the absurd, regular urban smarts and some $20 bills and you should be fine.

Take your camera, go nuts. Foreigners tend to take a certain type of picture, focusing on the magnificent decay of the place. This upsets the Russians who don't like to be reminded of all that.

When it all gets a bit gritty the VDNKh is a great escape, sit on the grass, stare at the statue of Lenin and muse on what might have been.
posted by grahamwell at 2:59 AM on September 8, 2005

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