Moscow (Москва) is the capital of modern Russia. It is also an administrative state serving most of the country government functions. Also, it is the country’s most populous city, being home to 13.2 million residents within the city. I visited the city during my explorations of Russia, with a stopover at St Petersburg too. Let me take you on a short walkabout of the sights and sounds of the city country during my short week-long trip to Moscow.
Furthermore, having been to notable countries with a long history of communism like China and Vietnam, I expected to arrive to a city pretty shunted in grown and development. I had different impressions of Russia before my trip, a view often portrayed by western media.
This is also considering the possible consequences of authoritarian rule under the Soviet Union and widespread effects of globalization shielding. China is a good example which only opened up globally following decades of seclusion under the communist party.
A surprisingly safe city
With predisposition aside, I always make it a point to visit any country with an open mind and learn from my experience first-hand. And boy was I wrong. Moscow is a beautiful city. The city is buzzing, modern and cosmopolitan.
Moreover, the people are rather affluent, the city is very developed. You can find infrastructure, parks and facilities even rivaling most Scandinavian and European cities.
Also, the Metro system, though dated is the best way to get around the city. It runs like a hardy horse, with impressive 30 second intervals on peak hours.
Moscow is surprisingly safe. You feel safe walking on the streets both in the day and at night. Furthermore, this is reaffirmed as crowds are always out at night. Families can be seen bringing their children on the streets without any fear of strangers.
Visibly, I could partly attribute this to a strong police presence in the city, particularly near crowds and tourist attractions. Here, you see regular patrols by policemen or in cars. Interestingly at times, you spot different black patrol cars with blue light patrolling the area. They look like unmarked law enforcement cars.
The people of Moscow and Language barriers
There is strong affluence in Moscow. The people of Moscow, or I would like to call the “Moscowians” residing in the city are well-dressed and trendy.
Moreover, observations of the modern infrastructure and vehicles people drive, together with large upmarket modern shopping malls paints a thriving society. However, it is notable that quality of infrastructure starts to drop as you leave the city into the suburbs. The city is after all, a center of commerce.
Language could be a barrier in Russia, Moscow is no exception. Not everyone speaks English in Moscow. Additionally, Moscowians are not very talkative people. Also, their lack of understanding of the English Language does make them seem cold and distant to foreigners. But that does not mean they are not friendly or approachable.
They appear unfriendly until approached. In my trips, I never once had a Moscowian turn me down when I asked for directions. You can tell they are actually very friendly people who always try their best to help you.
Lack of English on the streets
Furthermore, don’t expect most stall owners, public transport ticket counter or restaurant service staff to understand or speak English. However, you will have better luck with English speaking staff in Tourist attractions or expensive up-market areas.
Moreover, don’t expect to find any English speaking folks or even an English dining menu in small cafes or street cafeterias in the city (which I recommend frequenting to experience Moscow like a local). That is where I strongly recommend using offline or online mobile translation tools like Google translate. There is free Wi-Fi in public areas, though I recommend grabbing a cheap data SIM card for under $10.
Moreover, it is worth noting that not all signs on public transport, high speed train and Metro stations signs are labeled in English. But you can get along very well referencing the starting Russian characters from the English language. This is particularly useful on Metro stations, though the signage on trains are usually Bilingual.
Notably, Russian language text has some different representation of the English alphabet. With practice, you can quickly infer station and place names to actual text from maps. Also, numbers and English alphabets are used in public transport service numbers and train timings, so that’s good.
The Kremlin and Red Square
On historical city sites, Moscow is a city overflowing with rich history. A staple attraction in Moscow will be the iconic Red Square where the Grand Kremlin is located.
Moreover, here you will find poster boy landmarks like the St. Basil’s Cathedral and the State Hermitage Museum.
They are all conveniently situated around the Red Square. Also, you can also visit Lenin’s Mausoleum if time permits, as the wait queues to enter can stretch into the hours.
Furthermore, the Inner Kremlin where you can view the artifacts in the Royal Armoury, as well as enter beyond the fortification walls into the Cathedrals within the Grand Kremlim Square. You can read more on a separate post I wrote on my explorations of the Armoury and Cathedral square within the Kremlin.
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Another notable site of historical significance is the The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The building is a Russian Orthodox cathedral located within walking distance (about 200m) southwest from the Grand Kremlin. Also, it sits on the northern bank of the Moskva River just opposite the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum.
Furthermore, it is the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world. Head scarfs are required for all ladies entering. To cater for this demand, merchants can be seen selling them to patrons queuing up to enter.
The interior of the cathedral is segmented into a couple of areas. Starting with sales counters where worshipers can buy candles or prayer trinkets. The roads then lead into the main hall. The halls here are much darker, laid in dark marble then the brighter golden walls of the entry halls.
Moreover, the Cathedral central hall is an expansive space with a large majestic dome sitting in the center of the building. It is nicely painted with many intricate murals.
Notably, the current Cathedral building is completely new. It was being rebuilt between 1995 and 2000 after it was destroyed in 1931 on the order of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The Palace of the Soviets which was meant to stand in its place was never constructed and this cathedral was built in place just under 20 years ago.
Moscow River and Red October Chocolate Factory
Moving on, the Christ the Saviour Cathedral sits at scenic location on a Northern bank overlooking the Moscow River. There is a bridge connection from the Cathedral called the Patriarshiny Most Bridge which brings you across the Moscow river. It offers many great views of the city via the south bank side.
Notable sights along this stretch River includes Red October chocolate Factory (OJSC Krasny Oktyabr). They are a Russian confectionery manufacturer known for famous Alyonka chocolate bars. Moreover, they a member of the United Confectioners holding company. The red brick factory is today redeveloped into an entertainment complex, with apartment complexes, cafes and restaurants.
Beside the factory is Commemorative statue honoring Tsar Peter the Great & the 300th anniversary of the Russian Navy.
Clean city with nice public parks
There are several green spaces and micro parks littered all over Moscow. They are all open, clean and very well cared after. Moreover, it is not uncommon to find large well-kept flowerbeds and manicured lawns in the city parks. They are often topped up with monuments of sculptures of historical significance.
Furthermore, these green spaces do break up the city’s otherwise largely concrete urban landscape. In my explorations, I found some rather quirky monuments such as the Children are the Victims of Adult Vices in Repinskiy Skver park and Bolotnaya Square.
Moreover, you can see nice fountains along the river running through Moscow across the Tret’yakovskiy Most Bridge with the Tree of love, an art installation sitting on it. This route also leads you towards the The State Tretyakov Gallery, an art museum featuring 21st-century Russian work.
Other notable green spaces worth visiting in Moscow include the public Gorky Park (Neskuchny Sad). It is a park of culture and leisure, as well as the Victory Park monument in Park Pobedy in west Moscow. There is also a world square amusement center known as VNDKh.
The Bolshoi Theatre
The Bolshoi Theatre is a performance arts building hosting mostly ballet and opera performances. Opened since October 1856, it spots a neoclassical architecture style.
It is situated just a short walk away from the Red Square opposite the Karl Marx statue. Before the October Revolution, the theatre was a part of the Imperial Theatres of the Russian Empire.
Shopping, entertainment and Dining areas
Moscow has a number of shopping districts which will appease even the most demanding shopper. There are a couple of shopping districts worth making a mention to suit all budgets.
Arbat street is a long shopping street and night spot with rows of independent rows and is an affordable place for restaurants, pubs and dining. Surprisingly, there are many American franchises here, such as Macdonald and KFC, as well as pubs selling American style burgers. Moscow’s Hard Rock Café is also located here.
You can reach it from the Smolenskaya or Arbatskaya Metro stations at both ends of the shopping street. Also, you can find the The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia around the block. It has a really nice gothic architecture.
Shopping to suit all Budgets
Furthermore, if you prefer a more upmarket offering, the shopping district in the Kuznetsky Most district around the Red Square has a couple of high end retail outlets. Also, you can find the Moscow Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines here too. Additionally, Kuznetsky Most is also where you can find Moscow’s historical GUM Departmental store.
Additional interesting finds include a central children’s store call Tsentral’nyy Detskiy Magazin, it has a massive British Hamleys toy shop with large try-out play areas. The streets gets nicely lit up at night too.
However, the prices of goods sold are not too far off prices in Singapore or at most slightly cheaper than find in other European cities.
Also, souvenirs on the mall street are pretty expensive. If you are looking for cheap Russian souvenirs, a recommendation is to check out the mini shops in the underground Metro tunnels. These lines of shop can be often in underpass linkways connecting the entrance to the subway. Items on sale can easily be 30% to half off the high street shop prices.
Alternatively, you can check out the Izmailovsky Flea Market in the east district. It is a small quirky but together rundown shopping market area. But things there are really cheap, especially if you are looking for traditional items, like hand-made Russian Dolls. You can get one with 4 segments for under 500 rubles.
City food offerings
Drilling down to food. Moscow offers a combination of high end dining which you can find in hotels, watered sit-in restaurants as well as more cheaper cafeteria-style dining which I prefer to frequent.
Notably cafeteria-style dining is rather prevalent in Moscow. The locals here love it. Using a Singapore relation, I usually relate to it like Russian style “mixed vegetable rice“.
Here, you grab a tray and take a mix one a staple (rice, noodles or pasta), a meat and vegetable side at an affordable flat rate. Extras like drinks and deserts are payable extras. My My restaurant (a market place style dine-in eatery) or even Stolovaya 57 in the GUM Departmental Store.
Home growth Delicacies
Moreover, a must try when in Moscow or in Russia in general is their home grown Tepemok fast food. Not because that the food is fantastic, but that you can try it no where else but here. Of course you can get better quality tasting Russian food in upmarket restaurants.
Furthermore, Russian food staples comprises of Beef Stroganoff, chicken Kiev (a fav of mine), bosch soups, Pelmeni (meat filled dumplings thin, pasta dough). These are often served with Vinegret as a red small vegetable side with your main course.
Come to think about it, Russian cuisine is incredibly diverse. Also, I found Russian food very European in nature. This is considering that there is no one particular dish which traces to a common origin. Here, we have a mix of Northeast European/Baltic, Caucasian, Siberia and even East/Central Asian. Now that is quite a mouthful!
That’s all folks
In conclusion, that wraps up my short travel introduction to Moscow. There are of course many more areas of the city which will be too much to cover in one post. Looking back, Moscow is a rather safe and clean city, with many comforts of modern facilities, green spaces and conveniences which makes up a spectacular city.
Also, there are also plenty of food options to cater tall budgets. The beautiful parks and gardens, certainly does not disappoint. Stigmas aside, I will recommend Moscow as part of your next European destination. You got to experience it yourself.