Although not somewhere I would normally choose to go, Moscow was the final port of call before catching the Trans-Siberian. I hadn’t heard much about Russia apart from all the Cold War/Soviet type things, and recently watching the film Farewell (which was very good). After doing a small amount of research about what to do it was hard to find much that wasn’t either Red Square or really far in the outskirts. I found out about a traditional puppet theatre, but this was too far away. As far as art galleries and contemporary exhibitions Moscow seems particularly sparse, favouring lavish independent art collections which will often be European Art.
In feel Moscow is much like a European city, though obviously with Cyrillic rather than Roman alphabet everywhere. The metro is extremely easy to use, just paying for single journeys which can be anywhere in the city, no zones like London. The currency, Roubles roughly translates to 50 to £1. So a metro journey costs roughly 50p. Russians will often neither associate themselves as being Asian or European and class Moscow as being very multicultural, despite what I saw in the city centre which was almost entirely Caucasian faces, especially compared to the multiculturality of London.
One thing I was wary of before going was the Russian police, which I have heard on many occasions will take your passport and require a bribe to retrieve it back. I didn’t witness this at all but was still advised to only carry a photocopy of my passport and not the real thing. It is apparently eased off a lot in recent years as the officials have changed their name from militia to police and they are trying to make a better impression for tourists.
Food-wise Moscow is traditionally pickled herring, pig tongue, pickled vegetables, soups and sweet and savoury pancakes. The only one of these to my taste being the sweet pancakes. We went to a traditional restaurant with a local, and despite not liking the food it was good to get the authentic feel. Two chain restaurants that were easy to use were my-my (mu-mu) recognisable by a giant cow outside and an Italian-Russian style one called something like ‘capi’(written inside an Italian flag). These were both particularly easy to use as they were self-service, so at worst you just point and hope for the best. They were also very well priced compared to proper restaurants. There is also sushi everywhere in Moscow, to the extent they have almost claimed it as their own cuisine.
The sights we saw were really just inside and around Red Square, unfortunately Lenin’s mausoleum was closed on the day we went. It was mid-July and the temperature was roughly 30 degrees so we did our fair share of sitting and people watching. I didn’t particularly feel like I had missed out on many sights though. St Basils was nice but looked a little too much like Disney and with most of the buildings being built in the 50’s and constantly repainted there was a feel of everything being very new and temporary, without much history.
Just from skimming the surface of politics in Moscow I found some unusual things, the old mayor was married to a woman in a certain trade (I think construction) so when he was in power all the city budget was spent on that. The new mayors wife is in the paving industry so now all the tarmac sidewalks (even recently covered) are being ripped up and paved with bricks, although aesthetically we may think this is an improvement the practicalities of this in the cold winter apparently results in people scraping the sidewalks from ice which will chip all the bricks within one year. The people of the city are resigned to accept such wastes of money as legislation has been passed which states it is illegal for more than one person to protest without consent from government. The new form of protesting now resulting in individuals stood three metres from each other.
The most shocking thing about the attitudes of people in Moscow (based on three separate people I talked to) is their lack of caring and respect for anyone outside of the city, talking about them as if they are feral or barbarian people. From what I have seen out of the train window the government think in the same way. While the buildings in Moscow are being continually repainted and the streets repaved, the people in the towns have little, if any, electricity and can be seen collecting water from a well.