is a country within a country. Russia may be poor and inexpensive, but Moscow is not. It is probably the most expensive city in Eastern Europe. For Russian standards, salaries are very high. There is growing upper class, the ‘new Russians’, successful business people and entrepreneurs who benefited from Russia’s transition to capitalistic society. Moscow is big, chaotic, dirty and exciting. It is like a Manhattan of the East. For many people, it is a great place to visit, but after a few days, they are ready to leave.
While you do not see obvious poverty, you will almost certainly come across people trying to separate you from your money. In our visits to Moscow, we had several such experiences. For example, a scam team dropped a stack of money in front of us. When one tried to share it with us, we shouted to the other to come back. They both quickly disappeared. Later we found out that if you take the bait, the other scam artist shows up and threatens to go to the police. Since no one wants to have a visit with the Russian police, most people pay what is demanded. On another occasion we nearly fell for a 'bait and switch' trick. We noticed an advertised exchange rate that was the best we had seen. When we went inside to make our exchange, we were given a rate that was lower than average. When we questioned it, we were told that the outside rate was only for an exchange of $1,000 or more. The message is, like in any large city, you must be always on guard.
Organizing your visit by yourself may be difficult. During one of our visits we worked with Svetlana from Russian Holidays. She helped us with hotel reservations and organized a transfer. She is friendly, very reliable, made good recommendations and charged reasonable rates. To see Svetlana's website Click Here .
The Moscow underground is efficient and reliable and can take you everywhere you need to go quickly and inexpensively. But for a foreigner alone it can be difficult to negotiate. There are many different underground lines, you may have to transfer several times and all signs are in Cyrillic. Alternatively, taxis are available, but they can be expensive, traffic is frequently snarled and taxi drivers can be unscrupulous. If no one in your party speaks Russian, it might be better to select a centrally located hotel so that you can walk everywhere.
There are two types of hotels in Moscow, international chain hotels and russian hotels. If you are planning to stay in an international hotel, be prepared to pay two to three times the rate that you would pay in almost any other country. Alternatively, you can stay in a russian hotel. There are many good quality russian hotels, but you may find that the level of English and the standard of service (mostly measured by the friendliness of the receptionist and their willingness to help) is low. If service is important to you, stay at an international hotel.
We have stayed at two russian hotels, both outside of the center, the Ukraina and the Izmailovo. Of the two we would recommend the Izmailovo. It was closer to the Metro (about a 5-10 minute walk), offers a large selection of restaurants and cafes and had a very interesting market nearby called Vernisage. While the Izmailova is a big rectangular towering monolith, the Ukraina is built in a classic Stalinist style. There are seven high-rise buildings scattered around Moscow built with the same beautiful design. But the Ukraina is a much longer walk (20 minutes) to the metro and there is a limited selection of restaurants, some frequently closed for banquets. Interestingly, in Moscow the hotel restaurants are less expensive than the restaurants in the city. Therefore, having a good selection of restaurants in your hotel is quite an advantage. To see the website of the Ukraina Click Here. To see the website of the Izmailovo Click Here
There is plenty to do in Moscow. You can spend days exploring the Kremlin, its churches and museums. We hired a guide who made the tour much more interesting. If you do this, be sure to negotiate the rate. To see a short video of the Kremlin (requires QuickTime Player) Click Here .
If you only go to one Kremlin museum, select the Armory. It houses the world’s largest collection of Faberge Eggs. The Eggs were made by the Faberge House, a St. Petersburg based Goldsmith. The Eggs were annual Easter presents for the Czar’s wife, and are intricately designed, golden eggs, each with a surprise inside. The eggs travel frequently to other museums, so check to see if they are there before going. Click Here
Red Square was fascinating. Our first stop was Lenin's Mausoleum. I was transfixed by the wax-like, body of Lenin, but only for a moment. Just a second after we paused, we were asked to move on, even though there was no line. Next to Lenin's Mausoleum, in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, were the graves of Stalin and Brezhnev, several cosmonauts, diplomats and dignitaries, including American John Reed. Don’t take a camera or a mobile phone with a camera, with you to Red Square. A guard that will check you, and if you have a camera, they will deny you admittance. You will then have a long walk to store the camera in a locker. To see a video of the Kremlin and Red Square Click Here.
Other ideas for Moscow include: attending the Bolshoi Ballet, visiting the lovely GUM department store, exploring the nine chapels of the multi-tented St. Basil's Cathedral, and walking along Arabat Street, the most famous shopping street in Moscow.