Imagine Moscow and stereotypes start flowing thick and fast. Horribly expensive, anarchic, lawless, it gets dark by noon, melancholic and depressive. And yes, every Russian woman is a potential Miss World.
Well, stereotypes sometimes help to conjure up a foreign place, but they are invariably distorting. These stereotypes hark back to the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, when only a few people could afford to see for themselves what things were really like “over there.” Twenty years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and to quote singer Michael Stipe, it was “the end of the world as we know it.”
After talking to many expats, RIBR found that Moscow has a visceral impact. Rarely did we meet someone who is blasé about the place. It punches them in the gut and teases the imagination with its ageless beauty, epic-like grandeur and a larger-than- life feel to its bustling life. To know what foreigners think about Moscow, RIBR interviewed dozens of expats and tourists aged between 22 and 50. Here is what they think.
Is Moscow more expensive?
"Before coming, I thought Moscow winter would be terribly cold. But when I saw the first snowflake of my life and made my first snowball, I felt very happy. Actually, I like the weather here more than India."
Paribhi Sharma, 28, India.
Many foreigners feel that Moscow is an expensive city. But some have a more rounded, nuanced view. “Housing is expensive. Transport and culture are rather cheap in comparison to western Europe,” says Lucie Pokorna of the Czech Republic, who has frequently visited Russia as a tourist. “I think Moscow can be expensive, but there are also a lot of ways to save money as well, especially on food. Eating street food and eating in places that serve cafeteria-style food, helps to save on food costs. Also, using the metro is a lot cheaper than taking taxis,” says 22-year-old Brandon, an American.
Considering that an average business lunch in a Moscow restaurant costs 300 rubles ($10) and a metro ride costs 28 rubles (about 90 cents), hotels are by far the most expensive part of a trip to Moscow. A recent survey by the hotel.info portal revealed that the average cost of a hotel room in the Russian capital this autumn is 140 euros (more than $200) a day, which makes Moscow the second most expensive capital in terms of hotel accommodations, after Oslo. However, if one looks at the difference in average prices between Moscow and for example, London, which is the fourth most expensive city, it is less than 4 euros (137 euros). Part of the reason for the high prices is the shortage of hotels in Moscow. There are 215, according to official statistics. Things are looking up though: in 2011, three new hotels were opened in Moscow, four more will open before the year is out and 14 hotels in the center are due to open in 2012. According to City Hall, by 2020, the capital will have 535 hotels capable of accommodating 150,000 tourists.
An affordable visit
Try to save by choosing the right season for your visit: January is considered to be the off season, which includes the three Christmas weeks. Few conferences are held during that period and only 10 to 15% of hotel capacity is used, according to Moscow’s Tourism Committee. Another way to save is to find an affordable hostel. There are officially 55 hostels in Moscow, almost all of them in the center. Twenty were opened in 2011. The average price per night is $14-28.
Twinning with New Delhi
The Moscow City Government and the Legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi have approved a cooperation programme for 2012-2014, and are planning to sign it during the Days of Moscow in Delhi in April-May 2012. “Delhi is extremely important as a strategic partner to the government of Moscow. We believe that these kinds of regional connections between the world’s major cities help generate new ideas,” said Sergei Cheremin, head of the Moscow City Government's Foreign Economic and International Relations Department during his recent India visit. “Top-priority cooperation projects and joint efforts in the programme will involve spheres like economic and trade policy, housing and utilities infrastructure, architecture and real estate development, traffic management, the Safe City program, healthcare, education, culture and tourism,” he said. Among other things, the two countries will continue the practice of holding the Days of Moscow in Delhi and Days of Delhi in Moscow in 2012-2014. “The events will include exhibitions, concerts, and feature documentary films from both countries,” he said.
Picking a good bargain
“Souvenir shops are to be avoided at all costs, especially in central Moscow, as their prices could bankrupt small countries. Markets are the best place to look for that cheap, authentic piece of Russian culture that you just can't live without,” advises Laura Gardner from Manchester, UK. One of the most famous souvenir markets is located at the picturesque Izmailovsky Kremlin. The average prices there are lower than in the shops and, most important, you can bargain. Expats and tourists agree it is a great place to practice your fledgling Russian. Learn to ask “How much?” Then learn to walk away when you hear the answer. The price goes down when they see your back. It works every time.
Dangers at every step?
According to The Village portal, 15% of expats interviewed are afraid of nationalists — and not without reason. “If you are a minority going to Moscow, don't let the comment I wrote above discourage you. Most Russians I met were very loyal, friendly, and generous. However, there are a few bad apples mixed in as well, and you probably will come across them at some point during your stay,” says Cole Margen of California.
Official statistics state there were 24 crimes against foreign tourists in Moscow last year.
"Someone told me Moscow is a dangerous city. But when I came to live here I realised that it's not as dangerous if you are careful and observe common safety rules.Such as: try to avoid metro in the night, don’t go the darkest area at night and don’t put all your money in the bag," says Neeraj Khemani from India, who has 2,5 years' experience of living in Moscow.
Ask directions from a beauty
“As for finding your way around, the metro is really pretty clear and simple. The crowds can be a bit intimidating if you get lost, but if you're underground, you can find your way. Above ground, the streets can be confusing, and they're not always clearly marked,” says Elliott Estebo.
Street signage is increasing, and you can always ask directions from a passer-by: the younger the person, the more chance he or she speaks English. And one stereotype is true: there are beautiful women walking around in stylish clothes, just as you might imagine. You can even ask them directions. But an elder Babushka (grandmother) is more likely to take you by the hand and show you your train.
And if you try just a few words in Russian, you will be heartily applauded.
24x7 helpline in English
There is now a round-the-clock call center for English-speaking
tourists in Moscow. Operators are ready to answer all your questions about the
capital’s places of interest, transport, or help in an emergency.
8-800-220-00-01 and 8-800-220-00-02. The call is free.
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