I have been in Moscow three times in total, since 2014 and each time, I have had a different experience. Moscow is surprising and unexpected. Sometimes scary, but amusing; interesting and mysterious. The fact that I have traveled to and lived in Russia for a couple of months has often provoked a lot of mixed reactions. Why Russia? Why Moscow? Russia has often a bad reputation abroad, Russians are seen as cold, distant, unfriendly people. And Moscow is not really a typical touristic getaway.
I actually did not go to Moscow for tourism. I first did a 2-week-long cultural exchange with a Muscovite family. Then in 2016 I went back for a couple of days after finishing my Erasmus program in the Caucasus and I have recently spent three months working there.
To be honest, my first impression of Moscow was not really that good. I felt like a tiny human lost in a flow of people I did not understand culturally or linguistically. Fifteen million people live in Moscow. That is more than the entire population of my country! And few of them speak good English of French, which means that it can be quite hard to be understood if you don’t try to speak Russian.
Moscow is such a big city, I felt overwhelmed by the hugeness of everything, from the 10-lane roads to the giant buildings, the monumental Orthodox churches to the numerous statues you find on every corner. Having lived there for three months, I still cannot say that I know Moscow very well. I can find my way in my own neighbourhood, but overall I have probably only been in five percent of the city. However, the more I discovered about it, the more I loved it.
Architecturally speaking, I find Moscow absolutely gorgeous. What I particularly like about the Red Square is that it is not only one cultural landmark in the middle of a random place or the only beautiful thing in the neighbourhood. The entire surrounding is astonishing. You will find the very luxurious commercial galleries on its left, and the historical Kremlin on its right. The National Museum of History is in front of it and the newly-opened Zaryadye Park behind it. The famous Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is only a ten-minutes walk away. Everything comprised in the first ring is worth seeing: the Bolshoi Theatre, the Arbat, the Gorky Park, the Lubyanka area, and the numerous pedestrian streets.
The heart of the city also has a vibrant and dynamic vibe. You will find countless restaurants, karaoke-bars, and cafés where people dance until dawn and enjoy life, even when it is -25 degrees outside! Even if real estate prices are unaffordable and probably as high as in London, for example, eating and drinking is still pretty cheap. You can easily have a good meal for less than 10 euros (12 dollars), drink included. Many restaurants often offer lunch deals for 5 or 6 euros.
One more thing you should definitely not miss in Moscow is its incredible subway. First, it’s stunning, and second, it is one of the deepest in the world. You will experience a long ride down to a complex underground network on such deep escalators you’ll think you’re about to fall from them.
Moscow is well-known for the Red Square and the Kremlin, but it also has some hidden gems that I find underrated. So remember to check out the Izmailovo Market, the Kolomenskoye Royal Estate, Tsaritsyno Palace and the Novodevichy Convent.
Moscow is also a capital of culture. Classical operas, ballets and countless museums that feature the finest of classical and contemporary artworks will exceed your expectations. Although Saint-Petersburg is a bigger cultural center and has more to offer culturally; Moscow is more an expression of the Soviet Union’s past.
Regarding the people with whom you will interact, keep in mind that Russians have a different culture, a different past and different habits. They might indeed seem cold, distant or rude, but try to put your cultural standards aside and try to immerse yourself in their world. Of course, you can always meet extremely nice people or jackasses everywhere, but generally speaking, Russians aren’t excessively nice, or “polite”. Overly-apologising is not part of their culture and neither is being ashamed or embarrassed. Don’t get offended too easily if they speak loudly to you or seem annoyed.
Wherever you go, I can only recommend to bear in mind that you are the stranger entering someone else’s world. Be patient and respectful towards any culture different than yours, and if you feel uncomfortable, take it with humour!
To sum up, I know some people who immediately fell in love with Moscow and with the Russian culture, and others who simply hated it. Personally, I needed some time to truly appreciate it. But Moscow was definitely a nice city to live in, to have fun, to learn and to confront yourself with a different world.
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