Moscow is one of my favorite cities not only because I was born there, but because there are my relatives and friends, my first university, my books and memories. Moscow is often compared to New York by size, night life, culture, shopping. This article does not have a purpose of being a perfect travel guide, but it reflects my impressions of the city and contains some practical information.
Moscow “Metro” (Subway)
By “metro” (Rus. for “subway”) you can travel from one part of the city to the other. All the stations have different designs – there you will find no graffiti but marble and columns in ancient style, as well as sculptures and mosaics. Unfortunately, the station names are somewhat difficult to a foreigner and the fact that they are in Cyrillic is not helping. However, Google has it all – by searching “Moscow metro English map” one can get the subway plan in English. More: http://engl.mosmetro.ru/
Central House of Artists
If you are interested in modern Russian art, the Central House of Artists is the right place to go (subway station “Oktyabr’skaya” or “Park Kultury”). Tickets for foreigners cost more than for Russians. One should not try to sneak in by buying a “Russian” ticket and being silent – old ladies on the check point will define your European heritage just by looking at you.
There are many nice cafés in Moscow; most of them are situated in the city center. Coffee House, Coffeemania, Coffein – we just love coffee! However, you will find tea there in as well, together with cakes and/or sandwiches (depends on the café). Some offer “bliny” (pancakes) with different fillings – it’s worth trying!
Despite the stereotypes, Russians do not eat pancakes every day with caviar on the side, having vodka as appetizer 😉 However, in the end of February there is a special week when “bliny” (pancakes) become the main course and are served with different fillings (minced meat, salmon, fruit jams, sugar, sour cream, sautéed mushrooms etc)… A pancake symbolizes the sun; its purpose is to bring spring closer.
Red Square is the heart of Moscow – it is the most beautiful and impressive place in the city center. One can visit the Kremlin museums, cathedrals, the Mausoleum. Worth seeing are Oruzheinaya Palata (The Armory) and Almazny Fond (The Diamond Collection). Information about tickets: http://www.kreml.ru/en/
Since Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world, Russians prefer doing shopping in Europe. I recommend checking local souvenirs: matryoshki (wooden dolls), wooden painted jewelry boxes, colorful pashminas in Russian style (with flowers as ornaments). Those can be found next to Moscow State University panorama view (metro station “Vorob’yovy Gory”) or in GUM on the Red Square (more: http://www.gum.ru/en/shopmap/).
The State Tretyakov Gallery
Another wonderful gallery for art lovers: discover Russian art from 11th to the early 20th century. The gallery is closed on Mondays (opening hours on other days: 10.30 am – 7.30 pm). More on http://www.tretyakovgallery.ru/en/
Important Information: citizens of EU, Switzerland, UK and USA will need a Russian visa. One can apply for it in Russian Embassy in Bern (http://www.consulrussia.ch/) or do it through a travel agency (there are some in Zurich).
Some Safety Rules
1. Keep an eye on your valuable items and do not take big sums of money in cash when going out (+ never put the wallet in the back pocket of your jeans).
2. Avoid walking dark streets in city’s surroundings after midnight (there are hooligans in any city of the world and Moscow is no exception).
3. Buy only bottled water – tap water is not healthy for drinking.
Best time for traveling: summer (May to July, August can be very hot).