Quick Guide to Moscow
Where is Moscow?
Moscow is located at the west end of Russia. It only takes 4 hour of high speed train to reach the city from St. Petersburg. As the capital of Russia, you can easily fly there from any countries (as long you have a visa). The Moscow international airport (SVO) has 6 terminals with one more in construction in anticipation for the 2018 world cup. Within Russia, Moscow is the hub of all of its intra-country train system. You can take the trans-Siberian railway from Moscow and reach the other side of Russia within 7-9 days. The total distance is about 9,000 km.
Why is it so special?
Moscow is beautiful. The city has its unique beauty. It’s not quite the same as Western Europe. Moscow has its own identity. The architecture is gorgeous. I would say that the buildings in Moscow are quite spectacular. Some of the statues are even over-the-top.
Of course, how could you miss the Red Square and Saint Basil’s Cathedral? There are so many attractions here in Moscow that it will take you a while to fully explore this city. Even little local hang-out spots like the Gorky park is worth checking out.
What currency can be used?
In Russia, the currency is mainly rubles. However, sometimes, USD can be used.
Culture and lifestyle
Moscow is a city that doesn’t sleep (at least in the weekend, that I can attest). The night starts at 11pm and everyone just goes out and hangs out. When my friend Marina brought me out to explore their local hang out spots, Gorky Park, that place was packed. It was an enjoyable night where people either played the guitar, riding the bike, walking by the Moscow river, or just eating ice-cream. Mind you, this was all happening at around 2am. Here is a picture of Gorky Park at late night:
Trying some traditional foods introduced by my friend, Marina.
Russians love to drink. I’m sure we all know that. However, the drinking culture was out of control that the government had to regulate consumption. In Russia, you can buy alcohol (hard liquor to be exact) in supermarkets, which is quite common in most countries outside of Canada. So then, purchasing alcohol is rather easy. The government had to regulate this by imposing a law that prohibits buying alcohol in supermarkets after 11pm. When I was at a supermarket, I literally witnessed the staff wrapping up the alcohol booths and sectioning out the alcohol area right on the dot at 11pm. Though, from what I know, there are still ways to go around this rule. Russians are smart.
Another popular drink apart from Vodka in Russia is Kvass. Kvass is a traditional Slavic beverage that is super popular in Russia. Kvass to Russia is like coke to North America. It is considered a non-alcoholic drink even though the alcohol content is around 1%. It is made from fermentation of rye bread, wheat or barley. It was said that the invention of Kvass was used as an alternative to vodka so that monks and low-class citizens could afford it and drink. If I had to describe Kvass, I would say it is like carbonated plum juice.
Many people know what Borscht is. It is basically a soup filled with vegetables and also with beef or pork.
This is basically like perogies. Russian dumplings with a dipping sauce.
There are different levels of caviar. Red being the cheapest and black being the most expensive one. Best way to eat caviar is to eat it with the egg white. Yummy!
Places you shouldn't miss
There are too many places in Moscow that you should check out. While I cannot list all the attractions, I will list you my top choices and favourites.
1. Red Square and Saint Basil’s Cathedral
When you see Russia, you see the Red Square, it’s that iconic. This square is about 73,000 square meters in size, which makes it the third largest public city square in the world, only behind Tiananmen Square in Beijing and Praca do Religion in Sao Paulo. While the square is called “Red Square”, it is not red at all. “Red” actually means beautiful. When you stand on the Red Square, you can see the Kremlin on the side and Saint Basil’s Cathedral at the back. Every year on May 9th, there is a large Victory Parade marched in this square. As at 1990, this square is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral - a church that is so colourful that there is no way you can miss it. You can imagine the number of tourists trying to take selfie pictures right in front of Saint Basil’s Cathedral. This church was designed by Postnik Yakovlev in 1555, under the orders of Ivan the IV to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakahan. According to the legend, Ivan the IV (or Ivan the Terrible) killed Postnik Yakovlev so that he couldn’t design a more beautiful church ever again.
2. Zagorsk / Sergiyev Posad
Zagorsk is a little administrative region/town inside the Moscow Oblast (or the Greater Moscow Region). Originally this place was called Sergiyev Posad. Zagorsk is a Russian monastery that essentially turned into a city of its own. This city has a population of 110,000. Zagorsk is surrounded by walls and became a holy city of the Eastern Orthodox church.
Originally, this place was founded by St. Sergius of Radonezh as a small monastery in the woods. Slowly, other people and monks started following him and build the monastery together, including St. Sergius’ brother. It was told that St. Sergius was once able to heal a blind man to see again. News about this miracle broke out. Shortly after, this little monastery began to attract more prominent figures, the rich and nobles. One of such important figure was a grand general, who came to St. Sergius to ask for peace and victory against the Mongols. When the general returned to the city victorious, he donated a lot of money to St. Sergius to expand the church. After that, the city exploded and became one of the important sites of the Eastern Orthodox church.
Inside Zagorsk, there are several church buildings. Inside the church, you are not allowed to take pictures of people. However, you are allowed to take pictures of anything else that do not have a person in it. This really means that selfies are not allowed.
In the Eastern Orthodox church, there is a difference between a “white clergy” and a “black clergy”. A “white clergy” is married while a “black clergy” is not.
At one of the churches in Zagorsk, the water that flows from the tap is blessed. The church allows the worshipers to bring their water containers to fill their bottles with holy water. You can see from the video below.
At Zagorsk, I was able to try Kvass and it was delicious.
In Moscow, there are many regions that are surrounded by walls, these are referred to as “Kremlins”. The most famous “Kremlin” is the one beside the Red Square, which is also the office of the president of Russia. If you see a risen Russian flag, that means the president is in the office working; if you don’t, that means the president is out of town.
Aside from government buildings, the Kremlin also has other interesting attractions.
First, it has two very large items: A large cannon and a large bell. The large cannon, called the Tsar Cannon, was mostly for symbolic impact as it was never used in a war. The length of the canon was too short to fire a cannon ball because the power couldn’t sustain the weight of the cannon ball.
The large bell, not surprisingly called the Tsar Bell, was also never been in working order. Unfortunately, a major fire broke out at the Kremlin in 1737. The fire damaged the wooden support structure of the bell. The guards stopped the fire by throwing cold water, however, the expansion and contraction effect cracked a piece of the bell. Even till now, the bell and the cracked portion remain a tourist attraction.
As you keep walking inside the Kremlin, you will encounter an interesting complex within the Kremlin. This place is called “the Cathedral Square” where it has six churches. If you visit the churches on a clockwise order, the churches are called Church of the Archangel, Church of the Annunciation, Church of the Deposition of the Robe, the Assumption Cathedral, the Twelve Apostle and the Tower of the Ivan the Great tower bell. The Assumption Cathedral was used as the church for the coronation of the Tsar.
First, the subway system in Moscow is very complex. The downtown of Moscow is surrounded by a ring of subway stations which serves as the core of transportation. Then, there are several other subway lines that extend to the outer areas of Moscow.
The subway stations themselves are gorgeous. The subway stations have been designed like palaces. The reason being is to spread the idea of communism. What is the best way to demonstrate the benefits of communism? By making sure that everyone can enjoy the same benefits as the rich would have. The best way to display that is by decorating the subway stations because those can be enjoyed by every common person.
The first one I went was Station Komsomolskaya:
Then, I went to Novoslobodskay. This station has beautiful stain glass.
Then I went to Kievskaya:
Then I went to Arbatskaya which is also the longest station in Moscow:
You can really get lost here in Moscow if you don’t know your way around.
5. Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics
You don’t really see this kind of architecture in North America often.
This museum displays the space technology prowess during the Soviet times, CCCP, and also the Russian period. If you want to take pictures or videos by using a camera, you need to pay for a temporary license, which is frankly quite cheap - only 230 rubles. However, if you take pictures using your cellphone, then it is free.
This museum showcases the period when they sent mammals (really just dogs) into space for space travel testing. The Soviet sent over 20 dogs into space, some of which never returned or died. Until 1960, two dogs (Belka and Strelka) were sent to space, actually orbited Earth and successfully came back. One dog (Strelka) even gave birth to 6 puppies afterwards. When the Soviet declared this as a space technological breakthrough, they sent one of the puppies to the daughter of the US president (John F Kennedy) at the time. The museum also shows the space capsule where the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, sat on. It also displayed the space suit where Gagarin went for a 12 minute space walk.
Picture of Belka and Strelka:
6. Peter the Great statue
I just think this is a cool attraction to see at Moscow.