The first time I have been to Moscow, Russia was in July 2012. It felt like a dream coming true but too short to remember… I tend to forget that I have actually been to this magnificent country! 2 days in Russia are definitely not enough but I tried to make the most out of it…
These two days have been a great way to meet the Russians and their rich culture, it was nice to see what is left from this big empire and super-power before the Soviet Union dissolution. In this article, I will share with you what are my highlights and what can be done during a short city-break in the capital.
Before the trip:
Something to check before thinking of Russia is the visa… The country has a strict policy towards most nationalities including British and Moroccans. My visa however had a sponsor which made it easier to get. The visa was valid for 3 days only and is delivered fairly quickly. The Consulate in Casablanca has friendly staff that shows that Russians are not that cold… or maybe was it the Moroccan sun?
2- Learn some basic Russian
It is hard to find someone speaking English in Russia and public signs are all written in Russian with Cyrillic characters! Therefore, no choice left… You got to know Russian! My travel book guide provided me with a good introduction to the language. I remember well some sentences I impress my friends with such as ‘Kak diela?’ (How are you?) and ‘Minia zavout Omar’ (My name is Omar). For the letters it is a bit tricky as for example the R is written as P or the reversed N is I… and of course other letters that are so new to Latin languages.
My knowledge of Russian has been useful in the metro mainly as the station names and maps are fully in Russian. Some maps are given in hotels in English but once down there underground you can’t escape the cyrillic language.
3- Check the weather
Moscow has the reputation of being very cold. But actually only in winter. Summer days are very hot so check the weather before and pack what you need for the relevant season. There is no point of taking gloves in June for example… the weather will be awesome.
Once in Moscow:
1- Visit The Red Square
Congratulations! We made it to Russia after a very strict but quick airport check. One of the most famous squares in the world with some of the most important buildings in Russia’s history, The Red Square, impresses! Either by day or night, summer or winter it is a must check in Moscow.
I was there in summer and something I was really looking forward to see was St Basil’s Cathedral dominating the square by it’s very special and colorful architecture. Right in front of it, the Kremlin and GUM a luxurious commercial center.
2- Take a free walking tour
Something that saved me money and time was a free walking tour arranged by a local company. The tour focuses on the main attractions in Central Moscow. The guide provides interesting facts and explanations, the people who join are travelers coming from around the world and all the itinerary is done in 2-3 hours.
This was something to definitely do as the city break was short. This walking tour covers the main attractions including: Varvarka Street, Romanov’s Chamber, Lenin Memorial, Ruins Grotto and more.
3- Try the local food
I had the opportunity to try some traditional Russian dishes in a shopping center of the city. It was really tasty but also comparable to Polish food I had tried in Warsaw.
I have also been to the first McDonald’s restaurant in the USSR opened in 1991. At that time it was the biggest McDonald’s restaurant in the world and symbolized the integration of Russia to the modern world. I included this point in my high school art project so I went there to visit it and I was not disappointed by it’s size! It is located in Pushkinskaya Square worth walking by too.
4- Don’t get lost too much!
Something to avoid is getting lost… I really enjoy being lost in a new city however this might be dangerous in some regions of the world. Being in Moscow without language knowledge where people do not try to talk English, I did not get lost on purpose. However, I almost had an adventure.
I was on a bus back to my hotel located near the airport after my visits. I slept inside the bus and woke up at the middle of nowhere and luckily the person next to me spoke English this time and explained me the itinerary of the bus from the centre to the hotel is different from the departure towards the center. So I did not miss my stop. Just a short panic time!
I also visited Arbat neighborhood by mistaking two stations. It was actually a really cool discovery as the streets are very active with shops and lot of pedestrians.
4- Don’t forget the Matriochka
The famous Russian Dolls are everywhere near the touristy spots but can be bought for a cheaper price far away from The Red Square. I bought mine at Arbat in a friendly shop for a cheaper price. It’s a great souvenir to take home!
5- Enjoy the Metro
Under the ground of large streets one of the biggest metro system runs. Moscow is very famous for its spectacular metro stations with beautiful design and efficient and organised system. Something very special too are the ticket barriers leading to the trains. They are open for everyone with or without a ticket, however they close if you fail to stamp your ticket. These barriers close on your legs and it really hurts… That was a bad experience not to stamp correctly the ticket but to be honest I enjoyed it… it got some security officers involved and an alarm ringing. If you dare, don’t stamp your metro ticket in Moscow!
After the trip:
1- Visit Russia again!
2 days in Moscow are definitely not enough to discover Russia. It is a huge country and there is so much to do within the big cities and the countryside. I would like to do the Trans-Siberian someday, visit Saint-Petersburg and experience Russian White Nights.
2- Курсы русского языка
This says… Learn Russian! Yes, since I visited Moscow, my interest in learning Russian has grown. It is a very rich and interesting language that can be useful either when travelling in Eastern Europe or for business purposes as Russia becomes economically stronger.
I hope this article is useful and gives you the information you look for. Moscow is a city worth visiting. I can’t wait to go to Russia another time because I surely did not get enough of it! Stay tuned. Omar, In A City Near You… Follow me on Twitter and like my page on Facebook.