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Moscow Calling: Tips for the Trip

Gary Lee

Fresh from a week in the capital of Russia, I've learned a few things, even though I'm fairly familiar with the city.

My first tip: Use the subway. Travelers unfamiliar with the city should study a map of the system on the way over and hop on it as frequently as possible once they hit the ground. The reason? Traffic is so thick that above-ground commuters get clogged up for hours just trying to get from their hotel to dinner or to the airport. The metro system is well-organized. and at around 40 cents a fare, it's pretty cheap and safe. And many of the stations have spectacular displays of art and sculpure. But for a traveler unfamiliar with the city -- and the Russian language -- the system can be daunting. Fortunately, I used to ride the metro daily for the four years I lived in Moscow in the late 1980s. But, with a little work, even first time visitors can get a hang of the system.

A few other suggestions:

1. Souvenir buyers looking for Matroshka dolls, KGB badges and other Russian originals should head to Izmailovsky Park on a Sunday and ask for the "Vernissage" section. Otherwise, you'll spend the whole day looking around at cheap shoes imported from China.

2. Non-Russian speakers should have the hotel concierge write out the name and address of wherever they are headed in English and Cyrillic. That way if they get lost you can just show the note to someone.

3. Take a good guidebook explaining what is where in Moscow's Tretyakovsky Gallery, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and other major art museums. They have excellent collections but are not at all well labeled. Go in cold and you can easily get lost between the icons and the Perestroika era painters.

Any travelers have tips to share about Russia or other places in Eastern Europe?

By Gary Lee |  October 26, 2007; 11:38 AM ET  | Category:  Gary Lee , Travel Logistics
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Carry your passport w/visa at ALL TIMES. There are many guidebooks that would have you believe a copy is fine, or a note from your hotel, but carry the original - always. I lived there for 2 years, and Moscow cops LOVE to harass tourists with "document checks". And as you might guess, not carrying the original documents is a favorite way to "ding" tourists. Of the post-Soviet countries, Russia is still the worst with this kind of nonsense, other than Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

You should definitely still go, because Moscow is amazing, but there are a lot of bad suggestions to be had. Talk to someone who has had extensive experience there before you go.

Posted by: Former Resident | October 25, 2007 12:52 PM

I've been to Russia at least 30 times for my job and it completely gets under your skin. Certainly, Moscow and St. Petersburg have tons to offer, but if you can swing it, try to make it out of town. There are wonderful things to see a commuter or train ride or short flight from Moscow, for example--eg, wonderful churches in Tver, the kremlin of Kolumna, and a fabulous outdoor museum of wooden architecture outside Archagelsk. In the spring/summer, I highly recommend a secret garden I found right in Moscow--a beautiful University-run botanical garden that's completely free to the public. It's at Prospect Mira metro.

Posted by: Rockville | October 26, 2007 7:20 PM

I agree that the subway system in Moscow is fast and cheap and worth the see. some of the sculptures were amazing. My trip on the subway was to Arbot Street, a pedestrian mall, which was lively and very interesting. However had I not been with my friend from Omsk, I don't think that I, as a non-native speaker, would have ventured it on my own.

On another note, in St. Petersburg, several (7) people in the group I was traveling with, were mugged in the subway. Luckily, no one was hurt, except in the wallet. I guess it's just wise to always be aware of your surroundings when traveling.

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