Moscow: First Impressions

Posted by on Jun 14, 2013 in Europe, Play-by-plays, Russia, Uncategorized | 0 comments

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My thoughts and first impressions about Moscow are, in a word, many. It is a city filled with people (12-14 million), contradictions and dualities. It is East meets West, modernizations meets Soviet nostalgia, and a whole lot more. While I am here for school trying to pretend I am a local (hah), I am also a tourist, so I get to take cheesy photos of buildings and not feel any remorse.

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On my second day, my group did a bit of a tour of the main spots: Red Square, GUM shopping mall, some monasteries, plazas, and Moscow City(high rise office buildings). I won’t bore you with details because Wikipedia essentially covers all of the highlights we went to. Since the city tour, we have also visited the Kremlin and the Armory (which I highly recommend because it is chock-full of nifty historical things like carriages, Fabergé eggs, jewelry, art, etc), and the Circus! The latter was an ode to my childhood, because 10-year-old Nat went to Moscow and thought the Circus was the coolest thing since sliced bread (she was incidentally also a huge fan of sliced bread). The Circus, along with visits to the GUM and McDonald’s were highlights of that trip. I can honestly say the Circus still makes an impression. It is no Cirque du Soleil but the acrobats do crazy things without safeties (Russian Roulette: the real game) and Russians get away with a lot more animal-related stunts which may be shunned elsewhere. I also haven’t eaten at McDonald’s per se, but I do get coffee there; it is not only real coffee, but is also affordable, unlike the $8 cappuccinos at Starbucks. And my third memory, the GUM department store has all the Western boutiques and brands, but at ridiculously inflated prices (this will be a theme in Moscow), so it is nice to wander around, but not really a place for my student budget.

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I will admit though that Cafeteria No. 57 (Stolovaya No. 57) is a great place to grab food. It is fairly priced (or here, it is said to have “democratic prices”) and is a bit of an homage to the old Soviet era, where you’d go to the cafeteria, grab a tray, and pick out whatever food was on offer. Admittedly the food offerings today are much better. There is also a machine to grab flavored soda water, which is fun to play with and is cheap! I’ll have to come back to GUM though to try the famous ice cream, and potentially grab an (undoubtedly overpriced) drink at one of the cafes whose terraces face Red Square.

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Other things to note: the Metro is awesome. It is highly efficient, goes anywhere I want to go, pretty clean, and stations tend to be beautiful, especially the older ones. I’ll probably do a whole post on the Metro later, with some historical facts, but this is just a sneak peak. It’s a unfortunate that it stops running at 1am; I would have expected a city like Moscow to operate its transit 24/7, especially given the vibrancy of the night life. And gents, tis true, the ladies are easy on the eyes. Not all, but I have to say there is a decent contingent of lookers, and the motto with clothing, as I am learning, is “less is more”. Another lesson about Russia is that things that are considered not PC elsewhere, but that everyone still has on the mind, are said quite bluntly. I won’t judge whether that is good or bad, but it is how it is. So, having said that, Moscow loves the concept of not only dress code, but also of face control. And so while every club in every major city in the world practices implicit face control, Moscow bouncers explicitly tell you whether or not you pass. For guys, it is less face, more wallet control. The ratio of people is also heavily skewed; I think due to wars and alcoholism (sorry to get so serious), there is a deficit of dudes. So the guys have zero incentives to make any effort in anything; it is hilarious and borderline embarrassing what the average guy wears here.

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Now that it is summer, it also get dark after 11pm, and light before 4am (and never reallllyyyy that dark), which psychologically is strange. This makes me very excited to visit Saint Petersburg in two weeks, which is famous for its White Nights. While I am no stranger to the concept from my visits to Iceland, I am no less excited. Summer in Moscow is also short (realistically 2 months) so people really take advantage of being outside as much as possible. On the weekends, the streets are teeming with people strolling along the river, hanging out at parks, etc. I went to Gorky Park and was amazed at how well kept it is, as well as the number of cafes, restaurants, sport rental spots, and other activities. There is even a “beach” i.e. huge sandbox for volleyballs, tanning, and the like. My one complaint is that all the stands ran out of ice cream too quickly! Side note: on another hot day we went to a restaurant that ran out of draft beer. These are the issues with a lack of a market economy, but more on that later.

Enough with first impressions, more Moscow commentary to come! I’ll include some insight gleaned from other cultural excursions and corporate visits as well as posts about visits to Yaroslavl and Rostov, Saint Petersburg, and eventually Kiev!

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