From Russia With Love…

I attended a lot of meetings while in Moscow and as a consequence I did not make it to everything on my list of places to go — but isn’t that the case with most places people visit?

My first trip to Moscow was in the late 80s, when I was a teenager.

How does an American teenager end up in Moscow? Well, in my case, I went as a peace ambassador performing in a play. I also traveled to Saint Petersburg and many other cities in Russia, as well as the former Soviet territories Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. I have great memories from that time, including my KGB minders, but that’s a story for another time. I look back on that period with romanticized notions of the former Soviet Union through the eyes of a 17-year-old. So, I was looking forward to seeing if twenty-plus years later anything seemed familiar. Aside from Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, the outside of GUM department store and the metro – the answer is no. However, this trip was equally as fascinating and exciting, partially because of the professionals my group met with, the current political climate, the sights and also the welcoming locals.

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Moscow is a gorgeous, expensive, cosmopolitan city –- it is also full of tradition and Soviet era reminders.

Subway art

Russian street art
I noticed that a lot of twenty-something’s seemed to be wearing western style clothing, and were on their iPhones and iPads as one would find anywhere else in the world. There were also women closer to my age and babushkas in traditional Russian dresses – it was a very eclectic mix.

One night, I went with a few of my colleagues and several western journalists based in Moscow to a private club/restaurant that was fantastic. People were eating, drinking and dancing. It wasn’t what I’d call a young crowd – it was more of a seasoned group of individuals from various parts of business world relaxing with ex-pats and international journalists. It was very different from most of my nights out and great fun.

The architecture of the city is a blend of historic, colorful (including gold), onion domed churches; massive, white, stately buildings; and what I refer to as 70s era depression buildings. The 70s building are not exclusive to Russia. These bland, brown brick buildings are strewn across Eastern Europe (most likely Russian built) and are also all over New York. Personally, I love the gold and colorful domed buildings – to me they look like pieces of art. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?
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The department store GUM is old and gorgeous. The glass ceiling gives it a solarium feel and reminds me of Victorian era malls. I could be wrong, but I vaguely remember it had more of an actual department store layout on my first visit but today it is full of high-end independent shops and restaurants. It is also in the center of Red Square near other restaurants and shops, the Kremlin, St. Basil’s and Lenin’s tomb – which is a must see. It’s very dark when you first walk in to the tomb and they are serious about security. I did find it a little creepy that Lenin is completely preserved – still worth seeing though.

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The Metro is pretty amazing because the style of each station is very different depending on when it was built but most have marble, paintings and statues. It is always clean but watch out for the subway car doors, they hurt when they close on you…

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Once you figure out the alphabet – or match the signs, it is very easy to navigate. The lines are color coordinated and transferring is easy. For smart phone users, there are a few metro apps, which are worth loading on your phone as well as using Google maps for getting from the subway to anywhere, because signs are in Russian only and most people do not speak English. So — asking for help will not get you very far. The metro is also extremely fast. Moscow does have a traffic problem, even at 3:00 am. If you can avoid driving or taking taxis, it will make for a happier experience.

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I realize that Russia might not be a top destination for many travelers at the moment because of current political issues but the people I interacted with were friendly. They were also patient with my attempts at speaking the language, shopping and ordering food. Those who could speak English were typically confused at how I got into the country (I had a proper VISA) and why an American would want to visit because all Americans hate Russians, right? NO — they do not. At least not this girl. I may object to decisions made by a government but I have always been fascinated by people from around the globe. I enjoy learning about what makes people similar and dissimilar. That’s probably why I travel as much as possible.

 

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