10 THINGS THAT PLEASANTLY SURPRISED ME ABOUT MOSCOW & SAINT PETERSBURG
Every new country or city I visit, I have this habit to observe the lifestyle of local people. I see what aspects I really like and how our country could benefit from those if we adopted them. Let me tell you, Russia was definitely not the country I thought I’d want to “steal” ideas from to better our lives before our visit. So many misconceptions, stereotypes and simply assumptions that Russia is still 10 years behind when it comes to modernity. Before I go on any further, allow me to disclaim that I have NOT been round the entire Russia to make my comparisons and conclusions during this trip. We’ve spent most of our time in Moscow and visited Saint Petersburg for a couple of days. My observations are based on my experiences in those 2 cities only as a Russian speaking visitor. I thought it was important to make this clear. Many Russians and expats will confirm that Moscow and Saint Petersburg (mainly Moscow), are looked after as though the rest of the country didn’t exist. But that’s a whole different topic and I only wanted to share 10 good things I really enjoyed as a tourist. So here goes…
As soon as we landed in Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow it didn’t feel like Russia. Last time I was in Russia was 20 years ago and we went straight to the middle of Russia where my relatives live. An old little town and a village with literally 2 streets and lots of farm animals. As you can imagine, my expectations were a tad different to all the shiny, grande, perfectly sign-posted and very metropolitan surroundings.
I grew up in Estonia, which was part of Soviet Union until the break-up and was a tad shocked how untidy the streets were in UK when we moved here. Moscow was a whole new level of cleanliness. I’ve asked my parents and Russia’s always been “tidy”, but nonetheless, it was rather pleasant to see that council do their work. Autumn leaves get brushed up and collected absolutely everywhere. Even in poorer areas. Buildings get washed and repaired so there’s no mouldy green residue on the bases. Something I wish Glasgow did more of – the green mould caused by so much rain can be unattractive for us bloggers as backdrops (ha!).
My favourite thing though is that council workers work all night to clear the roads for cities to function when it’s snowing. Early in the mornings you’ll find trucks spraying roads and pavements with water so that there’s no dust. I mean…
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about our safety before the trip. So many horror stories about pocket pickers, dodgy police, taxi drivers and crime. We obviously stuck to public places and didn’t go into residential areas apart from where we were staying, but I promise, all my fears were put at ease. People hung their coats on coat hangers in cafes, didn’t seem to skeptical on metro… There was security and luggage scanners at every metro station’s entrance and all in all this sense of order and peace was coming through everywhere we went. Airports at both Moscow and Saint Petersburg had 2 security gates, so that even non-flyers get searched entering the terminal safely.
We mainly used METRO and Yandex taxis (similar to uber) occasionally, so cannot comment on bus, trolleybus and other transport services. Metro and the whole Moscow in particular underground system blew my mind. First of all, each metro station is like a historical museum with ceilings so high and monuments in almost each one. Secondly, again so clean and well lit with lighting to complement each theme / style, you think you’re visiting a gallery. And finally, the service in every direction runs every 2 minutes people. Every. Two. Minutes. Don’t get me wrong, some salons were still packed with people, but sometimes it was just simpler to wait for the next one. All stops were announced in Russian and English.
5. MEDICAL ATTENTION
Don’t worry, we’re all good and healthy, but we did have to visit a clinic a couple of times for my other half who’s absolutely fine. All your medical expenses get covered by a medical insurance that you have to purchase when organising your visa. The clinic we visited operated on a walk-in basis, even though I did call in advance to double-check all the insurance info as well as get an appointment. You HAVE to take off your outerwear and wear slip on protectors on your shoes as you walk past the cloakroom. No exceptions, even though we did get told off as we weren’t aware the first time. Isn’t it wonderful? Minimising all sorts of bugs we could bring in from outside? Since there are no assigned appointments and doctors, all patients get seen as soon as they walk in and treated by the equally trained medical personnel instantly. Wow.
Many of us know that a “Russian Death Stare” can probably kill some people. Or at least a small part of them will die. Jokes aside, but Russians are known for not being that friendly and although we have encountered a few bored and frustrated shop assistants in a supermarket, I must admit everyone else was super nice. The service in cafes, restaurants and shopping centres was top notch and people very helpful in general when you ask them for directions etc. Don’t get your hopes up though, they’ll still try and skip the queue by jumping in in front of you and nobody will hold the door for you. Not even men. Though I was given a seat in the metro a few times by an older man and a lovely woman as they didn’t want a pregnant girl standing. I guess it just depends on the individual people doesn’t it?
7. WARMTH FOR ALL
Now this one I know you will love. Especially my Scottish friends. On the 5th of October or round about then, the Government turns on the heating in all residential flats and buildings so there’s warmth for ALL equally all winter. How amazing is that? Of course there’s a fee that’s added to the bill I’m sure, but isn’t it wonderful how every household is heated the same way regardless of the income, status, area and the type of house you live in? I’d love that in UK. It can get too warm inside as all the cafes and shops are as equally as roasting, but I’d much rather take off a few layers of clothing or open the window at home if I lived there.
I’m so glad we decided to go to Russia in October. Just look at the colours and golden Autumn leaves everywhere… The architecture is out of this world in both Moscow and Saint Petersburg with so much history, Tsar luxury and gold. The roads are so wide and archways so grande – it’s like they built the cities for giants. If you go further into Russia outside of Moscow, you’ll notice smaller wooden houses that folk still live in. All hand-crafted and as equally as beautiful. Saint Petersburg won it for me in terms of scenery, parks and museum whereas Moscow is a tad more modernised rebuilt with a “big spender” in mind.
Since we got back I’ve had about 20 people saying to me how much they would love to visit Russia one day. To this day people think as though Russia is this big far away land where it snows all year-round and nobody’s allowed or can get there. Well, the border / passport control might try to make you feel that way, but Russia is actually so much easier and cheaper to get to than we think. It’s approximately £200 per person (return!) for a flight from London to Moscow on Aeroflot. Aeroflot is one of the best airlines I’ve flown with by the way and the journey time is only 3.5 hours. Visa prep might take a bit of time and nerves, but I’m thinking of creating some kind of step-by-step guide for people as it’s really straight-forward once you know the process. Trains run from Moscow airports and taxis are pretty cheap too, so definitely worth considering in the future if you’ve always wanted to visit.
Of course I wouldn’t leave this without talking about fashion. How many times have you looked at someone with a slight 80s look, lots of fur and dead serious at the same time and thought to yourself – “Yep, Eastern European”. Not in Moscow my friends. Designer brands worn by everyone, shopping centres filled with latest collections from the world’s biggest designers and once again, all accessible. By everyone. They don’t seem to care who buys Louis Vuitton and whether these poor girls saved all of their wages for 5 months on that purchase or not. As long as the brand is seen and is recognisable. One of the good things about this sort of approach to fashion is that it’s less “fast fashion” that it is in UK. You’ll still find your H&M, Zara and Mango, but Russians prefer to invest in expensive, good quality designer brands instead. I expected to see a lot of tacky colours, neon nails and ridicilous high heels, but I was so surprised of the opposite. Moscow street style reminded me a bit of Paris, whereas Saint Petersburg did have that Russian mood throughout. Probably because there’s less money, but that’s a whole other topic altogether.
So there you have it, my 10 surprising positive things about Russia. Have any of those surprised you? Have you been? Do let me know in the comments below 🙂
From Russia with Love,