I must admit ... I was slightly nervous about visiting Russia - I didn't know what to expect. Its off the tourist track and whenever I would explain to someone I was going they would give me this ... odd head tilted slightly to the side "are you serious?" look.
No jet lag thank goodness, we slept, we woke, we ate and we were suddenly in the right timezone ... but I digress. First thing in the morning ... 9.30am, we met our guide, Olga. Throughout the day we actually got to know her and let me start by telling you a few things.
- She is a horrible walker, she stops randomly in big crowds causing everyone behind us to crash into us a give us dirty looks.
- She tends to take the most odd routes to get to places, once she walked us through a muddy field when there was a footpath slightly to our right.
- She is extremely knowledgeable but I think she struggles slightly with being able to filter and pass information on to us in nice easy bites.
Saying all this Moscow seems to be quite a difficult city to negotiate on our own. There is very little English spoken and even just trying to figure out if a particular building is a restaurant or not is slightly challenging.
Now onto the fun stuff .... my first thoughts. The soul of Moscow appears to be a commercial centre, a business city trying to disguise itself as a tourist destination. Its highly religious, extremely moderate in its personal habits and slightly behind in regards to technology and infrastructure.
Tourist appears to be focused on the Muscovite instead of the foreign tourist. There are no tourist information centres (and if there are, we have not found one yet) and there is a definite soviet slant towards the grandness of Russia in everything we see.
This is all coming across sounding quite negative ... which it really isn't, its a fascinating place where instead of people describing others as we would .... "he is a great guy with a really fantastic sense of humour" our guide described people as "a man of noble character" or "a man of moderate habits". You must bare in mind that Russia only left Communism in the early 90's. Also, it appears they are proud of their Communist ties, there is no real resentment towards a government that stole our guides grandfather, whom they have never seen again. In early 2000 anything foreign became popular. Sushi was a major new fast food fad and department stores like Zara were a hit. However from what we have been told there seems to be a movement back to traditional Russian food / clothing / values.
As I said this is all extremely fascinating, to us it seems like they have been brainwashed. A perfect example of this is the propaganda campaigns during Lenin's time. There is this fabulous museum called the Gulag museum where it showed how they modified photo's to suit there needs, if a person in the photo was later deemed to be an "enemy of the state" they are simply removed from the photo. If an oration by Lenin did not have enough people in the crowd they would simple modify the photo to add more.
All this seemed to concern our guide slightly, she seemed confused because they are taught that Lenin was a good man but in her words "how much of his life history is just made up or modified to suit the Communist needs"
So obviously our first thoughts on day one. No doubt these will change as we learn more but I think it truly is a fascinating place full of beautiful architecture, interesting people and ideas totally foreign to us. Is it worth visiting ... Yes, however here are two tips for those of you contemplating visiting Moscow.
- Change your money before you go to either US Dollars or Euro's. It is extremely difficult to find a currency exchange willing to take Australian Dollars.
- Hire a guide, this will give you a change to explore and appreciate the city without having to struggle with all the small things.