The Mole Diaries: Moscow (Volume 2)
So you want to go to Moscow, eh?
Then best prepare yourself, comrade.
I decided to go to Moscow for the entirety of my year abroad, and I’ve absolutely loved it. I chose Russia’s capital because I saw it as the place where all the cool stuff would be going on, and I just wanted a piece of the action. So I threw caution to the wind, packed my 20kg’s worth of luggage and set off for the Motherland.
And I’ve ended up doing some really interesting stuff as well as meeting some great people along the way - and you can read about my adventures on Kit's year abroad blog.
So now, the time has come for me to pass on my words of wisdom.
Let’s start at the very beginning...
What should you take with you?
Well, I would recommend the following essential items (in no particular order):
1. Passport and other documentation
You’ll need a visa to go to Russia, which entails a loooooooooong process, so best to check with your local consulate/embassy to make sure that you’ve got everything you’ll need. Also, in Russia you use your passport as your main type of ID, so have it handy if you’re buying alcohol (and have a ‘babyface’ lol).
Things like your laptop and mobile phone. I’d suggest buying a SIM card (and/or handset) in Moscow when you get there – most people in Russia use pay-as-you-go, and you can find top-up terminals near metro stations, in shopping centres, supermarkets etc.
Russian plugs are different.
4. Winter gear
It gets seriously cold in winter, so make sure you invest in a warm winter coat, preferably made out of real fur (you can purchase these in Moscow) and some warm leggings, socks, decent boots and so forth.
5. English-language books you need for studying
I found that a Kindle or similar device is a good investment, as you don’t have to use up precious suitcase weight/space with books.
Getting to Moscow
EasyJet London Gatwick to Moscow Domodedovo is a good option, as their rates are pretty cheap and it’s direct. Then you need to take the Aeroexpress train to Paveletskaya railway station which gets you to the centre, where you can hop on to the Metro - the Moscow underground - for the rest of your journey.
The Metro is the most convenient mode of transport, and as a plus many of the Metro stations are beautifully designed and worth taking a look at. Tickets are 40 rubles for one ride (£1 = 60 rubles), but it is worth investing in a pass, a ‘Troika card’, which would be 2200 rubles for 30 days unlimited rides, woohoo! You can also use the Troika on buses, trams and trolleybuses. Note that the metro is closed between 1am and 6am, so be prepared to walk or taxi if you’re going to party the night away.
Many Russians simply hail cars, known as ‘tachkas’, and while this is generally fine if you are in a group, it is safer to call a taxi company if you’re on your own.
Working in Moscow
Native English speakers are very much in demand in Moscow. This is why you can get yourself a good gig either tutoring privately or for a company, who often also help you organise your visa and invitation. Most of the time you’ll be paid in cash, and the going rate is min. 2000 rubles per 90 mins (1 academic hour = 45 mins).
A useful website for finding jobs or posting an ad (great if you want to find private pupils) is expat.ru. They also have a section on accommodation if you’re looking to rent an apartment.
If you want to work legally in Moscow, you will need work permits/visas, which can be a pain for a company to organise. However, if you write to companies in your field of interest, often they can offer you an unpaid internship, which will give you some invaluable experience as well as exposure to the language. If you don’t try, you don’t get!
Places in Moscow
A really great resource for finding places in Moscow is the website yell.ru, and its English version, an online directory of companies in Russia where users can post reviews. There are also regular articles on the site about what’s on and cool places to visit (including places where English is spoken).
But here are some of my favourite sights in Moscow, including some touristy staples:
1. Christ the Saviour Cathedral
A breathtaking marvel of Byzantine-esque design, this cathedral opposite Kropotkinskaya metro station is a must for anyone visiting the city. Plus as it’s located on the banks of the Moskva river, you can have a lovely stroll across all the bridges.
2. ‘Bridge of Kisses’
Simply a lovely detail of the city, this is a bridge over the Moskva River on which metal ‘trees’ have been planted so that newlyweds - for whom it’s a tradition to kiss on the bridge - can hang a love lock on their branches. And they kinda remind me of the rose trees in Alice in Wonderland for some reason.
3. Red Square
Everyone should visit Red Square, home to the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral, because it’s both historically important and architecturally awesome. I can’t really say much else, except that in the winter, they set up a skating rink and market there, which is cool.
4. Moscow State University
This formidable structure houses the top university in all of Russia, and the main building is one of Stalin’s Seven Sister skyscrapers. It’s also close to the Vorobyovy Gory (Sparrow Hills), from where you can enjoy the fantastic panoramic view of the city.
5. Gorky Park
Just a short walk from either Oktyabryskaya or Park Kultury metro stations, this is the most famous park in Moscow. In the summer, you can hire a bicycle and you’ll see people rollerblading, riding on scooters or just chilling out, while in the winter there’s a giant ice rink where they cover the paths with ice so you can skate around the whole place.
This is a huge space which houses many different pavilions, each dedicated to one of the former Soviet states. The architecture is beautiful, with my favourite features being the Stone Flower Fountain and the massive ‘Worker and Kovkhoz Woman’ sculpture. There are lots of shops, stalls and fun activities in the pavilions and on the street, plus the place often has concerts and festivals going on.
Moscow is great, but I’d also recommend going to visit other cities in Russia if you have the chance!
There are loads of cafes and restaurants in the city, serving all kinds of cuisine, and here is a selection of the places I particularly enjoy.
A very chilled-out bar with nice, low lighting where the food is great (especially the salads) and won’t sting your wallet. The cocktails here are also recommended (hic!).
2. Baba Marta
There are some fantastic Eastern European restaurants in Moscow, Baba Marta - a Bulgarian restaurant - being one of them. Come here if you want to try something different, but very tasty!
If you fancy splashing a bit of cash, then come to Syr (literally ‘Cheese’). The interior is yellow, a bit like the cheese moon in ‘Wallace and Gromit’. The food is absolutely amazing, especially the Italian dishes, with high-quality ingredients, top service and menus also available in English.
Georgian food is delicious, and if you want to try some good cuisine, then this chain of restaurants is the place for you. I’d recommend their range of teas and also the ‘khinkali’, which are Georgian dumplings (similar to Russian ‘pelmeni’).
A nice café where you pay for how long you’re there. Tea, coffee, hot chocolate and biscuits are free, yay! A good place to go if you’ve got some work to do and don’t fancy staying at home, as here the interior is very cosy, and they also have free wifi.
One thing to note about the club and bar scene in Moscow is that places which seem to be bars are called ‘cafes’, while in clubs you can also buy food (some people very happily tuck into their meals while everyone else is dancing around them). Here are my personal recommendations if you want to get pissed.
1. Café Didu
A pretty hip place in the centre, the cool thing about this bar is that all the walls are covered in little plasticine figures, so while enjoying your meal or beverage, you can make your very own creation from the plasticine provided at the table (great if you’re on an awkward date!).
A chain of French bar/cafes, the atmosphere is always really great here. There is a good range of drinks at reasonable prices, plus the food is rather yum.
3. John Bull
If you’re missing home, then come to this ‘English pub’ for a pint of happiness. Very authentic interior, though the prices will bring a tear to your eyes.
Cheap, cheap, cheap Soviet-style ‘café’ in the centre of the city. Brings back a sense of nostalgia.
Cool bar/club with funky industrial-style interior. Book a table here for an evening of good drink (they serve cider, a rarity in the city) and enjoy listening to the live bands.
I love going to the cinema, and watching movies in Russian on the big screen is great language practice. However, if you want to watch a movie in the original language, then you can do so at Pioner Cinema, 35mm and Pyat Zved on Novokuznetskaya.
To finish off
Moscow is not as scary as you may think it is. Yes, it’s big and yes, there’s a lot of traffic, but it’s a really great city. Life there just never stops, it keeps on going, and before you know it, you’ll be swept away with it all. Enjoy it, and go with the flow ☺