Europe / Russia

Moscow. #OnlyInRussia

M stands for a big metropolis, the heart of soviet empire after a solid heart attack and one of the most expensive cities in the world. Gorad – Enemy. Sad faces in the subway. The rudest European capital (*according to a very unfair reader’s digests’ ranking!). Ridiculous reality that shocks. The Cradle of Weirdness and the center of Russian Extreme. M stands for MOSCOW. Can you befriend the capital of Russia?

I’m going to Russia! When I proudly announced at work my next travel destination I was quite surprised that my colleagues weren’t interested at all in the homeland of Pushkin and Dostoyevsky. In fact, they didn’t even know who they are. Not to mention the current president of Russia who’s picture hangs above my desk (as a joke of course – sorry Volodia!). Really? Russia? But why? There are more interesting places to visit than Russia – they said. Oh dear…

So you already know I was studying Russian language in St Petersburg – the most amazing city EVER! After a month there, I headed to Moscow by trian. The in-famous fast and modern SAPSAN. Russian falcon, despite of making the journey between 2 big cities fast and convenient it also happened to turn the life of locals, commuting each day to one of them, into a real nightmare. SAPSAN is the pride of Russian government so all the other suburban trains, using the same track had to be cancelled. What does it mean? If you live outside of Moscow or Peter you are really screwed as your commuting will be longer even by an hour! As you can imagine the crowd got really pissed off and they were trying to destroy some of the SAPSANS trains by throwing stones in them but all of it in vain. I haven’t heard about any case in which a single man won against the decision coming from “the top” in Russia. The voices of SAPSAN opponents vanished in the air and after 4h and 650 km I could jump out of the train in the heart of Moscow.

Leningradsky Vaksal in Moscow with its surroundings is impressive. I’m not an exception, Moscow, when you first come here, overwhelms. Everything is BIG. On a cloudy and a rather somber day the evil eye of the red star on one of the famous “vysotka” (skyscrapers build in 40ties and 50ties by Stalin) seems to follow my every single step. Now the only missing thing is to hear Red Army troops marching in the middle of the city and singing “Kalinka”. Hello Moscow!

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Moscow – Old Arbat – one of the most touristic places in the capital. The Tsoi Wall is a graffiti-covered wall in Moscow, dedicated to musician Viktor Tsoi and his band Kino (extremely popular in the 80-ties). It is customary for Tsoi’s fans to leave a broken lighted cigarette in the special ash plate by the wall.
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Moscow is one of the biggest European cities – it has approx. 15 mln inhabitants but for me it still feels less tiring than London.
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It’s summer in Russia and Moscow’s squares and big streets are beautifully decorated with flowers.
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Children playing on the map of Kremlin. 

Moscow’s residential districts of big blocks of flats are very similar to the ones I know from Poland. In one of those concrete prisons lives Misha. My couchsurfing host. Just a couple of hours spent with him and I realise how little did I know about how crazy the Russians are. Not that I complain (I LOVE IT!), but you know the OnlyInRussia hashtag wasn’t invented without a reason. 🙂

Fact sheet. In Russia men are sort of a scarce good. Statistic Russian lives 59 years and throughout all his life he is faithful to one woman and her name is VODKA (well technically it does changed a bit, now it seems that the whisky takes over!). It’s rather obvious that a non-statistic masculine object doesn’t have to put much effort to find himself a “nanny” who will take care of him like he was a national treasure. Scarce good must have been taken good care of! So to my single male friends – go to Russia! A word of advice though, before you go – my Italian friend from St Petersburg although indeed was very successful in that field, many times had to run away like hell from yet another beautiful descendant of Catherine’s The Great. There is one downside to Russian women, although extremely pretty, they all want to get married as soon as possible! 🙂

Going back to Misha, he was a very handsome man and it means double scarce good in Russia. As would my Russian girlfriends say – with such man хоть куда! So I went. And I almost ended up in the prison.

Moscow – Welcome to the Theater of Nonsense.

Act 1 – how I became a foreign service secret agent (yes, a SPY)!

We should get a Olympic Gold Medal for getting to the rooftop of Russian State University, but let’s agree that the panoramic view from the top was a good enough reward. One high jump over a fence and then a risky slalom among sleeping guards. It is obviously no mean feat. I wonder why the security of the building didn’t feel the same about it 🙂 Although I don’t recall taking any performance enhancing drugs and blood doping like the Russian athletes, we were automatically disqualified from the game forced to go down and escorted to a small room for a not-so-nice audience with the Начальник (chief of guards). On the way, we manage to agree on the plot – due to a complicated and rather tense situation between Poland and Russia I will pretend to be an English lady. All right. Neee gavarju pa ruskayyy. I sit quietly hypnotized by a goldfish and letting Misha do the job. It starts really funny. Misha tries to joke and beg the guy to let us free. In vain.

What’s worse we are now being sent to the POLICE station and accused of taking pictures of the location of strategic buildings for a foreign secret services or even terrorist. Like country, like spies. Although it sounds ridiculous, everyone who read a bit about Russia knows that you can go to prison for literally everything and this time it seems they have a serious reason (not that they needed one)! Russian criminal justice system has in the past eliminated many innocent people.

Damn it! – I think. I’m here on business visa – what if my company has to get me out of Moscow prison?Something went really bad here.

At the police station Misha is still trying to negotiate our release and I keep on playing I don’t understand a word and I forgot my passport even though it almost burns my skins through the pocket of my trousers. One of the policemen scans Misha’s backpack and finds there some weird looking pills. Drugs are illegal in Russia. THIS MEANS SERIOUS TROUBLE NOW. We will be sent to gulag. Misha disappears for a moment and shortly after we are free. Somehow (you can imagine how) we managed to leave and knowing that in this country everything is possible I thank God that this is just another wild story to tell in a pub.

Act 2 – Uncle Stalin still alive!

In Russia people say that the strictness of the law is soften by its flexibility. 🙂 To understand what I mean check out those 2 American tourists taking a picture with Stalin’s doppelganger (you can find at least 3 of them on the Old Arbat). A friendly hug with Joseph doesn’t come for free though, you have to pay around 500 RUB for it.

So the American guy gives Stalin 1000 RUB hoping to get his change back. In Vain. Soso (one of Stalin’s nick names) takes the money and is already on the hunt to find a new victim… The tourist seems to be really offended trying to get some help from the local policeman, but he doesn’t understand what is this all about. Yes, he took your money, but you are still lucky. It’s Stalin – he could kill you 😉 

But Mr. USA doesn’t give up – I bet he is used to be treated seriously in his country where the human rights are widely respected, but it’s Russia so my only advice is to numb yourself a little bit. Vodka Putinovka seems to do the job. The couple leaves but soon they encounter another pair of policemen (we were not following them it all happened on the same street!) and the man starts yelling again “please do something, you are here to protect us!”. Surprisingly it works and the policemen go after Stalin. What a surprise is to see that the crowd is soon joined by another Stalin. And another one! Unfortunately the entertaining show is over when they decide to take the origin Stalin (I swear he doesn’t give a shit about the whole situation – he is amazing!) to the police station. All the actors quit the stage followed by the fellowship of Stalins. 🙂 How does the story end? I don’t know. Please do not to send the replies on postcards. The whole situation was ridiculous enough. We don’t want Russian post to meddle here. I believe they have enough work with dealing with all the undelivered parcels. 🙂

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Joseph S. still in shape 🙂
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The fellowship of Stalins 🙂

Happily ever after on Baumanskaya!

My life would definitely suck if I didn’t meet Nikita Sergeyeevich. It could happened because I am a coward at times. I was a coward before coming to Moscow. Nikita offered to host me but he didn’t have any references or info in his couchsurfing profile and Moscow is a wild, wild city… but yet again I trusted my gut feeling and yet again I can say I’m SO GLAD I DID because Nikita turned out to be one of the best and definitely the craziest man I met in Russia! Who doesn’t risk, doesn’t drink champagne – Russians say! People like Nikita or Misha create THE WILDEST TALES – my role is just to write down all the stories.

Nikita is awesome. This guy is a legend! If you have the Slavic soul, you will love him. Otherwise you would think he is insane, coz who has the balls to send a basket of chocolate penises (SLADKI TVOI – great gift ideas!) as a farewell gift to their boss? The trick is to look beyond that. A short bio note to present you our hero. When our 16yr old Uzbek came to Russia from Tashkent in November, wearing only a t-shirt, Moscow was covered with snow. He was a bit surprised, but he stayed. Today he is still fighting with depression caused by that awful Russian weather coz summers in Moscow, even though hot, they tend to be rather short.

At the beginning of September it was already fairly cold but as a part of my perfect symbiosis (this is how I call my stay at Nikita’s house) I got my own set of keys, I was eating their food (not that they had a lot but I remember Nikita cooking his famous shiranese at 1am in the morning!) and even wearing Nikita’s clothes. Baumanskaya was much more that couchsurfing to me. I found my home there. I was to stay there for 2 days but I ended up settling down for 8 🙂 with lots of laughter and sleepless night with endless things to discuss.

I was interested in how young people feel about the president and in general the politics of Russia nowadays. Nikita was the only one to be absolutely honest with me. He is not a fan of Putin and considers the current situation rather hopeless. I decided to mention it on my blog coz he was in minority. Over 60% of Russians think there is no alternative to Putin and the country need a “strong hand” to rule it. Nikita doesn’t believe it and it got him into trouble many times in the past – and even got his jaw broken!

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St Basil’s Cathedral. Stories and myths abound of Ivan’s raging temper, one of which involves him purposefully blinding the cathedral’s (unnamed) Italian architect so that its design could never be replicated. Other legends state that the architects were a pair of Russians named Barma and Posnik, or that they may have been one person.
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Moscow’s traffic – we managed to escape from it on Misha’s scooter.
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Nu, pogodi! – Classic Soviet cartoon and sweet taste of my childhood in communist Poland.
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Politics seems to be a difficult subject to discuss in Russia – here the memorial of Boris Nemtsov, a politician assasinated in February 2015.
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Little colorful orthodox church in front of the gate leading to the Red Square. Church in Russia is really powerful. 

Even though Nikita is a chain smoker (and I hate smoking), swears like a sailor and doesn’t conduct himself very well I know that he is an intelligent guy with a lot to say (or write – poems for example 🙂 ).  Him and his flatmates were so sweet to me even though I barely know them. My Muscovites started using couchsurfing to meet people from outside Russia and practise English, but honestly I don’t think that Nikita needs to practise it at all. Especially when he attacks you randomly with – REALLLYYY? WHAAAAT?? I do believe he learnt Shakespeare’s language from some gangstas from the outskirt of Detroit 🙂 . However if you haven’t experience it at firsthand, you won’t quite get what I mean. Just like you won’t get the Russian way of having FUN if you don’t go to one of the  TEQUILA BOOM clubs. It those establishments apart from a shot of tequila you can get a solid “bonk” in your head with a baseball club or a fire extinguisher. No worries. Health and safety rules are widely respected – you’ll get a plastic helmet before you start your “Russian style night out”. And if you get knocked-out you should still be happy as it’s way better than ending up spending a little fortune at CRAIZY DAISY paying for bottles of champagne you have never seen. Moscows krasavitse have no mercy for losers!

But what about Moscow you will ask. What can we see them? Where can we go? I would strongly recommend to give up “sightseeing” the city. You can’t just DO Moscow. It’s too big and to varied. The beauty of Moscow is raw and not obvious. It’s not as intense as in St Petersburg.

Moscow is beautiful through its hidden paths, places, history and first and foremost people. Even if they seem to be sad or impolite at first they have enormous hearts especially for foreigners. They will want to know how is life in your country and they will treat you like a king if you are lucky to be their guest (and find the right people!).

Moscow is beautiful by its parks (make sure to go wild and dance salsa in Gorky Park!! This place is AMAZING!!), grave yards, old tenement houses consequently being destroyed to make space for new skyscrapers. My Moscow and the whole Russia is fascinating through its absurdities. I can’t not to love this country, even though I have to admit that after learning about its political history, there is a bit less of that love in my heart. Russia is a country for people with creative attitude to life, whatever it means. 🙂 Those who are not able to appreciate it should stay away, as “what’s good to the Russian, means death to the German”. That state of mind is being reserved only for the toughest players. 

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State Historical Museum in Moscow with a monument of Russian Marshal Zhukov. This so called “national hero” lost in the war around 27 mln soldiers!
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Russians love reading books and theaters . This picture was taken by me nearby Aleksandrovsky Park.
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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a war memorial, dedicated to the Soviet soldiers killed during World War II. It is located at the Kremlin Wall.
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Lenin’s Mausoleum was the holy shrine of the Lenin cult during the Soviet era. Stalin, and other Soviet leaders have a tomb behind the mausoleum, other important Soviets were buried in the Kremlin wall. Visiting the mausoleum and Kremlin wall necropolis is still a special occasion today, even though many of the buried people are controversial to say the least.
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Several magnificently preserved historic cathedrals and churches stand within the Kremlin walls. Constructed at different times, by master craftsmen of the age, under varying historical circumstances, these magnificent churches have background stories which are at least as interesting as the monuments themselves. Each of these churches played a vital role in the history of the Orthodox Church, and of the Russian state itself.
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Russian police – always there to help you 🙂
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The Fountains in Moscow once provided drinking water to Muscovites, and now decorate many of the city’s squares and parks.
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Moscow’s streets in summer.
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The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics – all you want to know about Layka, Belka, Strelka and Gagarin in one place. I strongly recommend visiting!
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Eighty years ago Moscow saw the birth of the VDNKh project, the most grandiose exhibition park in the Soviet Union and a showcase of the country’s economic achievements. Today VDNKh – is one of my faveorite green spots in Moscow with the beautiful Friendship of Nations’ fountain.
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The former glory of the site — with its eclectic mix of monumental Stalinist architecture and full range of historical styles from Gothic to Art Nouveau — still wows visitors to this day. In the pavillions you can buy goods from all the former Soviet republics but be aware – it’s a quite expensive place!

 

Moscow
Moscow is one of my faveourite cities mostly because I have amazing memories from my stay there. Visiting Russia in winter is now officially added to my bucket list!