Previet from Moscow

A bittersweet first dose of Russia

As I type this update somewhere on a train in the Siberian wilderness, I’m mulling over an experience in Moscow filled with highs and lows.

The Russian capital was the first stop on my journey for 4 days. Founded in the 13th century, the city today has a metropolitan population of around 15 million making it one of the largest in the world. The iconic St. Basil’s cathedral commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century looms over Red Square and the Kremlin; the presidential headquarters situated in the city centre. Much of Moscow’s appearance and culture has been shaped by the communist rule by Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin that lasted from 1922 until the USSR collapse in 1991.

Moscow greeted me with some bizarre weather. There was a thick smog over the city with high temperatures and no breeze leaving me drenched just standing up. I also quickly realised that English isn’t widely spoken and my handful of Russian vocabulary wasn’t going to cut it. I had some homework to do in the evenings!

Disaster averted

My trip was close to being over before it truly began.

Shortly after exiting the Metro and walking en-route to my hostel, a local man lunged from behind me out of an underpass in an attempt to rip the daypack off my main backpack. After hearing an unzipping sound I flung around, exchanged a few words with and saw him off. I had been lucky. The backpack was stuffed so full he couldn’t unzip the last quarter without drawing my attention.

Nonetheless I had come within centimetres of losing my passport, electronics and train tickets. From this point onwards, I had instinctive suspicion of everyone. I emptied my pockets and reverted to using a money belt, putting aside my dislike of its aesthetics. My daypack was emptied of valuables, secured with a padlock and permanently fastened around my chest. I figured the inconvenience would be only a small compromise compared to the hassle of replacing all of my belongings.


The car is king in Moscow.The city’s road layout is formed around a set of ring roads with the main arteries rooted from Red Square. Roads can be up to 12 lanes wide and require pedestrian crossing via underpass, which does hinder walkability. With some perseverance, it’s possible to stumble across some beautiful pedestrianised shopping streets lined with flower beds and market stalls.

Entrance to Gorky Park

Entrance to Gorky Park

Moscow is one of the greenest cities in the world. Gorky Park is the largest open space, drawing parallels with Central Park with it’s various walking trails, fountains and lakes. Beside the park is a pier to board a cruise along the Moskova river. My memory of this trip is our encounter with the most horrendously violent thunderstorm and monsoon I can recall, with the captain was screaming at me to stop taking pictures and take refuge inside.

Stalin’s relics

Red Square is the site of a historic market and now a large open space at the foot of the Kremlin and St. Basil’s cathedral. There’s not much happening on the square itself but it’s the gateway to other attractions. The most famous of course being the iconic Kremlin fortress, with its commanding red-bricked facade. The presidential palace is off limits but the cathedrals are easily accessible for admiring the intricate artwork within. Moscow Free Tours give a complementary two hour tour of the key tourist sites, which is well worth it.

St. Basil's Cathedral

St. Basil’s Cathedral

The Moscow Metro might just eclipse London as the best network I’ve come across. Along with various skyscrapers, many of the beautifully crafted stations were built on orders by Stalin in the 1950s to build a perception of grandeur amongst Muscovites. They’re akin to cathedrals with their gorgeous mosaics, sculptures and marble furnishings. There’s no compromise on service; the trains run like clockwork every two minutes. It’s also incredibly cheap at 50 rubles (60p) per journey to and from any station on the network. Navigating the Metro is easy too. I found it intriguing that the announcer’s voice on each train or platform is either male when going into the city (calling the passenger to work) or female when leaving (calling the passenger home for dinner).


Moscow Metro Station


Here’s something you don’t forget in a hurry. An overweight and nude Russian guy beating you with some birch branches in a sauna for 20 minutes.

The cool-off pool at Sanduny

The cool-off pool at Sanduny

It’s called Banya, and it’s a traditional massage therapy in Russian culture to help improve circulation, detox and cleanse skin. The idea is to alternate between hot and cold environments and lash yourself (or get lashed by someone willing) all over with branches. It’s tough to endure for more than a few minutes as it encourages perspiration, so I left feeling dehydrated but refreshed prior to my Trans-Siberian voyage. I visited Sanduny. It’s a little pricey but located in an authentic environment which made it all the more memorable. Banya is a quintessentially Russian experience which I’d recommend to anybody.

Local company

Ironically my perception of the typical Russian personality is opposite to the one I pictured of Americans earlier in the year. Russians don’t wear emotion on their faces, so it can be relatively difficult to gauge whether one is happy, upset, or angry. Russians also are economical with words, not buttering up facts and opinions. Once overcoming the hurdle of getting a conversation going, they would tend to be quite pleasant and humorous to chat with. Having said that, a successful attempt to make a sober Russian laugh (as opposed to a wry smile) is a skill worthy of adding to a CV.

Unfortunately I did suffer from some racially discriminatory remarks and behaviour in Moscow. I won’t go into the details, but it’s fair to say I wasn’t anticipating to stick out like a sore thumb. During my time outside of Red Square, I could have counted the number of darker skinned people on two hands, and those of Indian origin only on one. Many older locals would stare at me endlessly, which became somewhat unnerving.


Moscow was a culture shock that I wasn’t expecting. The apparent lack of international diversity outside of former USSR states was the most surprising revelation. However, some unfortunate experiences didn’t deter me from continuing my journey remote regions of Russia. For every person I had a negative encounter with, countless others made it incredibly memorable.

My time in the city ended at Yaroslavsky station. Here I boarded the 00:35 Trans Siberian train to Vladivostok, the longest rail route in the world. My pen is at the ready as I prepare to cross this adventure off my bucket list.


Next:All aboard the Trans-Siberian railway

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