Early June in Moscow

Moscow may be considered part of European Russia, but its Soviet history and culture define the city. Life in the new Russia continues to improve with every passing day, but the combination of capitalism and corruption evokes a Wild West mentality.

Its rich history, chaotic political climate, grandiose architecture, and volatile economy provide an atmosphere of constant change. Be aware that the Russia you visit today will be vastly different than the one five years from now.

Early June in Moscow

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by KDKerr on June 9, 2005

Take in Red Square during the evening. You won't be able to visit any of its historic and cultural attractions, but every building will be bathed in light. Security barriers will have been removed, and most of the pickpockets and panhandlers are gone for the day. Plenty of bars and caf├ęs surround Red Square, which adds enjoyment to a nighttime excursion.

Make sure you locate Kilometer Zero, the starting point for measuring distance within Russia. Here you'll find a crowd of people awaiting their turn to stand on the marker and toss a coin to make a wish or for good luck... I'm not sure which. There are people that toss three coins and some just one. I wasn't ever able to determine a standard procedure or what karmic reward I was hoping to receive. ${QuickSuggestions} If you can't read Cyrillic, you don't have to be intimidated by the metro. Riding it will just require a little more concentration. The subway lines are color-coded, so follow the colored arrows on signs to find your train. Also, there are colored arrows along the tunnel walls pointing in the direction that the train is headed.

Know the first few Cyrillic letters of the next stop in the direction you wish to travel. Signs overhanging the entrances to each side of the tracks list upcoming stations in the white area. Identifying the next station will help determine the correct direction. Upcoming stations also appear within the arrows posted on tunnel walls.

Know the exact number of stops you need to travel. Subway announcements are in Russian, so unless you speak the lingo, allow simple math to be your guide. You will also notice two clocks above the entrance/exit of train tunnels. One displays the current time, and the other the amount of time since the last train left the station. Trains typically arrive every 2 to 3 minutes. ${BestWay} Even if you disagree with all of Lenin's political ideals, you can't help but be impressed by the marvel of his underground public transportation system. Despite directional signage written entirely in Cyrillic, Moscow's metro is the best way to get to every corner of the sprawling city.

Many of the metro stations have been elaborately decorated to celebrate a specific aspect associated with Soviet life. I actually took a 1.5-hour guided tour of eight stations, and I was amazed by their beauty. In comparison, Moscow's underground makes NYC's subway system appear to be an engineering backwater.

While I loved using the metro to get around, I would suggest spending a few extra dollars to secure a hotel centrally located in Moscow's downtown area. Unlike NYC, Moscow's subway trains don't run all night. In the early morning hours, you'll appreciate the convenience of nearby accommodations.

Cosmos Hotel

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by KDKerr on June 10, 2005

The Cosmos Hotel is located in the northern suburbs, and it is just a 20-minute drive to downtown Moscow. Please note that the 20 minutes of driving time is based on little to no traffic congestion on Prospect Mira. The hotel has 1,777 guest rooms with 154 very posh executive rooms and the Cosmos Club, available on the 24th and 25th floors.

Each room has a private bathroom, central air-conditioning (which you cannot control), satellite TV, Internet access, and a small refrigerator. To keep the room at a cool temperature, I had to completely open the room's one small window. The rest of the hotel operates like a small city, with services including laundry and dry cleaning, currency exchange, and ATMs, gift shops, medical assistance, a pharmacy kiosk, business services center, a beauty salon, etc.

There are also plenty of entertainment options within the confines of the hotel. You have access to a large fitness center with swimming facilities, multiple dining options (avoid Konfuci!), a casino, a bowling alley, a theater featuring daily performances, and Solaris nightclub. Solaris is a part-time exotic dance establishment and disco-type club depending on the day of the week. I'm assuming that the working girls' management insisted on an arrangement to eliminate competition from the strippers for a few evenings.

Overall, the Cosmos Hotel's rooms and facilities were better than average. Personally, I would arrange a different hotel for my next visit. The downside of staying there is the distance from downtown Moscow. You are pretty much limited to the restaurants and bars operating within the hotel--you don't get the experience of being "out" in Russia. It also isn't near any worthwhile sites, and late-night transit can be a hassle.

Cosmos Hotel
150 Prospect Mira
Moscow, Russia
7 (495) 234 1000

Lenin's Mausoleum

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by KDKerr on June 9, 2005

You may have heard the cliche that "right now, (insert name) is rolling over in his/her grave." If this statement is ever proved true, it will probably be Lenin flailing wildly inside of his glass coffin.

According to the Rough Guide to Moscow, a person wishing to view Lenin's body in Red Square will wait about ten minutes for the privilege. It should be a relatively painless, no-cost experience for tourists interested in seeing one of the most famous Russians. Well, I'm here to tell you that capitalism is flourishing in the New Russia, and it is beyond ironic that its ideals are being used to such great effect at this monument to socialism/communism.

The security measures in Red Square are very pronounced during the day, as government operations are being carried out within The Kremlin. For this reason, an elaborate checkpoint has been established for visitors to Lenin's Mausoleum. The guards working the security gate have learned to take advantage of these required safety procedures by making them a cash-generating enterprise.

Here's how their money-making operation works. Tourists queue up in a line to visit the mausoleum, and the guards allow only 15-20 people through at a time. This quickly creates a mass of people waiting to view Lenin's final resting place. As people tire of waiting, two or three "Official Guides" work the crowd with promises of immediate access, including the complete story of Lenin in English. Their cost of admission is 150-200 rubles ($5.50-$7.50 U.S.) per person. Remember, this site is supposed to be available for free.

The guards ensure that the time to get in extends to nearly an hour-long wait. This makes conditions ripe for the "official guides" to find plenty of people willing to pay the price for immediate access. The bounty collected from all of those coughing up the price of expedited entry is then shared equally with the guards working the gate. This obviously angers the non-paying crowd as they watch numerous groups from the back of the line subverting the system. At the same time, this encourages others to follow the same path. There is no recourse for anyone to register a complaint, since it is the authorities creating and benefitting from the problem.

This may make you rethink your visit to this holy shrine to socialism/communism. I did notice a group of Japanese tourists who got quite irate and started creating a stir at the front of the line. The guards quickly let them file through. My theory is that they don't want to draw attention to their scheme, since they are standing right next to a building full of government officials. Unfortunately, I got tired of the seemingly endless wait and decided to skip out on paying my respects. But I think Lenin would have appreciated that I wasn't willing to pay.

Lenin's Mausoleum (Mavzolei V.I. Lenina)
Red Square (Krasnaia Ploshchad')
Moscow, Russia, 103073
+7 095 923 5527

Krasnopresnenskaya Metro Station - Warning!

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by KDKerr on June 13, 2005

Within Lonely Planet's Moscow Guide, there was a section called "The Great Moscow Police Tourist Rip-off." Mention of this scam didn't appear within the Rough Guide to Moscow, and I didn't see it take place for the first 2 days I spent wandering around the city. I assumed it was a form of corruption that had been purged from police practice... that ism until I saw it in action at Krasnopresnenskaya metro station.

Moscow's metro system is known for being safer than its St. Petersburg counterpart. There is a stronger police presence within the Moscow stations, which decreases the ability for criminals to engage in pick-pocketing and other petty crimes. Unfortunately, one officer working at the top of the escalator leading down to the brown "ring" line was supplementing his income by harassing tourists.

He stopped everyone that could be identified as non-Russian to check their travel documents. He was so adept at his side job that he could round up numerous tourists at once rather than just concentrating on them one at a time. My nephew and I were fortunate enough to notice the shakedown and avoid it.

From what I've read, officers like this will review your travel documents (passport and visa) and find an error, even if nothing is actually wrong. They will present you with the option of visiting the local police station and paying a fine to correct the problem, which could take hours, or letting you pay them directly. The fine can be as much as 2,000 rubles ($74), and the officer may even provide you with a phony receipt.

To avoid being scammed by these unscrupulous types, my tour director recommended that you act as stupid as possible. For tourists staying in local accommodations, it is common to leave your passport and visa with the hotel until the end of your stay. The police are very aware of this practice, so you should state that you are a tourist and show them your hotel keycard. If the police insist that you are in violation, ask them to write out the ticket for you. Here, you have a friend, and it is called paperwork. Remember, these officers are trying to take advantage of a quick money-making enterprise. They don't want to spend the time and effort to complete a bunch of forms when they can find a more compliant victim.

If you find yourself in this situation, Lonely Planet suggests that you make a note of the officer's seven-digit ID number before handing over your documents. Apparently, personal accountability can be threatening. Additionally, having a mobile phone handy to state you are going to notify your country's embassy of the problem is a strong deterrent.

If you ensure that you don't look and act the part of a tourist, I think you will avoid the problem all together. However, use these tips if you aren't so lucky and be aware of the officer awaiting your arrival at Krasnopresnenskaya metro station


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