Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Trip to Russia

I recently came back from a week-long trip to Moscow with my mother. For someone doing Russian at university, it must be said that I didn't know a lot about Russia before this holiday. Luckily for those who have never been, I have taken the trouble of compiling a short list of important notes.

Nobody seems to have heard of vegetarianism
Not wanting to accidentally be served meat, I had carefully checked and learned how to say "I'm vegetarian" and "is there vegetarian food?". You might think that would be enough to ensure a meat-free meal. Well.... Not really!

The problem was that, though people seemed to understand the words I was saying, it was more a problem of not understanding the concept. On many menus, the only meals free of meat were side dishes of chips and salad! Not quite the traditional diet I had expected.

The fast food is rather different
While there were McDonalds and Burger King restaurants throughout the city, more frequently you would find people stopping for a quick pancake-to-go or a jacket potato. We tried both a few times and they are lovely, if unexpected. The pancake shop pictured left (Teremok in English) was a particular favourite, and the women serving were obviously very used to communicating with tourists. To their credit, they managed well with our attempts to order using only a combination of basic English, Russian and gesturing.

There is a mix of wonderful pastels and less-wonderful tower blocks
As you can see from the picture of St Basil's cathedral, there is some lovely architecture throughout the city, especially around Red Square, which is in the centre. While we could spend all day gazing at the beautiful constructions, the view was contrasted somewhat by the more modern buildings.

Our hotel was totally modern inside but looked quasi-abandoned from the outside. Similarly with a nearby shopping centre, we did wonder if it was still running before we got inside, and found 3 floors of very modern shops. We did manage to find a 'proper' Russian market, complete with turrets, and overall the shopping was very reasonable for a capital city, if a little perplexing.

People aren't that fond of English
It's perhaps to be expected, but there was little English outside of the airport and main station. One possible reason is the large volume of tourists from the east rather than the west, meaning that English signs would be redundant. People were, however, mostly very helpful when we got lost, and more than ready to point us in the right direction. I imagine if we weren't in such a big city, there may have been problems, due to the border conflict, but Moscow is quite far from Ukraine and we personally had no major issues.

It was really useful to be able to hear the Russian language rather than hearing mostly English in the tourist areas as might happen in other countries. And it was amusing to see restaurant staff trying to move tourists to the right till with a loud cry of "WELCOME!" and exaggerated arm movements. Imagine that shouted by large Russian women, and you can imagine the terror.

Muscovites really do like their statues
We really hadn't anticipated such a high volume of statues. I had the feeling that we were never more than a few dozen metres from a statue. Many of them were also monstrously tall and intimidating! We even managed to find a plot where lots of statues had been moved to because of redevelopments. I feel this picture summarises the attitude towards statues in the city!

We came back just a few days before that awful Moscow Metro crash, and of course slightly before the MH17 plane was shot down over Ukraine. I personally would be cautious about going back if the situation between Russia and Ukraine escalates, but it's safe to say we both really enjoyed ourselves over there. :)

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