My brother, ‘Donald’, recently got back from a ten day trip to Russia. After only a slight amount of prodding on my part, he wrote the following guest post about his experience. Helpful tips and the gear he brought with him are included as usual:
Columbia “Powers Vertical- Titanium” Pant – http://columbia.com/Product/4/Titanium/41030/Pants/9908/Powers-Vertical-Pant.aspx?viewAll=False
Columbia “Lander” Pant- http://columbia.com/Product/1/Mens/130/Pants/9923/Lander-Pant.aspx?viewAll=False
REI MTS Boxer Brief’s- http://www.rei.com/product/722396
Various moisture wicking T-shirts from Prana, Nike, and Adidas.
Wigwam Cool-Lite Socks http://www.rei.com/product/671092
Headsweats Race Hat http://www.rei.com/product/708142
Microsoft Zune 80 G
Sometimes I make decisions without really thinking about them. Some recent examples include a marriage proposal, buying a motorcycle, and attempting to ride my bicycle 100 miles. Without exception these choices have lead to disasters of varying degrees of intensity. The impulsive thought to go to Russia by myself seemed like a great idea at first. As the trip grew closer, I began to wonder if I was going to add yet another item to the list I seem insistent on filling up. As it turns out, travelling by myself and the trip in general was pretty fun. Rather than give you a blow by blow description of the trip, I will try to offer up some concise impressions and thoughts on Moscow.
I have been to a bunch of places from Venezuela, to Norway, to Japan and everyone seems to know a smattering of English which made the day to day necessities of life on the road (transportation, food, museums, etc.) pretty damn easy. For a variety of reasons, Russian don’t seem to share the desire to learn my native tongue. I am not some ethnocentric jerk who thinks everyone should learn English, but thought it worth mentioning because it made life frustrating.
Tip #1 Learn some Russian! A few simple phrases will help you out immensely. Suggestions include, “Thank you,” “Hello,” “How much does it cost,” and “Quit pushing me you asshole.” The last one to be reserved only for the subway (more to come on that).
Tip #2 The tap water is not safe to drink in Moscow, but Bon Aqua (a Coca Cola company) seems to have a monopoly on bottled water and is available everywhere. After some pointing and grunting, you should be able to secure some pretty easy. There are kiosks everywhere that sell water as well as candy, beer, and other sundry items. If your day’s plans include getting drunk you can literally buy beer at every corner so a cumbersome cooler is not needed.
Tip #3 If after drinking all that beer or water you really need to pee, you have two options. First, just pee anywhere! It seems to be perfectly acceptable. I saw people peeing in parks, on the side of the road, and in alleys. Definitely my style, but if you are a little bashful most public areas have port-a-johns that cost about 20 roubles. Usually, the first stall is a makeshift office for the attendant who will direct you to an unoccupied unit.
Tip #4 Most restaurants have an English menu which you can request. Not knowing this for 85% of my trip was severely disappointing. Service is so-so at most places and pretty much in line with Europe in general.
Tip #5 The subway can be a little difficult to figure out in my opinion. The best thing to do is buy a metro card and put a ton of rides on it so you limit the number of times you have to have an encounter with the Kacca (cashier in Russian). I gave her a bunch of money and just spread my fingers out to indicate 10 rides. This was almost always understood. If you can get your hands on a subway map which has both the English and Cyrillic alphabet it will be worth its weight in gold. People always seem to be in a damn hurry on the metro (maybe us southerners are just too slow) so be prepared for tightly packed cars, pushing, and people getting in and out quickly. The doors shut pretty fast and don’t seem to have any type of sensor to reopen as I discovered when one clobbered my arm.
Tip #5 Try to meet some locals. I know this is easier said than done, but if you can it opens up a lot of insight into “true” Russian life. Drinking at bars is a relatively new thing in the Russian Federation and most people seem to prefer a good house party with friends.
Tip #6 This tip is something that I am very passionate about. Don’t ever wear cotton anything!!!! Cotton is a fabric that should be confined to towels and Eli Whitney. If you are like me, when you travel you are walking constantly. Especially during the summer months this means sweat, smells, and general grossness. I cover myself from head to toe with non-cotton fabrics that are moisture wicking. This cocoon of advanced fabric keeps me dry, smell free, and happy after many miles of walking in the Russian sun. And I mean everything….underwear, socks, hat….EVERYTHING. I used the same pair of underwear for 3 days straight while averaging around 6-7 miles walking. After a quick smell inspection on day four I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of any odor. It’s awesome! If I had not Kacca’d I would have wore it for a fourth day.
Tip #7 If you want to be able to call home cheaply here is how. First you need to bring your own personal cell phone, but it has to be unlocked. Most carriers (t-mobile did for me) will unlock it for you if you tell them you are going out of the country. When you get to Moscow there are a bunch of places that will sell you a SIM card from a local company. Replace your SIM card (obviously hold on to it for later) and replace it with the new one. That’s it! You now have a Russian phone number where your local buds can get a hold of you, your folks back home can call you, and you can call home. Purchase of an old fashion phone card recommended for the last two options. I bought one that had 7 hours of talk time to the US for like $5. You typically have to dial “8” for some reason to call any number. Not sure why.
Tip # 8 Within three days of arriving you have to register with the government. Someone helped me out with this so I can’t offer a whole lot of details. Several sources did tell me that if you do not do this the police will shake you down for money. In fact, the general impression I got was that the police will try to get you to pay a bribe for almost anything. This was confirmed when a friend of mine had to pay the police TWICE on my trip for ridiculous traffic violations. Better than getting a ticket I suppose.
Enough tips and so much for “concise impressions and thoughts.” Here are some random things to close out this report. See-thru tops on women seem to be very popular from young to old. I mean completely see-thru so if you have been wanting to walk in public in your bra Moscow is the place to do it. Borscht is pretty good and I hate beets. Wi-Fi access is pretty ubiquitous at all the cafes and small eateries. Anyone who owns a car more expensive than a BMW 5 Series ALWAYS has a driver and/or security. Russian women are pretty damn hot. Mullets are a completely acceptable hairstyle for both men and women.