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Trip Report Fresh Impressions of Moscow, Russia

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I have just come back from my fourth trip to Russia and my first one to Moscow. The most general impression is that Russia is rapidly changing. I am writing this mini trip report, because with reports on Russia it is the same as with books on cancer: Don't read anything which is older than two years.

Immigration

From my former trips to Russia, I remember cumbersome immigration procedures, with declaring all currencies, x-raying bags and even body-searching. This time, it was a breeze. Domodedovo Airport (DME) is a contemporary, state-of-the-art international airport with efficient service. I just left the plane, walked to the baggage claim area where I waited not more than a minute for my bag and went through immigration. Practically no lines, I just flashed my passport (with visa), got a couple of stamps and that was it. Huge improvement, compared to earlier experiences.

Transportation

From the Airport, you can take the train into Moscow and change to the Metro. The trains are still somewhat primordial (with wooden benches in second class) and dirt cheap. The Metro is also inexpensive and runs fast, however with rather few stops, meaning that there are large distances between Metro stations. Russians are used to walk long distances, and they walk fast. So, if you plan to use the Metro, look carefully on your map and consider taking a taxi to the nearest Metro stop. Buses are also an option.

In the inner city, the Metro stations are breathtakingly beautiful. Expect opulent décor in classical, art nouveau or art déco style - like a lobby in a historic grand hotel. Subway station sightseeing is an attraction in itsself.

If you take a taxi from DME into central Moscow, the fare would be around 1,200 Rub ($42). Depending on traffic conditions, the drive will take from 45 to 120 minutes with an average of 90 minutes. This means, you are usually faster by train+Metro. For a short taxi ride (1 mile or so), the fare would be 100 Rub ($3.50).

Be aware that taxi drivers usually speak nothing but Russian. Have a card with the destionation address in Cyrillic characters ready.

There are metered taxis and unofficial Lada taxis, illegally operated by private people. The Lada taxis are about 30% cheaper than the metered taxis. You should negotiate the fare before you board such a cab (with sign language or by writing numbers). Even then, a ride with a Lada may become an adventure. It happened to us, that such a taxi ran out of gas in the middle of the night or that the driver did not find the proper address.

Communication

As mentioned, most Russians do not speak a foreign language. Unless you stay in one of those extremely overpriced international chain hotels, expect that they do not speak anything but Russian. A few people speak Russian, and a few speak German. Sometimes, you have to find someone who may act as an interpreter. But since it is easy for us to decipher Cyrillic characters (a kind of mixture of Latin and Greek characters) and many Russian words are similar to common Latin words, you go along surprisingly well.

However, my strong recommendation is to learn a few Russian words before your trip. At least, some general phrases like "good morning", "thank you" etc. - and the numbers. Otherwise, always have paper and pen ready to write down numbers - important if you have to negotiate prices, fares etc.

To be continued.

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