Getting a visa to visit Russia was quite a pain. I had to fill out about 10 pages worth of an application, plus get our hotel to send a formal invitation to get visa approval. Then I had to send my passport and documentation to the Russian embassy in Australia and wait a couple of weeks for approval there. I even needed to include every country I visited in the last 10 years, and exactly when I visited, each time I visited on the form!
With all that work, I thought it would be even worse at the airport here. I expected maybe a full body cavity search, maybe then being drugged and have a microchip implanted in my butt so my movements can be tracked throughout Russia!
Expectations did not meet reality, when I went right through passport control in minutes and customs was literally just walking through an empty corridor, I'm not sure anyone was even there.
Then I expected to be scammed by fake taxis at the airport and immediately got approached by a guy offering a taxi ride! Turned out he was legit and I got to the hotel at the price our hotel told me to expect. Funnily enough, just before leaving Australia, I had a guy pull up in his car seeing me with suitcases and randomly offering me a ride to the airport. So actually it was in Melbourne someone tried to scam me, rather than here...
Russian hospitality has been a bit mixed. At several places, including our hotel the service has been great. But in several others, not so great. Whereas in Japan, everyone was shockingly polite and helpful, here the attitude has often been more "Who are you and why are you here?" "You want coffee? Okay fine, wait here." One guy was abrupt to the point where I had to cut my order short, because he was so annoyed at everything I indicated I wanted it seemed unwise to order more.
The shooting range was particularly like that. Although no one spoke English, communication was easy using Google Translate. But the person working there made a point of letting about 20 locals through while I waited to get my turn. Still, at least I got my turn!
Of course I am in a country that it seems the entire world is trying to paint as the enemy for no reason beyond political convenience. So I can imagine after a bazillion sanctions pushed for by the US and with psychotics like Hillary Clinton screeching for war all the time, patience for foreigners can wear a bit thin.
At least they have a sense of humour about it:
Getting around Moscow is unexpectedly even easier than Tokyo. The Metro is super efficient, with trains leaving every 5 minutes on all the city lines and each station being easily within walking distance from each other. The city is laid out in three concentric circles, with the Red Square in the middle. Each circle is surrounded by a major road and the metro lines go around those circles and up and down perpendicular to them, so you can get anywhere with a maximum of one changeover.
I wish I took some photos, as many of the stations look like art galleries or palaces on the inside. Apparently they were originally designed under the USSR with the intention to be "Palaces of the People". While the whole communist thing didn't work out too well for anyone, they are still impressive monuments.
As for the vibe of Moscow in general, it really doesn't feel much different to Melbourne, only it has a much more interesting history and more impressive buildings. I don't think anywhere feels as safe as Japan, where you could probably leave your phone on a street corner, in a "bad" area, at 4am and have someone pick it up and run over to give it to you. But it feels more like Melbourne really. I had a couple of hobos hovering around me at one point, looking like they were either begging or considering trying to pickpocket me, but they didn't. Which is basically what you'd expect in some parts of Melbourne. I'd say pickpocketing is more likely in Rome or Paris than here.
Crime rates in Moscow have been going down year by year for decades now, and general affluence has been going up, despite the greatest efforts of the EU and US to prevent it.
I'm not really trying to paint Russia as the innocent good guys here and the US entirely as the bad guys. But the media does so much of the opposite, I figure it's only fair to even it out a bit. One thing I am confident of, is that if I had to choose between Putin's statement on an international event or anything from the US, I'd side with Putin.
And in honour of that, me wearing a Putin shirt, standing next to the bear he rides in all those memes (of which I also have a tshirt!)
Putin on communism:
And much is said about Russia being so anti-LGBTQISNGIUQENGEWIUGMOWIMGUEIWNFV(Q#*#*F*A(A)W#*FYGIAVDSJ!!!!)) So let's hear it from Putin himself:
The only reason I'm even bothering to vote at the next state election in Victoria is because the Liberals claim they will remove Safe Schools finally and at least reduce the harm our schools are doing to kids. Well in Russia, Safe Schools would be a criminal activity and promoting it to children at all would be illegal.
So basically if political correctness goes much further in Australia, at least I can still try to immigrate to Russia!
But moving on from politics are more onto general touristy stuff!
Moscow really is a beautiful city. First the obvious, the Red Square and St. Basil's cathedral:
Very impressive sights. But what struck me more is just how many random impressive buildings there are throughout the city. Just walking around you find all kinds of buildings that in other places would be photo worthy, and here you just slow down a bit on the way to even more impressive places!
Also just outside the Red Square, on the walls of the Kremlin still, they have the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. A monument many nations have in recognition of all the soldiers who have died fighting for their country, but who were never identified. The US and Russia in particular are known for this and have a 24 hour honour guard at the tomb. In Russia they do a change of the guard ceremony every hour, on the hour during the day. So I stopped to see that.
Video to come, too large to upload to blogger.
I think it's worth remembering that despite all the political discord between USA and allied countries and Russia, in practice they have never actually opposed each other when it mattered. Russian soldiers recognised at that tomb died fighting as allies with the United States in World War 2.
Something I didn't expect to see in Moscow and almost missed entirely, walking just meters from it and not seeing it, is the Botanical Garden. Founded in 1706 it may be the oldest in Europe, and it gathers plants from around the world in several greenhouses.
Tomorrow I'm off to Saint Petersburg, which I have heard over and over again is even more impressive than Moscow! I look forward to seeing for myself.