Using an ATM
Although ATM machines are starting to be more widely used, the transaction is always in local currency. BE PREPARED. For example, do not go up to an ATM and think you'd like to withdraw $500 worth of local currency. You first must know the amount in local currency that $500 will buy. I always carry a currency cheat sheet when travelling. In addition to ATM transactions, it's also easier to bargain and make purchases.
For a cheat sheet go to to http://www.oanda.com/cgi/convert/cheatsheet
Customs at the border
Getting past the Russian border can be a longwinded and awkward process. Of course you must have a visa, then there can be a lot of hanging around at the border checking luggage.
NB Taking roubles out of Russia is a crime!!
I never knew at the time and luckily my wallet wasn't checked.
Kruchchoyovki blocks are those horribly unaesthetic concrete apartment buildings that you see all over Russia, the former Soviet Union, and many satelite country cities, such as Prague, Budapest and Bratislava, too. They are named after Nikita Kruschev who saw them as a low-cost way to house workers and alleviate a housing shortage.
Moscow has over 13.000 of these 5-9-12-17 & 21 story buildings, which were built between the 1950s and 70s. They are mainly small, one, two and three-bedroom apartments with tiny bathrooms and closet-sized kitchens. Without almost any maintenance since they were built, they are now mostly very shabby and in need of serious repairs. Cooking and the odors from neighboring apartments often permeate the hallways, stairwells and creaking elevators.
However, after the disolution of the USSR, many long-time residents were given these apartments, and they remain many families largest form of private equity. Be it ever so humble there is no place like home, and at least they do not have to pay rent.
On the positive side are that they all generally have a common area or a park near or around them, so at least the residents have some green space and a sense of community connected to their dreary apartments. In areas of the former USSR where there are earthquake dangers, these pre-fabricated apartment buildings can also be death-traps as they tend to cave-in, especially if the foundation is poor and not earthquake resistant.
However, cheap, affordable housing is still very much in demand. Moscow had an official population of over 11.2 mio in 2004, up from 8.7 mio in 1999, and a much larger unofficial population, as migrants from all over the former Soviet Union and from Russia's regions flock to Moscow for work or study. Replacing all these antiquated, and sub-standard buildings will take decades. And, in decades, we will likely still see many standing unfortunately.
The nearest vicinities of the Red Square, including Manezhnaya Square are the places most attended by Muscovites for the last four centuries. In XV century in the old Moscow here lived handicraftsmen and shopkeepers selling the products at the entrances of their workshops. In the beginning of Peter the Great ruling period there were set up the trading lines where fabrics and foodstuffs were sold. And quite close to it there was another trading line for selling meat and game built and it still preserves its old name “Okhotny Ryad”. The square devoted to the 5th anniversary of the Patriotic War of 1812 was constructed given the name “Manezhnaya Square” after the name “Manege”. Some years later, in 1923 Àlexandrovsky Garden was open for visitors. Today «Îkhotny Ryad» is a modern retail center. On its three underground floors more than 100 shops, restaurants, bistro, bank branches, exchange offices, travel agencies are located. Unique interiors and neighborhood with the Red Square and Alexandrovsky Garden attract Muscovites and visitors of the capital to visit the trading complex.
Walking alone the Manezhnaya square you are surprised at a special vicinity of historical monuments, heavy creations of ubiquitous Tsereteli and a Trade Centre 'Okhotny Ryad', an underground trade centre purposed to satisfy your desires and whims.
Russian Food Part II
Russian food can take on a different character than that which I just described in Part I. Here, you see something much akin to fast food. Sights like this little grill are quite common on busier streets, with a steady clientele of commuters, students and passersby. A stand might sell baked goods or pierogies of different styles, they might serve sweets, or they might serve a mix of things. I liked the grills. This food is usually cheap and easy to get, though you really need to be able to speak a few minimum words of Russian to be clear. Quite a few of these stablishments are run by ethnic minorities of Russia who serve their own cuisines. Talking to Russians about what they thought of this fast food, it generally seemed that they found them to vary widely in quality and cleanliness. We had no problems. A few things were great, a few things just OK. This pic was taken near Komsomol metro station, a fairly typical place in Moscow. They also serve beer.