Local traditions and culture in Moscow

  • Behavior & Superstitions
    by Muscovite
  • Behavior & Superstitions
    by Muscovite
  • Behavior & Superstitions
    by Muscovite

Most Viewed Local Customs in Moscow

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    Plunging rouble

    by Muscovite Written Dec 17, 2014

    I should have started a financial consultancy, really!
    I told a
    VT member heading to Moscow that there was no need to buy roubles in advance because the rate may go down.
    And see what happens - our currency has lost half of its value!
    This is the right time for a budget tourist to go to Moscow.

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    Roadside Stalls

    by johngayton Written Dec 4, 2014

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    This probably isn't a specific Moscow thing but I was surprised to note several of these little roadside stalls on the busy, very busy, main road between the city and Domodedovo Airport.

    The pics were taken through the window of the mini-bus heading to the airport and I couldn't see exactly what they were selling - it looked like punnets of fruit. What I found surprising about them is that they could do any business at all when you take into account that the traffic was tearing past at full speed and that the tables looked as if they'd be blown over by the slipstream of any passing trucks.

    But, I suppose they wouldn't be there if there was no business to be done.

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    I Was Surprised To Find This Guy Still Here!

    by johngayton Updated Dec 3, 2014

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    Where Josef Stalin is concerned it is pretty much impossible to find a balanced history of the man who led the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953.

    Without a doubt Stalin ran the USSR as an oppressive dictator and he was responsible for millions of deaths. It's also a fact that under his totalitarian rule the USSR successfully defeated the Nazi German invasion and that the subsequent post-war recovery of the Soviet Union was largely due to his leadership.

    His methods though were always ruthless and whether he believed that they were an expedient necessity for the good of the people or whether they were due to his personal power-seeking ambitions is a matter for debate which I'm not getting into here.

    After his death his successors embarked on a mission to discredit many of his achievements and to vilify his methods. Nikita Khrushchev, in his famous 1956 speech entitled "On The Personality Cult And Its Consequences" which was given to a closed session of the Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, denounced Stalin's rule and set in motion the process which is now known as "De-Stalinization".

    Almost as a mirror of Stalin's own methodology the state set about removing everything that in any way glorified Stalin's achievements. Statues of him were removed, towns and cities which had been named after him were renamed and even the Soviet Nationalist Anthem re-written.

    Additionally in 1961, Stalin's body which had been embalmed and had joined Lenin's in the Red Square Mausoleum was removed from the mausoleum and instead buried in the cemetery below the Kremlin walls.

    However, even amongst the educated populous, Stalin is still held in some esteem and so his memory couldn't be totally eradicated. His grave, with its sculpted headstone, still occupies its place facing Red Square, along with other Russian and Soviet notables and still gets floral tributes on an almost daily basis.

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    Hitching A Lift

    by johngayton Written Nov 29, 2014

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    This is something I noticed several times during my visit where people would stand just before a bus stop, facing the traffic, and make a sort of wavy hand-gesture at about waist height. Within seconds a passing car would pull over, and sometimes two or three, and after a brief negotiation the "hitch-hiker" would get in and off they would go.

    It didn't seem to matter what time of day it was and I also noted that even when the traffic was really busy the other drivers would allow the car to pull in and out of the bus stop without the usual screeching of the horns.

    Doing a bit of post-trip research this seems to be very common with the drivers acting as unofficial taxis and charging an agreed fare which would be cheaper than an official taxi.

    However consensus has it that this is not advised for tourists to try unless they are reasonably fluent Russian-speakers.

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    Love It or Hate It? Peter the Great's Statue

    by johngayton Written Nov 25, 2014

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    It seems that no modern artist is worth his or her salt unless they can create controversy. This statue by the Georgian-born, Zurab Tseretli certainly stirred up some strong feelings when it was erected here in Moscow in 1997.

    The statue, depicting Tsar Peter I, was commissioned by the then Mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkoz ostensibly to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Russian Navy by Peter the Great.

    For Muscovites it wasn't so much controversy as downright loathing. Artistic merits were cast aside. Accusations flew that Luzhkov and Tserelti were in cahoots since Tseretli had had several very lucrative public commissions put his way by the mayor and was even living in a municipally-owned mansion just outside the city centre. Not only that, but Peter the Great was the Tsar who had removed Moscow's status as the national capital after founding St Petersburg back in 1703.

    At 98 metres tall and occupying a prime city spot where the Moscva River meets the Vodootvodny Canal it certainly is difficult to ignore.

    Personally I kinda like it. There's a lot of creative thought and imagery in the piece. The bows of the ships protruding from the supporting column are significant, the idea having been copied from the Rostral Columns on St Petersburg's Vasilyevsky Island, and their design is based on the classical Greek and Roman naval victory columns which had the prows (rostra) of captured ships built into them. Peter himself is standing at the helm of his ship bearing a golden scroll; a metaphor for steering Russia out of its dark ages. If you look closely at his feet you'll note that the ship's superstructure is in fact that of a city, which may, or may not, be intended to be Moscow??

    Interesting work and equally interestingly is that an informal opinion poll found that although the majority of Muscovites hated it, only about 15% expressed a desire to see it demolished.

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    I Thought They Were Revolting Russians!

    by johngayton Updated Nov 19, 2014

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    OK This is just an excuse to use the pic but when I came across these guys on a corner of the square in front of the Kremlin I thought they were demonstrating about something - what about, I'd no idea but maybe public transport workers??

    I'm now reliably informed (see comments below) that in fact they are offering their services as tour guides - it might have helped their business if they didn't look, and sound, like revolting Russians - HA!

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    Finding A Public Toilet

    by johngayton Written Nov 18, 2014

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    I was interested to read that a common concern with visitors to Moscow was the lack of public toilet facilities - well, actually the word restroom was more often the term used.

    This wasn't something I had a problem with - I could just pop into the nearest pub, order a beer and use their loo. Experienced travellers also know that every McDonald's has free-to-use toilet facilities which is, to my mind, the only time I'd consider using that particular company's offerings.

    There are however plenty of public toilets around. These range from the portaloos which you'll find at main tourist sights, such as these pictured here in front of the Kremlin, and the hi-tech automated facilities to be found in many of the parks and gardens.

    As part of the city's drive towards advancing Moscow's popularity as a tourist destination the metropolitan authority now provides a list, complete with map. However this is still under development and is only in Cyrillic at the moment. In old-Soviet fashion each toilet has a number, which bears no relation to its location, but useful to know is that if you click on a toilet on the list you'll get the GPS co-ordinates and if your smart phone is up to speed...

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    Keeping The City Clean - Part #2

    by johngayton Written Nov 18, 2014

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    Following on from my previous tip regarding the large-scale street cleaning around the city centre I also noticed the large numbers of manual-labouring cleaners both on the streets and in the Metro.

    They work their "pitches" and seem to take great pride in keeping them litter-free, pouncing on every dropped scrap. I did though observe that there's a definite sexism in the way the work is done - the women got the brushes and shovels whilst the men got to use the machines.

    Just an observation!

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    Keeping The Dust Down In Summer...

    by johngayton Written Nov 18, 2014

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    One thing that was immediately striking about Moscow is how clean the streets, pavements and public spaces are, certainly centrally. Despite being a busy, busy city with its main roads constantly congested with traffic, and its pavements equally crowded by pedestrians, everywhere I visited was immaculately kept.

    During my June visit the city was basking in an early summer heatwave with the temperature in the high 20's (centigrade obviously). But instead of the expected dusty, heavily-polluted, city I found the air quality surprising good.

    This is due to the regular wetting-down of the streets by what must be a huge fleet of specialist vehicles. These are almost a tourist sight in their own right. On one of my afternoon wanders I saw three of them working abreast on Sadovaya (pic #1) - it was reminiscent of the "Ride of the Valkyries" helicopter scene from "Apocalypse Now" as they swept their way along the busy thoroughfare with the afternoon traffic obediently following their lead.

    The side streets were getting the same treatment and even the narrowest of alleys are regularly sluiced by the small tractor-like appliances.

    Then later in the evenings, as the pedestrian crowds thinned, the pavements got their hosing-down and so every morning the city started its day fresh and immaculate.

    Doing a little research I find that the city has invested in a fleet of 250 of the large street-cleaning vehicles. These are Russian-built and designed for multi-seasonal use. As well as the water tanks and jets they are equipped with vacuum cleaners with a four cubic metre capacity which are used for clearing the autumn leaves and then in winter they can be adapted as snow ploughs.

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    Finding Your Way Around

    by johngayton Written Nov 18, 2014

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    Central Moscow, the area around the Kremlin, is where most of the main tourist sights and attractions are. The area is perfectly walkable and there are several freebie maps available to help you navigate. The one I used is produced by Capital Tours which I got from my hotel. Obviously the map is part of their marketing and subsidised by advertising but as freebie maps go it is pretty comprehensive, easy to follow, and even suggests a few self-guided walking routes. It also has a useful Metro map on the reverse and a small list of basic phrases.

    Once out and about there are plenty of street signs giving directions to the main attractions and the various strategically-located "Moscow Routes" maps, provided by the city's tourist board, show where you are along with suggested places to visit in the immediate environs.

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    Your Holmes is our Holmes

    by Muscovite Updated Nov 5, 2014

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    This gentleman received his OBE as the best Sherlock Holmes of all times. There should have been the two of them, I suppose, but Watson died in 2002. You may want to look for the series at Amazon, it's worth it, or try the site below.

    Both live now in front of the British Embassy in Moscow (10 Smolenskaya nab.) since April 27, 2007 – see the 2nd photo - a attempt of a Russian sculptor to give that heavy hi-tech building a bit of the English flavour. I'll show it in a separate tip.

    Kiwis like our Holmes, too. Here – the 3rd photo - is a two-dollar coin made by the «New Zealand Mint» in 2007 - 120 years of the first Holmes story.

    P.S. It's exactly 35 years since they made the first film. Happy birthday!
    P.P.S. Our TV had brushed up the colours and shows the immortal classic again to brighten the long autumn weekend - I guess everyone knows it by heart now; still, with 100+ cable channels I chose this one :)))

    The very Russian Holmes www.ripol.ru Holmes & Watson in Moscow www.onfoot.ru Our Holmes in New Zealand www.topnews.ru
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    Cards and cash

    by Muscovite Updated May 13, 2014

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    Remember the post-apocalyptic ‘The Postman’ with Kevin Costner, when he still had his own hair?
    That’s how we’ll have it pretty soon, with foreign authorities blocking Russian banks, Russian authorities blocking foreign payment systems, and everybody running around with piles of cash.

    For my part, however, it’s not such a catastrophe; I’ve been travelling before cards were introduced here, and I am going to do so after. This is what I would do if I were to go to Moscow as a tourist:

    1) Cash
    - USD /Euro – no brainer, I see right now from my window at least five banks all advertising exchange rates.
    If, however, you don’t use these major currencies on a daily basis, you can do this:

    a) Buy a reasonable amount of USD /Euro – if you don’t use them here, keep them not to lose on conversion, there is always a chance you’ll go travelling to the US or EU.
    b) Take along a likewise reasonable amount of your own currency; I’ll write a separate tip on exchange offices, besides, you will need it when you come back home – take a taxi or pay the penalty for your own car left at the airport…

    2) Charge Cards
    - Debit cards: the most sensible way to get along, I think, especially if you can recharge it online from your bank account.
    You can use them to draw cash, too, but an ‘alien’ ATM will charge for it. This is the list of foreign banks present in Moscow, they won’t take commission if you have their own card, I think.
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/23a761/
    In case of emergency you can always rely on our 150-year-old giant Sberbank; it’s not the most efficient institution, in fact, I have a number of issues with them, but the fact is – you can find them nearly in every street downtown.

    - Credit cards: I would bring them, too - after all, they do not weigh a ton - and use wherever possible to save cash/debit cards for an eventual ‘force majeure’.

    Visa and MasterCard are accepted in fashionable stores, cafés and clubs frequented by office rats and foreign tourists. Transport and cultural institutions, on the other hand, have more consideration for unsophisticated ‘babushkas’, that’s why you mostly see them in museums and concert halls. The Bolshoi, however, will happily charge your card via Internet.

    American Express and Diners Club are rare guests here; better leave them at home where they belong. No offence – in France they stared at my MasterCard as if it came from the Moon, were quite relieved I had a Visa, too, affiliated with their ‘Carte Bleue’.

    3) Traveller's cheques – don’t. We have jumped over this stage, from cash directly to cards, so no one will know what to do with these fancy pieces of paper.

    The official Bank of Russia (colloquially the Central Bank) rate for the date I wrote this tip is below.
    Note: this is not necessarily the exchange rate in retail banks, it’s close, but still varies. What can you expect – this is market economy…

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    Foreign banks in Moscow

    by Muscovite Updated May 13, 2014

    If you have cards with these banks and find their ATMs, you may escape ‘alien bank’ commission.
    These are just those I can recall offhand; you can contact your bank and ask – probably, it has an offspring in Moscow?..

    American Express Travel Services Office
    http://www.aetclocator.com/TCLocator/search.do?lang=us
    Bank of China
    http://www.boc.ru/
    BNP Paribas
    http://www.bnpparibas.ru/en/
    Citibank
    http://www.citibank.ru/russia/main/eng/home.htm
    CREDIT EUROPE BANK
    www.crediteurope.ru/en/
    Credit Suisse
    https://www.credit-suisse.com/ru/privatebanking/services/en/index.jsp
    DenizBank
    http://www.denizbank.ru/
    Home Credit Group
    http://www.homecredit.ru (no English site)
    HSBC
    http://www.hsbc.ru/1/2/rus/en
    Natixis
    http://www.natixis.com/natixis/jcms/j_6/fr/accueil
    Nordea Bank
    http://www.nordea.ru/en/private/index.php
    Raiffeisen Bank
    http://www.raiffeisen.ru/en/
    Royal Bank of Scotland
    www.rbsbank.ru
    Société Générale:
    • subsidiary Rosbank
    http://www.rosbank.ru/en/
    • subsidiary DeltaCredit
    http://www.deltacredit.ru/eng/
    UniCredit Bank
    http://www.unicreditbank.ru/eng/index.wbp

    In case of doubt go formal - contact The Bank of Russia at 12 Neglinnaya Street, Moscow,

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    The Moscow Coat of Arms

    by Muscovite Written Jan 9, 2014

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    We are no different from many other European cities here, having chosen St. George as Moscow’s patron saint.

    There’s some logic, too: Prince Yuri the Long-Armed, the founder of Moscow (year 1147) was George by his other Christian name, same as the equally long-armed and long-serving – though not indefinitely – post-perestroyka Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov.

    The Moscow region keeps its own variant - here with the state crown and oak leaves, as was seen in the 19th century - for some reason in mirror image.

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    El edificio más alto/ The tallest building

    by elpariente Written Aug 31, 2012

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    Con un curioso sentido del humor decían que era el edificio más alto de Moscú , pues desde sus sótanos se divisaba perfectamente Siberia .
    Este edificio estaba previsto que fuera una compañía de seguros pero durante la revolución Bolchevique fue expropiada y aquí en 1918 se instalaron los servicios de inteligencia llamados Checa y posteriormente cambiaron de nombres a KGB y actualmente a FSBS
    Popularmente este edificio se conoce con el nombre de Lubyanka

    With a peculiar sense of humour the people said that this was the tallest building in Moscow, because from its basements it could be see Siberia perfectly.
    This building was intended to be an insurance company but during the Bolshevik revolution it was expropriated and settled here in 1918 the Checa intelligence services and later the names changed to KGB and currently FSBS
    This building is popularly is known as Lubyanka

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