Moscow is a city of contrasts, and its fascinating history offers its inhabitants and guests a variety of adventures - business, economical, cultural, recreational and much more. Moscow is the capital of the largest European country and is situated in the heart of what is known as European Russia. Consequently, this capital city, being the epicenter of life for people of different nations and parts of the world, takes the best of east and west. Moscow has seen foreign invaders come and go. It was the capital when Mongol Tatars overran the Russian lands. The Crimean Tatars destroyed the fledgling city in 1751, as did Poles in the 17th century. During the war with Napoleon, three-quarters of the city was burned in the wake of the French occupation - but as a result, a stately Empire-era city arose in its place, still studded with the remains of the city's medieval splendour. Two further upheavals have helped shape the city's extraordinary appearance - the wave of "suprematist" monumental architecture undertaken during the "boom" period of the Communist era, and the corresponding oil-funded "rebuilding boom" that followed the fall of Communism, and continues today.|
The City's Name
Moscow was named after the Moskva River (in Russian the name of the city is pronounced as "Mosk-va"). The origin of the name itself is unknown, although several theories exist. One of the theories suggests that the name originates from the ancient Finnic language, in which it means "dark" or "turbid". Yet another theory tells that the name comes from the ancient Slav language and means simply "wet". Either way, the etymology of the word is related to water.
Geographic Area & Size
The size of the city is about 1100 sq.km (425 sq.mi), with the central part of the city - over 800 sq.km (309 sq.mi) situated inside the Moscow Outer Ring Road.
Location, Streetplan, and Arterial Road Scheme
Moscow is located directly at the centre of European Russia at the northwest segment of Russia's most densely developed and populated region. The Moskva River crosses through the middle of the city and is itself a tributary of the Volga River.
Like the cross-section of a tree with its yearly rings, Moscow has grown outward from the Kremlin since the 12th century. There are five concentric "rings" that shape the city's streetplan - the most central being the former moat of the Kremlin, Moscow's medieval citadel. Beyond the Kremlin, the oldest ring is the Boulevard Ring Road; closest to the center, it contains the Kremlin within it, and the oldest part of the city. The Boulevard Ring is not a complete ring, but more a horseshoe shape with both ends terminating at the Moskva River. A middle ring road, the Garden Ring (Sadovoe Kol'tso) forms a closed circle around the downtown areas - a massive 6/8-lane highway that carries the huge bulk of Moscow's traffic, and at rush-hours becomes a gigantic circular stationary gridlock of frustrated motorists.
The city's Outer Ring Road ("MKAD" - the Moscow Circular Car Road) diverts intra-national traffic away from the city centre and was intended as a "city boundary for the 21st century" - but the city keeps expanding and some new settlements that are located outside of the MKAD also count as Moscow. The MKAD is located about 28 km (7.4 mi) from the city center and is 100 km (62 mi) long. The newest ring is called the Third Ring Road, once again forming a circle, running between the MKAD and the Garden Ring, conveniently connecting some of the densely populated but not so central parts of Moscow. Most of the Third Ring Road is built as a flyover.
Moscow city: 10.5 million (as of July 01, 2009)
Moscow region: 6.7 million (as of January 01, 2010)
The official population of Moscow slightly exceeds 10 million, but as in so many other world cities, the actual number of the population is much bigger. The whole Moscow conurbation is probably home to nearer 15 million - the discrepancy is due to official "city limits" that fail to encompass the new housing estates on the outskirts; former suburban towns which have effectively been "swallowed" by city-creep; and a huge unrecorded transient population of visitors, short-term visitors, migrant and seasonal workers, "unofficials", semi-legals and illegal immigrants, on whom there are no official stats.
The vast majority of Muscovites are ethnically and culturally Russians - well over 80%. As the country's most affluent city (unofficial estimates claim that 80% of the country's wealth is in Moscow) it is a magnet for newcomers wanting to further their careers and get the high-paying jobs on offer - many of the Russians living in Moscow have moved here from elsewhere in the country, and "native Muscovites" have a certain pride about having been born in the city.
Moscow is home to many other nationalities, especially Armenians, Georgians, Asiatic Siberians, people from the Caucasus regions and many others whose families migrated to the capital during the Soviet era, when it was all just one large country. Their cultures and languages, and especially their cuisines are all part of the rich melting-pot of Moscow life. Native-born Muscovites often have a pronounced local accent which marks them out, and which is frequently the butt of jokes made about the capital's population throughout the rest of the country.
It ought to be mentioned that there is no great love for Moscow among many Russians from other cities - who habitually associate the city with the imagined misrule and economic inequalities they blame on Moscow and its rulers. In fact, this is a historical tendency - exactly the same was said of St. Petersburg when it was the capital in the 19th century.
Moscow has a humid continental climate. The average temperature of the year is 5.4 degrees Celsius (°C), with an average temperature of -9°C in January and +18°C in July. Moscow's climate really consists of two extreme seasons: winter and summer. Spring and fall are often negligibly short.
Average temperatures are based on 30 years observation period. Table values are in degrees Celsius (°C).
Winter can last from early November to mid-April when it is followed by a short spring. The lowest recorded winter temperature was -42°C (-43.6°F), although temperatures rarely drop to below -20°C (-4°F) during a day. The sub-zero temperature can last for weeks on end; sometimes they are interrupted by several days of above zero temperatures, which are accompanied by thawing, falling icicles, slippery sidewalks, and slush. Days are very short in December and January with an average of seven hours of daylight, and on cloudy days it can seem like it never gets light at all - Moscow has a relatively northern latitude.
To get through the winter you will need good solid winter boots with studded or ridged soles. Streets and sidewalks are often covered in several inches of solid ice and are very slippery. You will also need at least one very warm coat such as a sheepskin or fur, and a warm hat or two. Most buildings in Moscow still have centralized heating, and the heating period normally starts in mid-October.
The highest recorded summer temperature was 39°C (102°F), but on a humid August day you will swear it is more than that. Temperatures hovering around 30°C (86°F) in the shade can last for weeks, necessitating emergency purchases of fans and/or air conditioners. Summer days are long (on average 17.5 hours of daylights). In June and July it gets dark around 23:00 and light again about 04:30.
Muscovites seize the opportunity to make the most of the summer days. With a lot of people gone for the summer, the volume of traffic is a lot less in June, July and August, making the season ideal for exploring the city. June is a "pukh" (poplar-tree pollen) season in Moscow. The city has thousands of poplar trees and the air is white with it as it descends each June. If you are allergic to pollen, be prepared – the stuff will be everywhere, and looks like heavy snowfall.
Seasonal Turning-off of Hot Water Supply
Domestic hot water is viewed as a city-provided utility in Russia - heated at central boilers, and piped into homes and offices. Your hot water supply will be turned off for two weeks each summer for pipe maintenance (unless your building or apartment has its own independent supply, which is very rare). Dates are different for each part of the town: some have their hot water turned off as early as the end of May, while others are left without hot water in August. The local housing department should post a note (in Russian only) on the entrance door telling residents from when to when hot water will be turned off. In practice these notes often disappear quickly, so it’s worth asking the neighbours. Similarly, if there is any scheduled plumbing work in your building (due to building work, maintenance, etc.) a scruffy paper note will be glued to the street door a day or two before to warn you – these notes tend to fall off rapidly. Usually turn-offs for daytime works will be scheduled to begin after 10:00, and to be back on again by evening.
Moscow's tap water is generally safe, but it is better not to drink it straight from the tap (although many do anyhow). Most Muscovites use tap water for cooking and preparing coffee and tea. If you do use tap water, boil it properly before using it. Moscow's water is perfectly safe for showers, rinsing your mouth and doing the dishes. Many expatriates use water filters or bottled water for drinking and even sometimes also for cooking (although really this is taking things a bit far). You can also buy bottled water at the supermarket - the large 5-litre and 10-litre bottles are very cheap indeed. Because of the possibility of your domestic water being turned off with little warning for maintenance (see above), it can be a handy precaution to keep a 5-litre bottle unopened at home. Most water company offer various bottle sizes from 0.5 liters to 5 liters. You can also have water delivered to your home and office.
Voltage and Electrical Standards
In Moscow and in Russia in general the current is 220 volts, 50 hertz (cycles) rather than 110 volts, 60 hertz (cycle) as in North America. Russia primarily uses the europlug, also called the "continental plug" or "a plug", which is the standard European two-prong, round-pin type. All standard European appliances will work fine and do not require converts or transformers. In some cases – particularly if you live in an older apartment without Western renovation – the plug pins may be too large for the wall socket. In that case, you can purchase plug adapter at any larger electronics and appliances store.
Moscow and St. Petersburg are both located in Russia's most western time zone, which is Eastern Standard Time (EST) + 8 hours, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) + 3 hours. For many years, rail and air schedules throughout Russia have used Moscow time. Clocks in railroad stations and airports are set to Moscow time, regardless of what the local time might be – which can be up to 8 hours different.
Daylight Savings Time
It is observed from the last Saturday of March until the last Saturday of October. On the last Saturday night in March, you need to move all your clocks and watches one hour forward, and on the last Saturday night in October you move them back one hour. Most of European Russia is in the same time zone as Moscow.
Office and Store Hours
Normal office hours in Moscow and generally in Russia are 09:00 to 18:00 Monday to Friday. Some banks and post offices are additionally open on Saturday mornings. They do not normally work on Sundays. ATMs are usually accessible 24 hours a day. Most stores in Moscow are open seven days a week with only a few closed on Sundays. Stores (e.g. clothing and furniture stores) normally open between 10:00 and 11:00 and are open until anywhere from 08:00 to 23:00. Many larger supermarkets are now open 24 hours a day, making grocery shopping easy even for those who spend long hours at the office. Some of the pharmacies in the center are also open around the clock.
Cost of Living
Depending on which country you are from, Moscow can either seem like one of the most expensive cities in the world or you may find prices here rather reasonable. One thing is for sure - real estate rental prices are similar to (if not higher than) those in New York, London and Tokyo.
The following things/services are considered very expensive:
housing (rental and sale price);
tuition at foreign/international schools and kindergartens;
western medical and dental services (if you don’t have full insurance cover);
fitness and health club membership;
clothing and shoes (imported, good quality);
some imported food products (e.g. peanut butter).
The following things/services are relatively affordable:
drivers, cleaning ladies, nannies and other household help;
electronic and household appliances;
DVDs and CDs;
theatre, opera, and concert tickets;
most food products;
souvenirs and artwork.
Things/services which are very affordable:
some locally-produced foods (including bread, fruit, vegetables, meat, and dairy products).
Moscow does not have any really good or bad neighbourhoods. You may however want to avoid train stations and deserted parts of town late at night. As many streets are not very well lit, women may not feel comfortable walking outside on their own late in the evening. When somebody rings your doorbell, always check who it is before opening the door. The standard question Russian will ask you is "Kto tam?" ("Who is there?"). If you are not expecting that person or don’t know them well, do not open the door without careful consideration. Most apartment doors are fitted with a "spyhole" so that you can see who is waiting outside. Most apartment blocks are fitted with electrically-operated steel doors at street level, and this discourages the vast majority of unwanted door-to-door callers, salespeople, etc. The meters for electricity and water are usually located in the corridor outside your apartment, and officials who come to read them have no need to call on you.
Foreigners must carry their original passport with their Russian visa, Moscow registration stamp and migration card with them at all times (contrary to urban myth, a photocopy is not sufficient). The police have the right to check your documents anytime, and failure to produce them may result in fines and – at the very worst – a temporary arrest. If you don't have your original passport because your visa is being registered, the company or agency handling your visa registration must provide you with a document stating that your original passport will be returned to you on a certain date. All these documents should bear that company's or agency's seal. The same applies if your passport is lodged at a consulate awaiting a visa. Many official buildings and even some banks will require sight of your passport before they admit you, and the number will often be recorded by the security guard. You might be asked for your passport as ID when paying by credit card, too.
Four major classes of security system can be distinguished in Moscow:
professional security (called "okhrana" in Russian) is usually only available in VIP buildings and residential compounds. If you expect guests or visitors you may have to inform security in advance.
a concierge is usually an elderly woman or man residing in a little booth or cabin on the first floor of your building.
intercom (domophone) is the most popular security system and the majority of buildings in the center now have one. Most apartment buildings with intercom systems can only be accessed with a code that unlocks the door, i.e. there are no keys for front doors. Some intercom systems make use of magnetic keys that residents can use to enter the building.
code locks are still used in some older buildings. You usually have to push three buttons on the lock to open the door.
If your apartment does not have a pre-installed security system or burglar system alarm when you move in, ask your real estate agent for advice and assistance. Good service providers are listed here.
Russian veterinary medicine offers quality service. It is not complicated to find the same quality of service you experience in your native country. Moscow has a number of veterinary services to choose from, although not all vets speak English. Look for signs saying "Zootovary" ("Pet Supplies") and "Vse dlya Zhivotnykh" ("Everything for Pets").You can also purchase essential canned and dried food and cat litter at larger supermarkets, but the choice is usually small and prices are a bit higher than at specialized pet stores.
Most pet stores are open seven days a week, usually from 09:00 or 10:00 to at least 19:00 or 20:00. Pet food and supplies are more expensive in Moscow compared to Western Europe and North America. At present, there are no western-style SPCAs with the recourses to respond to the huge number of homeless animals struggling to survive in the streets of Russia's cities. If you are thinking about getting a family dog or cat, please think about adopting one from an animal shelter.
Christianity is the predominant religion in the city, of which, the Russian Orthodox Church is the most popular by virtue of being the country's traditional religion and is deemed a part of Russia's "historical heritage" in a law passed in 1997. Moscow is also Russia's capital of Orthodox Christianity. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, many of the destroyed churches were restored and religion is once again gaining popularity. In Russia, there are other religions and Christian denominations beside orthodox Christianity: Islam, Protestantism, Paganism, Judaism, Buddhism and other forms of alternative religion have established their presence on this territory - many for long centuries.
Do's and Do not's
Do not change money with strangers and in the street – this is always a scam.
Do not use the services of taxi drivers that jump on you when you arrive in the airport building. (If you didn't pre-book a taxi, best to go the Taxi Desk near the exit - they will call a driver round for you at the official rate. The so-called "official rate card $150" waved by the touts can be safely ignored. If you still prefer to bargain with a local driver, move outside the terminal and try to find an older-looking car and driver for the best price – but it might not be cheaper than the Taxi Desk even so.) Bear in mind that it will still be cheaper to take the Airport Express Train (Aeroexpress) downtown, and pick up a cab from there - and you will sail past the gridlock on the roads too.
Do call for a taxi in advance or upon your arrival.
Do prepare cash for buying the tickets in public transport (metro, bus, etc.) - you can not pay with a credit card.
Do not be afraid to smile and say "hello" to people. Although relatively new, the culture of well-wishing is rapidly developing.
Do not hail a car – better call a taxi. It will be safer, especially, if you not an "experienced" expat in Moscow. You can not pay with a credit card, even in major taxi companies. A radio-taxi can often be cheaper than one hailed on the street (especially over longer distances, to stations and airports) and the vehicle is likely to be in better condition too. However, once you have learned your street smarts and how much the fare ought to be, you might still prefer to hail a car – be ready to haggle. Use of "unofficial" cabs (i.e. any car that stops for you) is still very prevalent throughout Russia.
Do not get into yellow cabs at taxi-ranks outside "top price" places (swanky hotels, restaurants, etc.) without asking the fare before you get in - ripoffs abound, and there are no fare meters. In Russia you always agree the fare before setting off, and don't have to pay a tip to taxi-drivers, there is no culture of doing so in Russia. The only exception would be if the driver has helped you up eight flights of stairs with your suitcases.
Do not be afraid to ask if you are lost - it will be a pleasure for people to help you. The police (grey-blue uniforms) tend to be surly, and many locals prefer to minimize dealings with them.
Do wait for a few seconds after the green light lets you pass the street – the traffic is very unpredictable. Bear in mind that the "official" place to cross the road may often be a pedestrian underpass. You can (and will) be fined on the spot for jaywalking on major roads.
Do note that busy sidewalks mentally "divide" into two streams of pedestrians in opposite directions – aim to go with the flow, or expect to learn some interesting local phrases otherwise.
Do always have your documents with you - it could be asked anywhere and at any point in time.
Do not engage in a drinking contest with a Russian - there may be deplorable consequences for your health.
Do stay away from drunks.
Do spare a bit of loose change for beggars – Russia's safety-net for misfortunates has gaping holes, ten roubles would buy them a loaf of bread or a cup of tea. "Little and often" is the watchword - no need to play being Rockefeller to spread some happiness. Giving to beggars is a century's-old tradition of civic duty in Russia.