So what's Mosow like?

Several people have asked me just what Moscow is like. Now that I'm leaving, I'll answer. It's much like any big city in the U.S. Personally, I think it's a lot like Chicago, with a touch of Washington D.C. thrown in. Chuck is from the Chicagoland area, and he agrees. It's got a strong industrial base, but also a vibrant nightlife, and there are great crowds of people moving throughout the city all day long.

I was also asked if Moscow smells. It does not smell, well, at least not any more than any city does, just the normal smell of traffic, vendors cooking food on the street, and construction. One excellent smell is the smell of fresh baked goods in the subways and the underpasses under the main streets where there are kiosks selling pastries and other goodies. Moscow certainly smells a great deal better than Cedar Rapids, the city we flew out of. If you've never been to Cedar Rapids, your nose thanks you. The sign may say the City of Five Seasons, but the locals call it the City of Five Smells. The only olfactory offense in Moscow is cigarette smoke, which is much more prevalent than it is in the U.S. these days. MISA is actually a bit of an anomaly, as they don't allow smoking, and Chuck and I got some amusement listening to Alexey grumble about this when he'd leave to go take a smoke outside.

The Metro or subway system in Moscow is unique as well. I've ridden the one in Washington quite a bit, and it's the only one I can compare it to first-hand. Each Moscow Metro station is unique, and they're usually decorated in a neo-classical style, with lots of marble and columns, much nicer than the drab concrete tunnels of D.C. The trains move very very fast, and they're generally somewhat crowded, though not overwhelmingly so. It's very cheap to travel by subway, I think the price is around 10 rubles, or about 35 cents, and, unlike the states, the price doesn't vary based on your destination. That 35 cents gets you anywhere you want to go on the Metro system, which is quite large. There are two things to beware on the subway, one is the doors, which I found out close quite fast, they caught me half-in, and I had to squeeze through pretty quickly, as they don't open back up. I'm surprised I didn't get bruised. The other thing to watch out for is pickpockets, as they like to strike in dense crowds where they can escape and you have a hard time chasing them. I caught a kid of about 12 years old trying to pick my back pocket when I was in the Subway one day. Fortunately, my wallet was in my front pocket at the time, with my hand firmly around it, so all he got out of the deal was a handful of my chubby butt. Even if he had gotten my wallet, he'd have gotten about $40 and my UNI ID card. Not such a big score.

Moscow also has a lot of restaurants (spelled PECTOPAH in Cyrillic) which are just as expensive as anywhere in Chicago or any other large U.S. city. There are a lot of young people who frequent them, and there seem to be a great number of wealthy people in Moscow as well, and there'd need to be, to support the large number of clothing shops that are too expensive for me to shop in.

As I've mentioned before, the streets are full of luxury cars, though traffic is chaotic. Several of our tour guides mentioned that they don't drive, and have never learned, because they're too terrified of the traffic. I can't say I blame them, and I know many New Yorkers feel this same way, as well as they don't want the hassle of having to find parking spaces for the car. If I was a Muscovite, I can't say that I wouldn't feel the same way, though the Beltway in DC has its share of bad drivers too.

Muscovites dress up somewhat more than the average American does, but they'd be right at home on Manhattan. I've taken some notes, wondering exactly how well I blend in, and I'm sorry to say that I don't at all, though a 10-year old girl did think I was a Russian in a shopping mall the other day, so that counts for something. Anyhow, if you're coming to Moscow, and you want to blend in, first you're going to need to darken your wardrobe. Black is by far the dominant wardrobe color here, and I didn't bring anything black with me. Also, shave off your facial hair, I haven't seen anyone under the age of 50 with facial hair here, other than myself. Next you're going to need to drop that extra weight you're carrying, as Russians aren't nearly as fat on average as we Americans are. In a given room, I'm probably the biggest guy around, both in height and in girth, so I don't think we'll be seeing an NFL expansion team in Moscow anytime soon, unless they find some husky country boys to play on the line.

I've also noticed that jeans with vertical wear lines are hot here, sort of like vertical stripes of lighter and darker denim around the jeans. I think I've seen these in America as well, but they're much more prevalent here. Women here also are very fond of the mini-skirt (hey, so am I) and they're generally dressing to impress. Men tend to wear a lot of dress shirts and pants, though jeans are pretty prevalent too. You'll see almost no T-shirts though, and no khakis. I've literally not seen a single person wearing what would be a "standard" business casual outfit in the U.S., such as khakis and a blue button up shirt. Of course, that's what I wore the other day when I was giving my little presentation, which is exactly when I noticed that no one else dressed that way.

I've watched some Russian TV in my room, and while I was disappointed to discover that this model of TV wouldn't let me select an alternate audio stream, it was still fun to watch some. Chuck watched more than I did, so he can probably post a comment with more info, but I've got to say that Russian MTV is waaaay better than our sorry old MTV station. First of all, they play Music Videos, and I mean they play more than a half-hour a day. Almost every time I turn on MTV here, it's videos, both American and Russian in origin, though I did catch Ren & Stimpy one day, in Russian. Many American shows are shown here, dubbed into Russian. The funny thing is that the English soundtrack is underneath the Russian one, so it's like the actor has two voices speaking at once. I caught an episode of the X-Files the other night, and I've seen the Amazing Race as well. I also caught an episode of Russian Idol, which has the exact same theme music as American Idol, but seems to have two hosts, and no trace of Ryan Seacrest or the rest of the cast. The most shocking thing about Russian TV, to a typical prudish American, would be the late-night movies that, well, could probably best be described as soft-core porn. Nothing too shocking, really, just the sort of stuff that Cinemax shows at night in the U.S., I'm just not used to seeing it on broadcast channels.

Other than that, Moscow is your typical big city, more like any big city in the U.S. than it is different. I'm looking forward to St. Petersburg, which Alexey tells me is much more beautiful than Moscow, though as a native Petersburger, he's obviously more than a little biased, which he readily admits. There's a bit of a rivalry between the two cities, since Peter the Great moved the capitol from Moscow to St. Petersburg, then the Soviets moved it back to Moscow later, both cities feel that they are the "true" jewel of Russia.

Everyone also asks me if it's cold here. The answer is a definite no. It's no colder than it is in Iowa this time of year, it's been in the 40s or 50s all week, and though we were told to expect rain, the only rain we saw was today. It's been pretty pleasant weather for walking long distances in the city, not too hot, not too cold. Moscow is not in Siberia, and it's really no colder than the upper midwest of the U.S. as far as I can tell.

Well, it's time to sign off from Friday's and catch a late-night train to St. Petersburg. Da svedanya!