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Moscow, Russia

5/2015

Moscows old, and big, and very expensive.  We don't think that it is a reasonable place for tourists to travel. This is one of the few big worldwide cities that we would advise people to avoid. This is very strange given that it would be much more reasonable for Russia to encourage tourism, as a method of increasing their country's income. Overall, we would far rather travel to Istanbul than Moscow.

Here are the basic problems.

First -- Moscow is very very expensive, for tourists. Think 2 to 4 times reasonable.

Almost everything in Russia costs at least twice as much as it does in more ordinary countries, such as the US or Europe. This is AFTER the gigantic devaluing of the Russian currency that occured in early 2015 -- imagine what it was before !

When Russians see foreigner's, they double the price. They call this "entrepreneur" activity. In the US, we would call it "fleecing the tourists". For example, when we were in Moscow, we needed a small umbrella. Clearly marked on the stand in a convience type store were ones for 600 rubles (about $12), and ones for 1200 rubles. The one we wanted was the small one. We asked a shop-assistant. They told us the price was 1200 rubles. They saw a foreigner, and doubled the price.

Hotels in Russia are appallingly expensive. You need a hotel where they speak some English. They also practice "entrepreneurship". For example, one hotel told us it would cost another $250/night so my wife could stay in my room. Appalling behavior for a conference hotel. We suspect this is their "scam".

Hotel breakfasts in Russia hotels are super expensive. Think $30-$40/person for a buffet type breakfast, even in a hotel that might not be top notch.

Currency issues are awful in Russia - - the conversion rate between dollars and Rubles seems to change by about 10%, at every place you check. It is simply not true that every exchange is the same.

Furthermore, in Russia (unlike almost anywhere else), hotels will not exchange your dollars. They direct you to a bank (often around the corner). Banks may also refuse to exchange your dollars (strangely enough). The best strategy seems to be to pick a bank inside the airport, but far away from where you get off the plane. Exchange a lot of money, as you may not have much luck elsewhere. Obviously, common sense suggests that Russia should be making it easy for tourists to leave money in their country, rather than making it very very hard for tourists to spend.

Second - -the Russian visa problem.

It is EXTREMELY difficult to get a Russian Visa. First, there are only a few consulates. There is no consulate in, for example, Chicago Illinois. This means you either have to fly to one of the few cities that has a consulate, or hire a third party do to this. Second, Russians need a "letter" from someone in Russia, for to travel to Russia. More opportunities for entrepreneurship ! It cost us about $350 per visa -- including a $200 "consulate fee". This is outrageous. Expect a month between starting the process and ending it -- this makes it difficult to be prudent and wait for your visa to arrive before you book a flight. A catch-22. Russia should fix this - -we think that shorter stays, such as 2 weeks in Russia, should not require a visa at all. We also think that for longer stays, the visa should work for 10 years. Passport control is good enough.

We had to get letters from the two hotels we stayed at for our trip. This was very bizzare, as of course all this proves is that we had booked a hotel. Why is this useful to anyone ? The hotels even state that if you don't stay at their hotel, you will get fined. We are not used to commercial activities putting up gigantic barriers to their customers. This is just dumb.

Third -- Moscow is very hard to get around.

People who live in Moscow get around using the Metro. This is cheap/fast, but for a foreigner who doesn't speak Russian, very difficult. Regarding cheap, a metro ticket to anywhere in Moscow is 50 rubles (about $1.00 US). The Metro is also very very fast, there are many trains, and seems to work well.

On the other hand, we would not say it is impossible for a foreigner to use the Moscow metro, but it is pretty close. These are problems that the Russians could fix, such as the Chinese and Japanese have done.

Taxis are also a big problem in Moscow. The locals prefer the metro (which as noted above has big barriers). Taxis have to fight the traffic, are "negotiable", and can be very expensive even if someone else (like your hotel) does the negotiation for you. A ride from the train-station to our hotel -- about a mile, was variously priced at 850 rubles (about $16), or 1500 rubles (about $30). Both prices are too high. On one trip, the driver pulled out a sheet and told us that "he could not take any less than 1600 rubles). We said no and walked away. Then the price came down to 1000 rubles. This makes things very hard for a foreigner, who doesn't know the basis for negotiation. Everything is stacked against the foreigner.

The best strategy we think is to stay close to whatever you want to see, and walk everywhere.

Fourth -- what do you do in Moscow anyway ?

Moscow is not Paris or even Chicago. Once you have seen Red square (takes about 4 hours), thats pretty much all you can get to considering all of the other problems with currency and transportation.

Fifth -- there are food and water quality problems for tourists in Moscow.

A tourist should not drink Moscow tap water. You drink bottled water, beer, something that is sterilized. "Tourista" is common. There are also many warnings in travel books to avoid local vodka due to fake vodka and "alcohol poisoning". We think it is also prudent to avoid local "Russian" restaurants too. That doesn't leave much to eat in Moscow. Maybe Mcdonalds is safe.

Sixth -- electricity in Russia is difficult.

Like most other countries, Russia uses 220 volts, with strange outlets, and no easy method of powering your 110 volt devices. We don't know which system is better, but we think there should be more effort to make it possible for tourists from 110 volt devices to plug into Russian hotel circuits. We stayed in 2 different hotels -- each one had a different plug for their electricity.

As another example, on the express train, we saw Russians who had brought along with them little USB power plugs with the 220 volt round plugs to recharge their cell-phone. Of course a tourist doesn't know to do this.

A fcw good things about Russia. Their core services work.

 

 

 

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