Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

My first view of Moscow was late at night; approximately 12:30am is when we left. Over 24 hours into my visit to Russia, I had some jet lag to fight. This was a partial reason for my delayed entrance to Moscow’s City Centre.

As with any big city, and even at one in the morning, we waited through about 15 minutes of traffic just a couple of miles down the main freeway. (Do Muscovites call those major road freeways?) Luckily, we were mostly on our way after the unexpected and annoying delay.

Before I knew it, several minutes later, we had reached the center. Driving the different streets of the center of Moscow, I saw aspects of the big tourist spots: the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and various other places.

My first impression was noticing how similar this was to most other major cities to where I’ve been: traffic, companies everywhere, pubs/bars, crazy drivers, flashy signs and billboards. It was also noticing the differences: position of stop lights, how many crazy drivers there are, uniqueness of buildings, banner advertisements hanging in the middle of the streets. Moscow was so similar yet so different.

My first real taste of Moscow was a ride down the beautiful subway system. Moscow arguably has the most beautiful subway in the world. Many of the stops have beautiful architecture with a lot of attention to detail. It was as though most inner city stops were planned to be lavish. As you travel outward, at least to the north on our line, the stops lose their appeal.

With a quick stop to exchange my money, we were on our way to eat. My first meal out to eat in Moscow? Underground mall fast food! Under the Kremlin area is a huge mall. Once you depart the subway looking area and enter the mall area, it’s very similar to any other mall you’ve ever been to. There are several levels of shops to peruse or at which to window shop. It was so unusual but quite fascinating.

The Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral and the rest of central Moscow was my tourist climax. It’s where all people must go, it’s where most tourists take photos and it’s the very well kept up. Being that it was the holiday season, lights were on many buildings and an ice skating rink was setup by the GUM (mall). There I was, standing in front of St. Basil, the icon of what Russia was to me.

In general, central Moscow reminds me of most larger metropolitans like New York City, Boston, or Washington D.C. Some would find it a little dirty, most would pay more attention to the uniqueness of its architecture and layout. For instance, sometimes you can’t cross the road. You literally have to take a tunnel to get to the other side. It’s these differences which kept me wondering what I was going to see next.

Palace Square in St. Petersburg, Russia
Palace Square in St. Petersburg, Russia

This was another trip of firsts: first 13 hour flight, first time being anywhere near the North Pole, first time to spend the majority of all 13 hours in darkness, first time to be around plane full of Russian speaking natives and visitors, and my first time to visit the largest country in the world. Russia.

I knew my nerves would eventually get to me. In the air thousands of miles above Canada, Greenland and Scandinavia, it never hit me. In fact, just an hour or less before we landed, I looked out the window. It was drawing towards evening local Moscow time.

I looked towards the ground and quickly glanced at the sky. It’s the moon. I also saw two other bright dots: Jupiter and Venus. I had forgotten this event was happening until that moment.

Before I knew it, it was time to land. 13 hours is much too long to stay seated in such a confined space, but I survived. Then came the rush.

We landed pretty quickly. My anxiety was very low; I was distracted by trying to gather all my stuff and pack up. It didn’t occur to me where I was.
Not yet.

All packed and following the crowd. We weren’t at a gate and we walked down the portable stairs to a bus. Five minutes later, we arrived at the next destination: customs.

As I walked off the bus and and looked around, frost in my breath and intrigue in my eyes, it finally hit me.

This is Russia.
I’m here.
Thousands of miles away from everyone and everything comfortable to me.
Except one new person.

We walked up to the customs stations, waiting for our turns to be inspected. Not knowing where everything was, what to expect, I wondered if the other side of these booths was my friend. I searched but saw no one. Nope, just baggage. One more wait, and one more path until I met her. Tanya.

With two bags on my shoulders and a suitcase handle in my hand, I quickly greeted her, nervous and anxious. Here is my accommodation, my lifeline, and my only personal contact for the next 11 nights. The greeting was initially awkward and a little weird. I was really nervous but trying to act as smooth as I can.

My first car ride into Russia was mentally blurry, with so many new sites, foreign characters and letters and a curiosity about what’s to come. With lots of silence, quiet awe and wonder, I looked around, made awkward small talk and generally took in what I could see.

So began my first night in Moscow, my first night in Russia, and the first night in a completely new, foreign and intriguing place.

It has now been half a week since I returned from Moscow, Russia. I spent a total of eleven nights in Russia, spending 14 hours in St. Petersburg and 14 hours on two overnight trains to and from St. Petersburg. The rest of my stay was in Moscow. Having seen and been to many places, I want to declare that Russia is not a 3rd world country.

Before I left, I tried to do a lot of research and find answers to questions I had about Russia. Specifically, I needed to make sure I felt safe and informed about what to do and where to go. I searched Google for travel tips and advice. This was, in fact, a country of which I had very little knowledge except for the tidbits I learned in school. The assumptions I made, the ideas I formed, they were not very accurate. Let’s go over some stupid misconceptions.

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