Why I was wrong about Moscow

My adventures in Moscow began with a wedding invite. Innocent enough. My senior prom date had spontaneously proposed to his Russian girlfriend on a cross-America road trip. Somewhere on the highway in middle of nowhere USA, he looked at the passenger side and he realized he wanted to be with this woman forever. I’ll have to remember that one when it comes time to trap a man for myself.

When he asked me to come to Russia for their wedding, I knew I had to go. My crazy, spontaneous, never ready to settle down friend was about to make a lifelong commitment. Miracles happen every day, and I was ready to witness this one in the flesh. I arranged PTO, booked my travel, and began shopping for a wedding present.

Within a span of a few weeks everything went straight to hell:

  1. My spontaneous friend called to spontaneously inform me that the wedding would be canceled
  2. I decided to go to Moscow anyways because heck that plane ticket was expensive
  3. The most anxiety-inducing visa experience of my life led to me receiving my Russian visa 8 hours before I left the country
  4. My connection to Moscow got canceled. I threatened to sue the airline.

It was 100% a mess, and at this point I was certain I was going to hate Moscow. American media painted a picture of a dismal, communist city with no beauty and terrible food. Stereotypes spoke of pickled fish, rye, and an unhealthy amount of vodka. A co-worker told me he’d gotten the worst food poisoning of his life during a summer in Moscow. On a practical note, I was worried that little English would be spoken and that I had no understanding of the Russian alphabet.

I quickly learned that you should never judge a country by their stereotypes (though there really was a lot of pickled fish and rye). Moscow is breathtakingly beautiful with a deep respect for arts, culture, and history. Out of 20+ countries and numerous cities, it was easily one of the most memorable places I’ve traveled.

  1. Public transportation is practical and beautifulIMG_1627

    Nothing makes my heart flutter like good public transportation. The Moscow metro is famous, and with good reason. Once a cesspool of decay, homelessness, and crime, the entire metro system underwent an end to end transformation. Each station was converted into a display of art, with glittering mosaic tiles and paintings. Rides are affordable (a little over $1), and the lines run across the city.

  2. Moscow takes pride in cleanlinessIMG_1586

    Maybe it’s a small thing to say that a city is clean, but I was impressed that every night without fail the streets would be scrubbed down. San Francisco is the epitome of filth (it’s part of the charm…), so I certainly enjoyed strolling down the clean streets of Moscow.

  3. You don’t need to know Russian to get aroundIMG_1610

    To be absolutely clear, English is not nearly as ubiquitous as in western Europe. However, take 10 minutes to learn the Russian alphabet, pull up Google maps, and you’ll be set to at least navigate around the city. A healthy amount of pointing and gesturing will help you as well, and don’t forget to say thank you (Spasibo).

  4. The city is full of green spacesIMG_1612

    When I stepped out of my Airbnb, I found a city bursting into bloom. I visited at the beginning of June and the city was full of shady tree-lined paths and flower bushes. The Moscow Ring Road is a perfect pedestrian path to go for a run or explore the city, and Gorky Park is fantastic. This expansive and sprawling park is a hub for festivals, Saturday outings, and arts markets.

  5. It’s a Renaissance city – you can discover art, history, science, literatureIMG_1741.jpg

    A visit to the Kremlin, Treyakov Gallery, Bolshoi Theater, or Museum of Cosmonautics all have something core in common – each are a true celebration of human culture and beauty. It’s undoubtedly a feast for the mind and eyes.

  6. There’s more to eat than pickled fish and vodkaIMG_1708

    I had the joy of eating blinis, a type of savory or sweet crepe, and borsch, a flavorful beet and tomato soup. I also found that Moscow has a healthy love of ice cream – everywhere I went I could find people enjoying a distinct rounded scoop of ice cream in a simple waffle cone. The shape is quite distinctive and extremely popular.

  7. A spirit of “live and let live” mixes with a strong sense of hospitalityIMG_1669

    As I wandered through the streets of Moscow, I appreciated the lack of stares I’ve often received for being a Chinese-American tourist. At the same time, I was warmly welcomed by my friend’s Russian in-laws. Though my connection to them was tenuous, they truly went out of their way to create a memorable experience for me.

Moscow is one of those cities that will live on in my mind, truly unforgettable. When I remember my time there, I’ll think of perfect blue skies, sunlight glittering on a golden church dome, and the feeling of discovery around every corner. It serves as a reminder that no matter how much I travel, I can continue to broaden my mind and embrace new experiences


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