The Moscow metro is overwhelming and awe-inspiring in its grandeur. The Russian railway system is generally efficient and seems romantic, if you squint a little. Even the ancient buses chug along usefully, ferrying babushki here and there with just a swipe of their pension card.
But the marshrutka. Oh, the marshrutka. Google always translates it as “shared taxi”, implying far more of a choice than is really the case. In fact, they’re actually just oversized vans or mini buses, held together by duct tape and the hopes of its knuckle-tattoo bearing drivers. These ancient vehicles are boiling in the summer, freezing in winter and always a little too grimy for my taste. Sure they’re efficient, but after numerous days lost sitting and staring forlornly out the window as the legendary Moscow traffic continued to be at a standstill, the novelty of a $1 ride around the city loses some of its magic.
I had been living in Moscow for almost three years and was working as an English teacher in a school just outside of Moscow. When I tell you that it was only ten kilometers from the school to the nearest metro station, it is impossible to impart to you how utterly torturous those ten kilometers were. To a very large suburb of Moscow, some city planning genius had allotted a one-lane road to facilitate the massive flood of vehicles from the town in the morning and back again after work. Ten kilometers quickly turns into an hour, ninety minutes, even two hours depending on the number of desperate commuters trying to get home.
On one particular day I had been unlucky enough to be one of the last people to get on so, although I did get a seat, it was in the very last row. The last row of the larger marshrutka is a very special hell that I wouldn’t wish on hardly anyone. It’s five seats long (giving ample opportunity to be crushed by a large Russian and their equally large collection of designer plastic bags) and can almost always be guaranteed to smell heavily of gas as the exhaust fumes drift unpleasantly back into the vehicle. And on this particular occasion, because it was a lovely, sunny May day, the sun steamed in through the back window with laser-like focus.
There are just some weekends that are destined for greatness and this was definitely one of them. It had all the hallmarks of a good time: sunny weather, fun with friends, long walks, lots of alcohol, and good food.
Ah, spring in Moscow.
It’s the kind of weekend in Moscow that sneaks up on you. All the sudden everyone’s back outside and basking in the long-anticipated sunlight. That treacherous thought of “oh, Moscow’s really not that bad. Why did I hate it so much?” passes through your mind as memories of cold weather and dark days quietly melt away. Let me tell you, it’s a trap. Before you know it, you’ve woken up from your trance: it’s September and all you’ve got to show for yourself is another year-long contract clutched in your freezing fingers.
Struggling with the visa application? Got a question about Russian grammar? Wondering about the process of getting married abroad? Want to know what I think about the Ukraine situation? (No, actually, don’t ask that. You probably already know and the ultra-nationalist Russians who occasionally comment here are pretty ruthless!)
Anyway, if you’ve got a Russia related question, we can try to answer it. No promises that it’ll go any better than last time.
Get your questions in below within the next few days and next weekend we’ll update you all with the oh-so-insightful answers!
Today I’m hopping off the blog (and into a movie and a liter or so of delicious cider which no, I am not planning on sharing with the Russky!) and giving up this spot to one of my favorite blogs out there, MongomeryFest. If you haven’t seen this awesome blog before, it’s basically the remarkably well-photographed life of two American expats in Brussels, Belgium. Be warned though, you might get mega expat envy when you see how well they’re living it up…
Describe your blog in one word: Love.
One word was a little limiting. Got anything more to add?: We have a whole lotta love for travel and music. We’re also not shy on the gushy marriage part – it’s kinda the most important role we play.
This is my first time writing along with the Move to America blog and her Expat Experience link up. If you’re a blogger, you should absolutely check it out!
I usually frustrate people looking for a good story when I describe my first experiences in Russia. Aside from buying a train ticket to the wrong station (which I managed to get myself out of with what I’d like to think was a charming combination of Russian skills and cuteness), my first weeks and months as an expat were mostly just a lot of fun. Even when I’ve become incredibly annoyed with some aspect of Russian culture or living abroad, I never saw any of it as a particular challenge.
Well, fine, you might be saying. So why the hell are you participating in this link up?
Up until about a year and a half ago, I really didn’t have any huge obstacles to overcome. What changed? Well, all the sudden there was an extra Russian in my life. (And no, I’m not talking about my hedgehog.)
Dating, and eventually marrying someone with a Russian passport was definitely my unexpected challenge of expat life.
Are you in Moscow and looking for a way to have a little romance and/or enjoy the not-so-chilly weather? Free up a night, fill up a flask, and head down to Chistye Prudy. The whole park is lined with trees wrapped in Christmas lights and packed full of fellow Muscovites out to enjoy the last bit of winter magic. You can even still hop onto the frozen pond (be sure to dodge the hockey players!). Just be quick before winter’s well and truly over!
Any Muscovites: anything else I should be doing this weekend? For all you non-Muscovites, what are you up to this weekend? Is it warm enough to venture outside yet?
Hey, all! Happy, happy weekend to you all. I can’t be the only one GASPING in relief that we finally made it! I’m off to celebrate and while I’m gone, I’ve got two interesting people to introduce you to: Alex at Ifs Ands & Butts and Hayley of Living It Up As Hayup!. Get to know them here and then hop over to their blogs afterwards! (Just click on their banner to get there!)
Let’s first welcome Alex from the excellent expat blog Ifs Ands & Butts. Try not to laugh at that, I dare you! An expat bartender living in Karlsruhe, Germany, Alex’s blog is always entertaining and informative. She took the time to answer some of my questions, so let’s get to know her…
Where do you live and what do you do?: I am a former au pair, current bartender at an Irish pub, and an aspiring masters student in Karlsruhe, Germany.
When I first arrived in Moscow, I was rather surprised to find myself deposited in a small suburb of Moscow called Korolev. (I’m sure you can imagine a lot of panicked thoughts as the taxi driver picked me up from the airport, started driving, and ignored all the signs pointing toward Moscow!) Korolev was OK. There wasn’t much to do, but there were a lot of good people and, hey, it was close enough to Moscow for a night out.
Perhaps my favorite part of living in my little apartment (aside from the fact that I lived by myself and my students constantly admonished me for slumming it in the “bad part of town”) was that it was about 200 meters away from the entrance of the Moscow region’s biggest national park, Лосиный Остров (Losiny Ostrov) — Elk Island.
Ever wanted to uproot your life and move Iceland? Well you will after you check out Unlocking Kiki! Kaelene is an American turned expat living and loving it up in Reykjavík, Iceland. She’s one of my favorite bloggers out there and was kind enough to be a sponsor for my blog this month. Check out her interview below and then head over…
Where do you live and what do you do?: I live in Reykjavik, Iceland with my Viking, H. For the month I am a social media consultant for the university and then back to the job search I go.
Describe your blog in one word: Honest
One word was a little limiting. Got anything more to add?: My blog is where I talk about transitioning to life as an expat, my attempts at fitting into the Icelandic society, how awkward I am trying to make new friends, my struggles with the language barrier and any random thoughts I may have on my mind that day. I don’t sugar coat things and tell it how it is, the good, the bad, and the ugly, I am an open book and my blog reflects that.
Let me start by saying that my winner is probably a pretty easy guess. Despite the horrific smog of the first month I lived here, the insane traffic, and the generally grittiness of big-city life, Moscow has become my second home.
Because of that, I feel I can pretty confidently describe life in Moscow; however, I’ve never spent any real time in Saint Petersburg so I don’t claim to be an expert. But I have visited and came away with some thoughts (most of which seem to go against every other expat’s opinion, but whatever!). For my entirely unscientific comparison of Moscow vs Saint Petersburg, I’ve come up with three pros and three cons for both cities and I’ll let you all be the judge.
Oh, Moscow. Russia’s capital and one of the biggest, most expensive, craziest cities in the world. It’s been my home for the past four years and it’s the biggest love-hate relationship I’ve ever had.
1. It’s a real 24/7 city. There are a million and one things to do in Moscow on any given day. Half the year it’s grey and freezing, but if you can drag yourself out of the house you’re sure to find something interesting.
2. You can’t beat the metro system. Seriously. It just wins.
3. There’s real money to be made. There’s a reason that Russians, people from the former USSR, and other expats flock to Moscow: opportunity. For Russians (and citizens of the former USSR), salaries are massively higher than in other Russian cities. For expats, the money to be earned can be astronomically high. (Just don’t get me started on how Moscow’s meteoric rise has meant the demise of basically every other city and village in Russia…).
1. It’s not a western city. Now this is not a factor for me personally because I feel it’s pretty obvious. However, I’m consistently shocked by the number of expats who come to Moscow and wash out because of high expectations. Russia is not a European country, why would you expect Moscow to be a European city? It’s a sprawling, confusing mess with infrastructure, bureaucracy, and standards of living that are not the same as they would be in western Europe.
2. It’s depressing and dirty. Grey buildings, grey skies, grey snow. Add to that the Russian people’s disregard for properly disposing trash, and things get pretty dismal.
3. Living costs are astronomical. Sure, your salary sounds great, but not after you factor in how much you’re going to be paying every month! Rent, food, and entertainment prices are consistently some of the highest in the world!
The “most western Russian city” was founded by its namesake, Peter the Great, at the very beginning of the 18th century. Because of Moscow’s position as first city, Saint Petersburg (or Piter, if you’re in the know) has had the last century or so to percolate a more placid, intellectual existence.