What is life in Moscow really like? What does the Russian capital have to offer? To help you stay up to date, we’ve asked our students to share what they found while abroad in Moscow!
SRAS: First, think of the city – what was available in terms of culture, shopping, and services. Were you able to find things to do and the goods and services you needed? What was missing? Were there any pleasant surprises?
Laren Chilton (Summer, 2019):My main grocery store I visited was very close to the dorm, and it was called Магнолия. It did not have a huge variety of foods, but they had frozen meals, meat and bread for sandwiches, snacks, and drinks. The mall that was one stop away on the metro, Европейский mall, had a food court on the top floor with very good places to eat along with some fast food spots. There is also a movie theater in this mall which was pretty nice. I did not shop for clothes while abroad. I knew it was going to be too expensive. I just made sure to pack lots of pieces that could be layered or matched with different tops and bottoms. I also made sure to get a haircut and have my eyebrows done before I went to Russia because I just wanted to make it easier on myself. For culture, I had to go farther into the city. There are more theaters and music towards the center, but it was not hard to get there on the metro.
Helen McHenry (Summer, 2019): One thing that struck me while living in Moscow was how specialized most of the stores seemed to be. I tended to buy groceries at the nearby Перекресток, which combined groceries with a few toiletries and home goods items. However, I could only find contact solution in stores specifically for eyecare, such as Линзмастер. This makes sense, but I am used to having easy access to stores such as Walmart in the United States, which has a wide variety of goods, usually at affordable prices. I was surprised to see how accessible each of these services were at the Европейский mall, located just one metro stop away from our dorms. For example, I passed a nail salon kiosk in the middle of the mall on my way to the grocery store, and another was located just inside. Most of the services provided by the Европейский mall were fairly high-end, but it was interesting to see just how many were there once you started to look.
SRAS: How were the prices abroad? Did you find your host city affordable in terms of food and entertainment?
Lauren Chilton (Summer, 2019): Moscow is pretty expensive depending on where you eat. It cost about the same as it does at home for me. Drinks at the bars were around $8, and there was nowhere to drink where you could bring your own stuff. Fortunately, coffee and snacks were very cheap! I got a coffee almost every morning on my way to school, especially when it cooled off. A large latte was around $2, and the place where I went (Правда), usually gives out free muffins if you spend this amount. Uber was inexpensive as well, so it was easy to get around. Theater or performance tickets were usually around $40. For food and entertainment though, I always tried to keep it to a minimum and usually only on the weekends or halfway through the week.
Helen McHenry (Summer, 2019): I found most things to be quite affordable, particularly as many of my lunches at the HSE cafeterias were less than $5. Cafe prices were more comparable, however, as I noticed that my bill for a hot chocolate and a muffin was sometimes more than an entire meal. Entertainment prices fluctuated. A movie ticket cost less than it would in America, while I splurged on a $150 ticket to the ballet – for a matinee performance. Overall, I consider it quite easy to stick to a budget while living in Moscow.
SRAS: How were the people you met? Were you able to generally complete transactions with any professionals you interacted with (at offices, cafes, shops)? Did you find local friends to share your free time with?
Lauren Chilton (Summer, 2019): Transactions were always easy, especially if I used cash. I withdrew my budget in cash every week so as to control my spending and keep things moving at stores and restaurants. I could only use cash at the school cafeteria–my card never worked. If you’ve never been abroad in Russia before, it is good to know the phrases and questions always asked of you at the counter at the grocery store. They will ask you if you want a bag (пакет нужен?) or if you have a store card. I always just said no to most questions. Sometimes they will want exact change, but if you don’t have it, simply say you don’t have it. They might seem annoyed, but they want your money so they will acquiesce. Most store clerks I interacted with were kind, especially when they realized I was trying to speak Russian with them! Unfortunately, I did not find local friends to hang out with. I spent time with my tutors, and these excursions were fun–definitely go on them! I often spoke to locals when I went out, but a relationship never came out of it.
Helen McHenry (Summer, 2019): I found it quite easy to complete transactions once I got into the swing of things. I’ll admit my anxiety at being in a foreign country caused me to be a bit scatterbrained at first – particularly as the credit card reader at HSE often declined my card for no reason – but once I learned to force myself to slow down and pay more attention to my surroundings, I had few problems. Most of my time was spent in class or with the other Americans on my program, so my contact with locals was limited. However, I had a few on-the-spot interactions with Muscovites my age, and they seemed friendly and interested in my opinions of Russia and life in the United States.
SRAS: What modes of transport did you use? Did you generally find them convenient and affordable? Did you travel outside the city during your stay?
Lauren Chilton (Summer, 2019): The metro was incredible and very affordable; however, I felt a little unsafe at night if I was by myself. I always made sure to sit in cars with lots of people or I sat close to other women and families. I used Uber several times with the app on my phone. This was very easy because they knew my destination, and it was very cheap. Yandex was also useful, and there were a variety of vehicles you could hire. However, keep your phone charged! Once my Uber driver’s phone died, and I had to navigate the rest of the way. I only traveled outside of Moscow on SRAS led trips. I had been planning a trip but my budget and time would not allow for it at the end.
Helen McHenry (Summer, 2019): I found the metro to be so convenient that I rarely used other methods. Especially after I switched to the monthly metro plan, I didn’t see the point in paying additional fees for transportation. I took a few taxis in groups, as a ride could be as cheap as $1.50 split three or four ways. There was enough to do in Moscow that I only left for the St. Petersburg trip, but if I have the opportunity to return, I would love to visit a few of the Golden Ring cities, as well as travel to the Russian Far East.
Best and Worst Things
SRAS: What was the best thing about your stay in Moscow? What was the worst?
Lauren Chilton (Summer, 2019): My favorite thing about Moscow was Gorky Park. Actually, just all the parks in general! They were so well kept, and there was always some sort of festival or performance going on! It was fun just to walk around and look at everything and just take it in. I went for a run in Gorky with one of the other SRAS students, and there are all sorts of trails going through the park that go up into the trees or just along the river. You could probably visit a different park every weekend! Probably the worst experience I had was when it got very hot. I had packed for St. Petersburg weather because I did not realize how hot Moscow could get! During those few weeks, I mostly just had jeans and long sleeves to wear. Make sure to pack summer clothes that are comfortable and easy to wash and dry.
Helen McHenry (Summer, 2019): The best aspect of my stay in Moscow was definitely the times I spent exploring the city with those I met through my program and classes. It didn’t really matter to me where we went or what we did – you can’t really go wrong in a city as big and versatile as Moscow – as long as we were all together looking for a great time. Although this is perhaps the most stereotypical answer, I can’t help but say that my favorite spot in Moscow is Red Square. St. Basil’s has always been one of my favorite buildings worldwide, and every time I saw its colorful spires, reality struck – I was actually in Russia. The worst part of my summer was my arrival, as I got stuck first in Paris (okay, that wasn’t bad at all) and then in Sheremetyevo Airport. When I finally arrived at the dorms, I hadn’t slept in three days and looked and felt like death. Luckily for me, it all went up – way up – from there.