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Ask your average bloke in the streets of Britain or the US about Moscow, and certain images will definitely spring to mind; bread queues, KGB surveillance, grey conformity, bears in the street and blizzards for 12 months of the year. But these are misguided preconceptions. Moscow is reinventing itself at breakneck speed. Only thirty years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union yet the change is breathtaking. Moscow has all the trappings of a modern, wealthy city which is still enigmatic. The opportunity to live and work in Moscow is something which should be seriously considered when choosing your first or next TEFL destination. View the photo gallery.
Moscow has an official population (that is, those who are registered as Moscow citizens) of around 15 million. Unofficially, this figure is said to be an underestimate by several million, making Moscow by far the biggest city in Europe and one of the largest capitals in the world, with a multi-cultural population made up of peoples from all parts of the former USSR.
Believe it or not, even the most seasoned of travellers find Moscow's climate pleasantly surprising. While it is true that winters here can indeed be cold, they are nothing like as fearsome as the -45 degree temperatures of the popular myth. On average, one should expect winter temperatures of about -10 to -12 degrees Celsius, with one or two cold snaps when it might go down to -25.
Summers are fairly hot with temperatures of up to +30 degrees Celsius being the norm throughout July and August.
Getting to and Arriving in Moscow
Moscow is served by three international airports. If you are flying in from Europe or the States, you will most likely arrive at Domodedovo airport in the South or Sheremyetevo II airport in the North. Upon your arrival, you will be met by someone from Language Link (who will speak English) or a taxi driver (English not guaranteed) and driven to your apartment, where you will be given welcome pack (which includes fresh sheets and a few basic essentials). Should you wish to go to the airport under your own steam (for holidays or to meet guests), they are easily and cheaply accessible by public transport. If you have lots of luggage and would rather take a taxi, it will cost you approximately 2000 roubles.
If you wish to approach Moscow by road or rail, please remember that you may need transit visas for countries you will travel through, even if you don't intend to stay. Please check at the individual embassies and remember there are different rules for different nationalities. This may be an interesting way to arrive in Moscow, but it will probably be more inconvenient than arriving by plane.
In your shared apartment, you will have your own bedroom and access to a kitchen, bathroom and toilet. All bills (with the exception of the phone bill and internet) will be covered by Language Link. While the apartments are not overly luxurious, they are clean, warm and safe. Bedding, cutlery and crockery are all supplied. All of Language Link's apartments are within easy reach of public transport.
Telephones, Internet and Postal services
Pay-as-you-go mobile phones are cheaply available and are useful for keeping in touch with both your friends here and at home. It is also possible to buy SIM cards to use in your existing handset (be aware that you may have to unlock your mobile phone before you leave your home country; it is a good idea to check with your service provider before you leave).
Post sent from Russia to the UK or the US takes at least two weeks, if not more, to arrive at its destination and similar from the UK or US to Moscow. It is best to use the school address for incoming mail, rather than the address of your apartment.
UPS, DHL and FedEx all have offices in Moscow, and many on-line stores (such as Amazon) deliver to Russia.
Electricity is 220 volt/ 50 Hz. (as in Western Europe). Plugs are of the two-pin variety, so if you are bringing electrical goods from the UK don't forget to bring continental adaptors too. It is not recommended that you bring electrical items from the US. Adaptors are very expensive and not overly safe, and you could probably pick up the same stereo, hairdryer etc. in Russia for a reasonable price.
Don't drink water from the taps. Tap water must be boiled and left to cool, or you can buy bottled water. Although hot water is very reliable throughout the autumn and winter, the hot water supply is disconnected for around two weeks in the summer for repairs. Different areas of Moscow will be without hot water at different times, so you can always pop round to a friend’s apartment for a shower if your water is off.
Laundry/ Dry Cleaning
All Language Link apartments have a washing machine.
Muscovites are very proud of their metro system and quite rightly so- it really is magnificent. It is cleaner, more efficient and much cheaper than the London Underground or New York Subway, and is easy enough to navigate. The whole city is extremely well serviced by the metro and you will probably not need to use any other form of transport. A three month pass entitling you to unlimited trips on the metro can be purchased for about 5500 roubles. The metro is open from about 5:30 am (depending on the station) to 1 am.
Moscow is served by an extensive system of buses, trams and trolleybuses that run until about midnight, with 5-15 minute frequency.
Taxis are fairly reasonably priced. Expect to pay around 300-700 roubles in the city centre, a little more at night. Try to stick to official taxis (rather than gypsy cabs), at least until you find your feet in Moscow.
Food and Drink
As with any capital city, cuisine from all over the world can be found in Moscow. Smart restaurants featuring European, Central Asian, Asian, Middle Eastern, and even African dishes can be found easily. Sushi is very popular in Moscow at the moment. There are restaurants to suit all. Caucasian (Georgian, Armenian etc.) restaurants are particularly good value. Street stalls sell delicious blini (Russian pancakes), baked potatoes, pastries and shaurma (meat in lavash) very cheaply. The meat in shaurma can, however, be unreliable at times.
There are lots of trendy cafes and coffee shops in Moscow, which are great for people-watching. In summer, bars and cafes spill out onto the street, creating a fantastic continental atmosphere.
Most things are widely available in Moscow. Supermarkets and hypermarkets can be found in every corner of Moscow. IKEA now has three gigantic superstores, and you can buy any brand-named good you wish (but for a price).
There is bound to be at least one small ‘produkti’ shop within 5 minutes’ walk of your apartment, where you can buy basics like bread, cheese and frozen food. In such small shops, the products are stored behind counters so you have to explain to the attendant exactly what you want.
Russia is not a great place for buying clothes, as good-quality clothes are expensive and Russian styles and sizes differ greatly from those in the West. Wherever you are, the cheapest goods will be found at the market (though the quality can be suspect). However, there are also many modern shopping centres, with brands that you will recognize from home.
Moscow is awash with souvenirs like matrioshka dolls, fur hats and mini-busts of Lenin, and undoubtedly you will want to take some of this back home. There are some great markets and shops where you can buy souvenirs in the centre of the city, and a large souvenir market located close to the metro in eastern Moscow.
For the most part, Moscow is a healthy place to live. Be careful if you go on day trips into the countryside, as tick-borne encephalitis is a local hazard. You will have medical insurance from Language Link, but this does not cover high-risk activities such as skiing, bungee-jumping and running across a six-lane road when inebriated. If you plan to do any of these activities, it may be worth taking out some extra insurance from home. (but check the policy carefully to see if it is valid if you are working, rather than just travelling).
There are numerous pharmacies which stock equivalents to what you’d find in the west (some medicines that are only available by prescription in the UK and US are available over-the-counter here). If you require any specialty medicines, it's best to bring them with you. Dental care, whilst not covered by your LL insurance is much, much cheaper than at home and equally as good quality.
Although it may not seem like it on the surface, Russians are extremely friendly and hospitable people. Should you be invited into a Russian household, there are a few points of etiquette to consider. If buying your hostess flowers, remember to buy them in odd numbers (3, 5 etc.). Even numbered flowers are suitable only for funerals, and this is a very important tradition in Russia. Take the standard chocolates and wine and, if you have any, souvenirs of your own country.
Toasts are considered an integral part of new meetings, especially if you are male. Do not ever try to keep up with Russian men when they’re drinking vodka.
Get a guidebook! Although Red Square is every bit as impressive as you would expect (beating Trafalgar Square, Times Square and Albert Square hands down), there is much more to see than this. The Rough Guide series has an excellent edition for Moscow.
Entertainment and Sport
If you want Grand Opera in opulent theatres, then Moscow won't disappoint. In addition to the celebrated Bolshoi, there are many theatres which offer excellent productions of ballet, opera, drama and musicals at very reasonable prices. Buy your tickets from designated box offices (found just about everywhere). Numerous international bands and singers play in Moscow.
There are a few English language cinemas in Moscow which show new releases, and sometimes have festivals. Tickets prices start at 250 roubles, but can be much higher depending on the time of day, type of screen, etc.
There are tons of nightclubs in Russia and they are not only for teeny-boppers; you will find every genre here in Moscow. Nightclubs in Moscow have a very bad reputation for being dangerous places, controlled by the mafia; while there are a few places like this, they are a dying breed. Some places do operate rather strict "face-control" policies. There is a gay scene in Moscow but as the city is not yet fully 'comfortable' with its small gay population, please exercise caution.
Banyas (saunas) are an essential part of Russian life. Russians say that they are really good for your health and that they improve your circulation. If taking your clothes off in front of a load of Russian strangers isn't your scene, many small banyas can be hired privately for you and friends.
If you wish to keep fit, there are loads of gyms you can join on either a monthly or yearly membership. Swimming pools are common (though require a health certificate from a Russian doctor- very easy to get) and many teachers sign up for aerobics and yoga classes, some of which are conducted in English.
Football is, of course, the most popular spectator sport in Russia, and Moscow has (at last count) six teams in the Russian first division. Real Madrid, Liverpool and Barcelona have all played in Moscow and, if you're a football fan, it's a great opportunity to see some of the world's best players. You can get a good seat for any Champions League or UEFA Cup game fairly cheaply. If you wish to keep up with your own team's progress, there are loads of places which show Premiership games. All matches broadcast live on Sky and Premiership Plus can be seen here. Rugby, cricket, baseball and basketball can all be found at Moscow’s sports bars.
Getting out of the city
If big city life gets too much for you, then there are lots of places you can escape to. There are many beautiful country estates on the outskirts of the city, which are ideal for day trips. As with any capital city, Moscow isn't the 'real' Russia- you will have to go a little bit further to find this. The historic 'Golden Ring' of cities is within easy reach of the capital. A three-day cruise down the River Moscow is an ideal way of seeing some of the magnificent countryside of Russia. Weekend trips to St. Petersburg are also a possibility, and are very popular with teachers in Moscow.
Historians may wish to visit Borodino, the battleground where Napoleon was defeated by the Russian army in 1812. Should you wish to go much further afield, take the Trans-Siberian express to Vladivostok or Peking, making stops throughout Russia and the former republics of the USSR at your leisure.
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