Moscow X Saint Petersburg. Fight!

    Hello, dear readers! 

    I hope you are doing great out there, and I really, really hope you are not reading this because your city is in lockdown again, and you are bored to death but can’t leave your home now, so you decided to read whatever shitty blog you could find on the internet and ended up in this page. I feel so sorry if accurately described your situation right now. 

    Anyway, I feel inspired these last few days, so I have been writing a lot. Hopefully you won’t get ODd with bad jokes. 

    Today I am going to write about a topic which is not polemic at all! We are simply going to decide which Russian city is better: Saint Petersburg or Moscow. If you have ever spoken to someone from either cities, you would know how serious this discussion can get. There are jokes and stereotypes from both sides. At one point I heard this great outrageous quote, “When someone decides to move from Saint Petersburg to Moscow, the average IQ increases in both cities.”

    Obviously, this is someone from Saint Petersburg. I will keep their identity anonymous, so no Muscovite will beat them up. 

How should we compare?

    Well, if you have been reading my blog for a while, you probably know I have no respect towards fancy things such as statistics, facts and objectivity. You can get these things in fancy places like Teleport.org or Expatistan. Fine, I will add a bit of facts in my text, but not too much. I don’t want people to get used to it.

This article is all about my subjective experiences from both cities, plus common opinions both Muscovites and Petersburgians have for both places. Believe it or not, I googled the word Petersburgian and found at least one online dictionary that mentions it. I have been living in Saint Petersburg for almost 2 years now, and I spent 4 years in Moscow, so I can say proudly that I know my shit what I am talking about. Mostly.

Saint Petersburg

Hero-city Leningrad. The Venice of the North. The Cultural Capital. Russia’s Window to the West. The Imperial capital of Russia. This city goes by many names, and I have heard all of them in less than 2 years spent in the city. They all remind us of the importance of Saint Petersburg in Russian history, and this city certainly delivers as the main stage of the country’s history and culture in the 18th-20th centuries. 

Saint Petersburg is home to all things baroque and imperial

Home to Hermitage and the Russian Museum, it has an immense number of activities for nerds culture lovers. The architecture of the imperial capital is a treasure in itself, as you would immediately find out after a quick walk in the city center. If you are a fan of Russian history and culture, you will love being here. Even in a quick trip you can enjoy the museums and city walks, but by living here and getting to know such cultured people, you will feel the full immersive experience of the cultural capital. 

By the way, the bar streets in Saint Petersburg caught my interest, this “bar street” culture is not very widespread in Moscow, but it thrives here. You will find many very comfortable places in Nekrasova and Rubinstein streets, which are ideal for a pub crawl and talks with artists, musicians, and pretty much anyone related to humanities. They all know that Saint Petersburg is their place. If you are into something more intense, you can also walk around Dumskaya street and find… Unique… Establishments. Don’t mind the occasional drunk fight.  

And let us not forget the white nights, these are certainly a natural beauty that Moscow cannot boast. Coming here by the end of June or beginning of July will ensure that you have 24 hours of natural light divided by only a small sunset or sunrise, depending on how you look at it. You can walk around the city, go to a bar, have a shavuha shaurma for breakfast after partying all night long, and then walk more. 

Moscow

Because who cares about the alphabetical order anyway?

Moscow requires no introduction. Anyone with a minimum knowledge of geography and history knows that Moscow is where all Russian roads lead. Not only it is the political center of the country, but it is also its financial and economic center, home to headquarters of all biggest Russian and international companies. 

By the way, I have also written a small and unusual tour guide earlier in my blog. Have a look if you are going there soon!

Let’s not be unfair, Moscow is undeniably the economic power in Russia and likely in all of Eastern Europe, but it is no less of a cultural giant. You also have lots of museums and art galleries around here, and of course, the worldwide famous Bolshoy Theater. The best universities, such as my alma mater Higher School of Economics, also have their main campuses in Moscow. 

Did you say “Financial Center?” 

If you are into charming small streets with bars and cafés, though, you will likely be disappointed. Except, perhaps, for Old Arbat and the Lyubyanka subway area, you won’t find lots of these small bars in Moscow, or at least not as many of them as you would find in Saint Petersburg. Some might even say that Moscow is overwhelming with its large concrete squares, wide concrete highways and massive concrete buildings. It was designed to show the greatness of the Soviet government, after all. 

Conclusion? 

Despite my friends’ best efforts to put me in a delicate position by asking which city is better, I always give a safe answer: it depends. Moscow offers the best when it comes to career opportunities, although Saint Petersburg does not fall behind when it comes to IT companies. If you like a quick-paced big city life, certainly choose Moscow. If you prefer a calmer life with cultural talks in small bars, Saint Petersburg is the place for you.  

Belgorod will always be the best anyway. Don’t even try to convince me otherwise. 

Life in Russia during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Hello there! I was supposed to write something about coronavirus in October 2020, but you know how responsibly I lead my blog. In any case, since I am now infected with — guess what — Covid-19, and can’t leave my apartment for the next two weeks. I thought it would be a good time to write on my blog about it. 

In case you are worried about me, I am fine. Although, why would you worry about me anyway? I’m fine, mostly. I am coughing a bit and bored to death, staring at the ceiling in my own apartment, but other than that, pretty ok. 

How has the Russian government been dealing with the Covid pandemic?

That is a very good question! Almost as if I asked it myself.

As of the writing of this post, by mid-July 2021, the country is facing a third wave of infections. This could possibly be worse than the previous waves because of the Delta variant, which is much more contagious. The number of cases has been rising quite quickly, but the government is not repeating the measures imposed in similar situations in the past. In Moscow, not long ago you could only go to a restaurant if you were vaccinated or could present a PCR test made in the last 3 days, but these measures have already been dropped. 

I am currently living in Saint Petersburg, and the situation here was quite different from Moscow. There were no measures enforced by the government when the pandemic first started, back in April 2020. Then, there was a recommended social distancing policy, but nothing actually forbidding businesses from operating. It was the beginning of Spring and the weather was finally stopping being depressive and gloomy. If you have been to Saint Petersburg, you know how rare this is. It’s no surprise that, at that time, everyone was freely walking around the city center, often without masks, and going to bars and restaurants.

During the summer there was a temporary closure of venues and public gatherings. Other than that, people in Saint Petersburg were mostly ignoring social distancing and self-isolation measures. Businesses closed again for some time during the winter, but that was quite it. Up until now, masks are required in most closed spaces, but not on the street. 

How has the pandemic affected you personally? 

Well, at the moment I can’t travel outside of Russia. I do not have a temporary or permanent residency in the country, so the border security might not let me back in the country. I haven’t seen my family in 2 years almost, which sucks, really, so I can only keep dreaming of the time when I can take some vacations and travel somewhere with exotic food. My Russian friends can travel to a few countries already, so normally I check their Instagram stories in Bali, or Georgia, or Turkey, and then I cry myself to sleep. 

From April to September, I had to work from home, since the company decided that it was too risky to keep all employees working from the office. Oh, how fun it was to work from home during the summer with no Air Conditioning at home. Why no AC? It’s Saint Petersburg, after all. You don’t expect Saint Petersburg to be warm, not even in the summer.

By autumn, my office reopened for employees willing to take Covid-19 tests every two weeks. I thought I was done working from home, so applied to go back to the office. And then I regretted that I couldn’t work from home when the temperature reached -20 °C during the winter.

This spring, most restrictions regarding working from the office were finally lifted, and more employees started to go to the office more often. We even had a corporate party not long ago, as it was considered safe to gather large numbers of people again.  These small things, such as seeing coworkers personally, and having parties, even small ones, provide some relief from the fact that we are still living in a pandemic and most borders are still closed.

I would love to get travelling again without risking losing my work and apartment, but for now that is still impossible. 

Russia registered the first Covid-19 vaccine. Why hasn’t everyone vaccinated yet?

The vaccination campaign is going quite slowly in Russia. Unfortunately, people are too distrustful of the government, and don’t take seriously any information about the Covid-19 Pandemic or the need to vaccinate. People are so distrustful of vaccines in Russia that they’d rather buy a fake vaccination certificate. It does not help that Sputnik V has not been recognized by the World Health Organization. I am aware that it was already analyzed by national and international organizations. Many countries, including European ones, are importing it in order to vaccinate their own population. 

Russians, though, still fear that Sputnik V might have side effects that somehow are not worth the benefit of immunity against a lethal virus. Some believe the vaccine is completely inefficient. You’d think that only uneducated people with a minimal knowledge of science buy into anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, but that is not the case in Russia. Many of my friends, some of them even work colleagues, with master’s degrees or PhDs, do not want to get vaccinated, and for several reasons.

One not so funny story that I experienced last year showcases this. I was talking to an acquaintance about the pandemic, which was something unknown and scary at the time. This “woke” guy tried to explain to me that the Russian government was just trying to portray a common flu as a serious pandemic in order to keep people obedient and fearful. He went as far as to say that his aunt got sick with a flu and was registered as being sick with Covid-19. After that, he said, his aunt managed to somehow win a court battle against the hospital that listed her as sick with Covid-19. Therefore, in his mind, everyone who was being registered as infected with Covid-19 was just actually suffering from a common flu.

I don’t know who his aunt was, but I am quite confident that you don’t drag someone into court just like that. That is not to mention all other logical flaws in his argument. I guess that if I had listened a bit longer to him, he could have just started shouting “Wake up, sheeple!” at random crowds in the street.

Why haven’t you vaccinated?

Here comes one of the most foolish stories I ever had to write about myself so far. 

I was going to. I really was. First, I consulted my insurance about it, but they said that the vaccine was free and therefore not offered by any insurance system at the time. But I am a foreigner, so I can’t get vaccinated for free. I would have to pay almost €100.00 for each dose, so I decided that maybe I’ll wait a bit longer. If you think that paying €200.00 isn’t that much, keep in mind that I am living in Russia, not in the European Union. The salaries here are much lower. And everyone else is getting the vaccine for free, so I felt quite like I was being tricked into something.

A while after that, a friend recommended another clinic where the vaccine was “free”, but required a paid consultation after receiving each dose. Because, of course, you need to have a paid consultation for each dose only if you are a foreigner. Anyway, the price was much lower, so I signed up. The very same day I was about to get vaccinated, I got the information that my company was going to organize a massive vaccination campaign for all employees, for free. Obviously I canceled the appointment and signed up for the office vaccination campaign. 

Then I got sick. Yay. 

While I recover from Covid-19, I do realize I should have vaccinated earlier, and I totally would have done it if the vaccine were available for foreigners. There will never be a perfect time, so better to vaccinate earlier, rather than later. 

Thanks for reading all the way down here. Stay healthy, vaccinate if you can! 

What to see in Moscow when you get tired of walking on the Red Square

Hello! It’s me
I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet
To go over everything

I am preparing for a small trip to Moscow soon. This is going to be merely the 3rd time I will be in Moscow as a tourist, after living there 4 years. Crazy, huh? For this reason, I decided to share a few insights of what you should totally see in Moscow if you ever want to travel there, apart from the obvious spots. Since I lived there for so long, I know at least 100 interesting places to go instead of visiting the Kremlin. Hell yeah.

But just in case…

Let’s start with the obvious. You saw these places on TV, you know them, you will see them in Moscow whether you want to or not:
Red square. The Kremlin. Saint Basil’s Cathedral. the big white church which name I never learned Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Bolshoi Theater. The Moscow State University. Gorky Park, and the old Arbat st.

I won’t waste my time speaking about these things because they are famous worldwide and if you don’t know some of these places, you savage, you can simply google them.

Moving on to the not so obvious

What you want to see in Moscow really depends on what you are going to do there. That is, besides drinking cheap vodka branded to foreigners as the best in Russia. Let’s divide the list into sightseeing, nightlife, and I’ll come up with another category later for some obscure reason since 2 categories is not enough.

There is a lot of sightseeing to do in Moscow. Despite being the financial center of the country and leaving the title of cultural capital of Russia to Saint Petersburg, Moscow still holds a lot of historical significance. There are many historical sites, besides the Kremlin itself, ranging from medieval history up until the Soviet Union. There’s actually a Stalin’s Bunker that you can visit there.

Not-so obvious sightseeing

The VDNKh entrance, with the main fountain. You can see the tip of the Cosmonautics Museum, on the right, and Hotel Kosmos, on the left, in the distance.


VDNKh, or the “Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy”: despite the soviet talent for making names look as dull as possible, the place is not only beautifully full of soviet propaganda, it’s also beautiful. You can see a rocket in the center of the park, accompanied by a planetarium, and a beautiful fountain to take selfies at. Also in the nearby area you can check the Museum of Cosmonautics, and the Ostankino Tower is not far. By the way, while linking the Wikipedia page for you lazy readers, I found out that the tower is the tallest freestanding structure in Europe. You can walk there or use the monorail, which is worlds of fun for monorail fans.


If you are going to visit the Moscow State University, maybe consider actually taking the whole day and walk all the way from Muzeon Park, full of soviet propaganda again, Jesus, they are good at propaganda, statues. Also, don’t forget to check the New Tretyakov Gallery if you are feeling specially artistic this day. Maybe you should check the old one too, but not now.

After that, you can move on to Gorky Park and the Café Museum Garage, then on to Neskuchnyi Garden and get a bit lost in the woods. It’s worth it, believe me. You can sometimes even forget that you are in the center of Moscow while walking around those woods. Before you notice, you will get to the RAN, or Russian Academy of Sciences, with their weird orange squares and a nice overlook. From there you will be able to see the Luzhniki Stadium and Moscow City on the horizon.

Do you still have energy to walk? Just go along the riverbanks or through the paths scattered around the Sparrow Hills, then up a bit, and a bit more. Eventually you’ll find yourself looking at the Moscow State University, with another beautiful spot overlooking the very center of Moscow. I used to love taking these walks during the weekends when I had the whole day for myself!

The Izmailovo Kremlin. It looks like a fantasy castle.

A few other parks worth seeing are the Tsaritsyno and Kolomenskoye. Both are huge and normally require a whole day’s walk if you want to see the entirety of them. They are beautiful to walk around, though, and specially charming during the Summer and Autumn. Both parks also have beautiful Russian palaces, but with very different architectural styles. Speaking about palaces, you should totally check the Izmailovo Kremlin and the nearby market Vernissazh. Be ready to fill your bags with all the Russian trinkets you can get for the unfortunate friends and family that didn’t go on this trip with you.

And finally, Moscow City. It might not showcase Russian traditional architecture or reflect the Soviet Union’s past, but it offers a refreshing, modern view of the financial center that Moscow has become. It is just amazing, even if it doesn’t really feel like the authentic Russian experience. You will get the best look at it from across Bagrationov Bridge, or across the river from Kievsky Railway Station. There is a small park there, where I used to love sitting at the bench on the hill across the river and looking at Moscow city during the sunset. You can even make a picnic out of it if you want.

Бухать Nightlife


I am not an expert in this topic, since I don’t drink.

God, who am I trying to fool? If you don’t know it yet, you will very quickly find out that Moscow has a very cosmopolitan nightlife. Throughout the city center, there are clubs with European techno, western pop songs, and even some Latino music. Most of the nice evening bars are at the Maroseyka and Pokrovka streets, and there are some clubs nearby as well. Anywhere near Lubyanka subway station, you’ll find nice places to have a drink or dance. If you walk from Bolshoi theater to Chistye Prudy, you’ll definitely stumble upon something you like!

If you are looking for something as expensive as a kidney in the black market more elegant than just a simple night out, I suggest you book a place at Sixty Bar or “Na Svezhem Vozdukhe”. Sorry for the name. I even looked if there was a palatable version in English, but there isn’t. Anyway, despite the names, both places offer great views over all the city, since they are some of the highest restaurants in Europe. Be sure to ask for a window table when you book 😉

View from the highest restaurant in Europe. “Na Svezhem Vozdukhe”

Unless you are afraid of heights, then don’t.

Shopping

I’m not sure why would you go shopping in Moscow, but since everyone has their own crazy habits, a few nice places where you can do that are the AfiMall at Moscow City, TsUM, GUM. Expect some crazy prices, though. I only went to GUM to have delicious Belgian waffles with strawberry jam and whipped cream at the food court on the last floor. And now you want to eat too, I know!

GUM, right on the Red Square, home to some of the most expensive stores in Russia.

While shopping, you might want to go Detskiy Mir. It’s a huge shopping center for kids, with a playground and an overlook on the roof. I wouldn’t take kids there, though, they will go crazy when they see the toys. You have been warned.

Hey! Glad you got all the way down here and this article didn’t bore you to death. Have I missed something? Would you like me to cover some other touristic attractions? Have you ever been to Moscow? How was the trip? Did you enjoy any place in particular? Just let me know!

Racism in Russia, or How to Not Rent an Apartment

My initial idea was not to get political in this blog, but everyone is talking about racism these last few weeks. Or days. Or months, self-isolation has it own timeline. In any case, my idea is to share a few funny situations but not really because they’re about racism that happened to me in Russia.

I am going to do this not because I want to denounce some perverse mentality. On the contrary, I feel like I should highlight the different faces of this issue in this country. Like the time I was walking in Gorky Park and a kid pointed a finger at me and said “Look, mom, a n*****!”.

Before you ask, yes, there is an equivalent word in Russian, and no, I am not joking. It was a kid! I don’t expect a kid to understand what they are doing. I also didn’t expect a kid to know that word, to be fair. 

You look white…

If you feel like going to the Comments Section of this article right away to tell me I shouldn’t talk about racism because of white privilege or something, this paragraph here is for you: Despite my mostly “European” looks, I don’t consider myself white, and never did. In Brazil, I would call myself a “pardo”, which Google translates into English as “brown”, but I’d rather just go with “dark-skinned”. Seven years of living in Russia kind of washed my tan away, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t suffer from discrimination due to my skin color in Brazil and Russia.


Russians come in very different kinds of people and, of course, most of them are not filled with anger towards black or Latino people. In fact, as soon as people find out I am from Brazil, it is very easy to have friendly conversations. Of course, they come with lots of questions about soccer and Brazilian women, which I find a bit racist and sexist. Nonetheless, I managed to stop paying attention to that after the 100th such question. 


What I must admit, though, is that in Russia there is a significant discrimination towards Central Asian immigrants, which is why the title of this post is “How not to rent an apartment”. 

How did you notice this discrimination?


I’ll explain everything, don’t worry. People, in general, and landlords, in particular, tend to be very judgmental when it comes to renting an apartment in Russia, which I had the astounding opportunity of experiencing myself, despite not being from Central Asia. Who would have known, right? Ignorant racist people don’t know the difference between Brazil and Uzbekistan! 


At one point in my life, I made the mistake of getting buzz cuts because I was a poor student, and it was cheaper to just cut my hair myself. That, combined with my not very elegant clothes, turned out to be an amazing invitation to have conversations with police officers all throughout Moscow because I was being stopped all the time to have my documents checked. Speaking Russian with an accent also didn’t help much, though I must confess it was fun to see their puzzled faces when I would show my Brazilian passport. 


One such event of the same kind was not that fun, though. It was not fun at all, actually. As I was walking in a subway station, I was asked to come with the police officer to a closed room, which was, by the way, full of eastern-looking men and women. This in of itself was already unusual and frightening for me. Then she started to check all my documents, one by one. Without telling me a word of what was going on.

At one point she asked me for my registration. If you don’t know what a registration is, I wrote this article about it. The problem is, I had left mine at home on that particular day. I was sure I was going to get fined, or worse, as she called someone and told them my full name and passport number. I was scared to death at this point, but I guess she realized there was nothing illegal about being a foreign student, so she let me go. 


Yes, having a Brazilian passport spared me from further scrutiny a few times, but it is not always effective, specially when looking for an apartment. I got refused so many times for being a foreigner! This discrimination is so blatant that you can find ads that are literally written as “One-room apartment ONLY FOR SLAVS!!!

This map is from the above-linked Moscow Times’ Article, showing the apartments reserved only for white people in Moscow. Quite telling that the red color is way more present than it should be, like, at all, right?

Why ‘Slavs’ and not Russian?

Well that’s because they are conscious of the fact that not all Russians have Slavic descent and people from other countries can be Slavs as well. Isn’t that adorable how their racism is conscious about citizens from other countries? They mean “white”. That’s why.

You have to be white to rent some apartments. Being a dark-skinned Brazilian does not help me with that, even though I am pale as a vampire now. I get thrown in the same basket as all the other non-whites, and meet constant cases of discrimination when trying to rent an apartment, depending on the region you are looking at. 

Even then, it would be wrong to say that this reflects the mentality of the whole country, despite being a recurrent practice when renting apartments. My personal experience, which is not to be confused with facts, is that most people will be quite friendly towards you when they get to know you better. The discrimination people face is motivated by fear of the unknown, and not hate towards non-whites, or at least I prefer to believe that. Once you have exchanged a few friendly words, which might be awkward at first, the fear dissipates, and you notice people in general are not assholes, just shortsighted. 


Unfortunately, those are not all the stories of discrimination in Russia. I can assure you I have been through a lot of awkward situations because of my dark skin, and because I speak Russian with a foreign accent. Additionally, I am sure that people from Central Asia and other minorities suffer much more and more frequently, every day, but this article is already longer than planned, so I’ll stop here.

Have you ever had any such experiences in Russia? Maybe you have witnessed something similar in your home country? Feel free to let me know in the comment section.