Born in Israel, and having lived in Brussels, New York City, and St. Thomas,, I consider myself to be multicultural. I came to the United States in 2002 and currently live and run my business on the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I have felt a strong connection with all these places and never felt like a tourist in my own homeland.
Although I am not unfamiliar with feeling a little out-of-place when I travel somewhere I have no connection to, my tourist status has never been more apparent than in my recent, first-time trip to Moscow. I am an avid traveler and delight in the opportunity to travel to a place I’ve never been before, even if only for a few days. Moscow took me by surprise. Nothing could have prepared me for the language barrier I would face; however, despite not knowing the Russian language and relying on technology to help me find my way and only being in Moscow for a few days, I soaked up the culture of this impressive city and came away with a wealth of new knowledge.
Something that surprised me about Moscow was how modern it felt. There is a chilling juxtaposition between Moscow’s modernity and the reminders of Communism interspersed throughout the city. The majority of Moscow’s residents are affluent and well-dressed. In some ways, walking through the streets of Moscow reminded me of being in New York City. What’s strikingly different than a city like New York, though, is the stark language barrier in Moscow in contrast to a city that’s a melting pot of cultures where everyone knows English. In Moscow, nearly everyone speaks Russian and hardly anyone speaks English. Even the street signs were entirely in Russian with no English subtitles to guide tourists.
Because of the language barrier, technology became a crutch. Google Maps was a huge help, as it allowed me to navigate Moscow’s streets without using data. Uber also eased my travel experience; I can only imagine trying to hail a cab and give directions to the driver without understanding each other’s languages.
One of the most impressive and popular sites in Moscow is the Kremlin, a fortified complex of five palaces (one of which is the Grand Kremlin Palace, the former residence of the tsar and currently the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation), four cathedrals, and the Kremlin Wall with its towers. I was overwhelmed by the cluster of buildings with their ornate, onion-like domes. Adjacent to the Kremlin is the Red Square, the central square of Moscow separating the Kremlin from Moscow’s historic merchant quarter.
Although the subway is a popular and accessible means of transportation through the city, I did most of my traveling over the few days I was in Moscow on foot. I probably walked 40 miles in total as I took in the main sites, as well as a number of interesting art galleries and some impressive architecture. One of the most striking examples of Communist-era architecture were the Seven Sisters, a group of seven skyscrapers in Moscow designed in the Stalinist style (an elaborate combination of Russian Baroque and Gothic architecture) to make Communism look attractive. These buildings, which include apartments, hotels, government buildings, and a university building, were built between 1947 and 1953 and took their design inspiration from other famous buildings such as the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the Wrigley Building. The subway system also harkens to Russia’s communist era. It was haunting in an old-fashioned way with its extravagant arches and chandeliers- again, reminiscent of the Communist era. What struck me the most, though, was how deep underground the tracks were. I must have gone down about four flights of stairs to get to the metro. As I came to find out, the deepest section of the Moscow Metro System, the Park Pobedy station, extends 74 meters underground and is the deepest metro station in Moscow and one of the deepest in the world. The stations of the deepest section of the metro were constructed during the beginning of the Cold War as bomb shelters in the event of nuclear war.
I may have only been in Moscow for a few days, but I managed to fit in an impressive amount during my time there, and the memories and knowledge I gained will last a lifetime.