Last summer, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. I saw Belgium versus Tunisia play in Moscow, and Iceland versus Croatia play in Rostov-on-Don. When I told my friends and family I was going to Russia, some of them were concerned, given our current political climate.
But my impressions of Russia, specifically Moscow, challenged the negative perceptions I’ve heard. Though it was the World Cup, and people of all nationalities were there, I never experienced any problems with being an American. Everyone was just going about their day. And though it was certainly much different than my American upbringing, it taught me a valuable lesson about traveling.
People are people, no matter where you go. Kindness is reciprocated with kindness. Most people aren’t going to take the time out of their day to ruin yours. In fact, I was greeted with more kindness, generosity, and helpfulness there than any other country I’ve been to – including the one I live in. On more than one occasion a complete stranger saved me from getting lost, curbed my confusion, or even paid for my bus fare when I ran out of rubles.
Overall, Moscow is definitely on my list to re-visit. If Moscow isn’t on your bucket list, it should be. Here are some things that surprised me the most: the first being Moscow’s sheer size.
I knew Russia was the biggest country on the planet, but I hadn’t realized Moscow is among the top ten biggest cities by population in the world. It’s also the northernmost metropolis in the world, and Europe’s most populated inland city.
If I had to describe Moscow in one word it would be expansive. Around the city center, where old Moscow and the modern downtown is located, are multi-lane freeways that lead out to the thousands of uniform apartment buildings. The terrain around the city is flat for hundreds of miles, allowing the city to spread freely. It’s so large, it took us thirty minutes by train leaving Moscow to see single-family homes and acreage.
It was surprisingly hot and humid in the summer – just a little less terrible than New York City. It’s also dramatically cheaper than New York – one US dollar currently exchanges to 67 rubles. Their metro system is also one of the most beautiful ones in the world – each station has a unique design made out of marble, granite, and tiles. One day we decided to just ride around aimlessly to check them all out. It was an all-day activity, seeing as how there are three levels of lines. I learned that they were designed to double as bomb-shelters in Soviet Times.
Russia is full of complex history, beautiful, unique architecture, and some great vodka. It was a mind-expanding and humbling experience. When you’re fortunate enough to go, note that Russians consider it strange to smile at strangers for no reason, and that whistling inside is considered bad luck.