Survival travel tips: Moscow.

Here I am, on my way back home after a certainly not boring trip. As always, I have learned something new which progresses my pro traveler score (if such a thing existed).

This time, the wonderful Piquadro bag I raved about at Christmas containing my laptop, my wallet and my iPod was stolen while at Starbucks, and I had to weave my schedule with the necessary dealings with the Police and the italian Embassy, in itself a source of amazed bewilderment.

Anyway, here is my tip list for fellow travelers:

  1. leave your passport and all but one Visa credit card in a safe box at hotel: best to carry a little cash, one credit card and a piece of photo ID in a small wallet that will fit the front pocket of your pants
  2. leave behind all electronics you won’t use more or less constantly, as these pickpockets are very skilled; I had the privilege to re-live on the security camera recording the theft I was a victim of: my back was ON my bag, so the scoundrel waited until I leaned slightly to type on my iPad to swipe the bag literally from under my bum; I felt nothing and seconds later he was gone
  3. be prepared to walk, Moscow is huge, but its traffic is proverbially bad. There is a very good underground network, barren to those who do not have a minimum command of russian; therefore…
  4. if traveling between september and march, pack a pair of sturdy boots. I thought my Timberlands were tough, but next time I will use my canadian Sorel snow boots: that slush mix of snow, salt and (I think) calcium carbonate is truly appalling and gets ankle deep at the curb
  5. look for your hotel close to Belorussky or Pavelskaya stations, depending on whether you are traveling through Sheremetyevo or Domodedovo; these are the terminus of the respective Aeroexpress trains, fast, cheap and reliable (and signed in english!)
  6. pack a cap. Not a big fan of caps but I thanked my old bell: when it snows in Moscow….
  7. you may think the cold weather may be the thing to protect you against, but I found very easy to deal with it. Much less easy to deal with the suffocating, overheated, stuffy closed environments. Russians seem to believe they can compensate the unfriendly outside with tropical interiors – no wonder you’ll see them in shirtsleeves or less when inside. The heating in every public place, office or shop is always running full blast, to the point that they must open the windows. My solution was to wear nothing but a shirt under my heavy coat, which I shed immediately upon entering any closed space, even for a few minutes
  8. you can immediately tell well-off russians by the immaculate polished shoes and perfectly creased pants, which can only mean their driver took them to the very door of the place they needed to go. You have no hope of look remotely as good unless your arrangement includes a personal driver, better still driver+interpreter
  9. another place where you do not need a taxi license to fetch passengers: simply wave your hand and people will stop; for the next phase, however (communicating where you want to go and haggling on price) russian is mandatory; on the plus side, taxi fares are very reasonable

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