Tag Archives: city

Moscow’s Soviet Sights

Moscow is now a part of the Russian Federation, but until 23 years ago, it was the capital of the Soviet Union. Reminders of the city’s Soviet past abound, with impressive yet deceiving displays of grandeur and strength that bring to mind the shortages and propaganda which characterized the times.

Before coming to Russia, I imagined Moscow to be a bit like London: a large city that has become an amalgam of its past, present, and future. And on the surface, it definitely is. But what is fascinating about Moscow is the fact one can’t help but be taken aback by some of the reminders that this modern, cosmopolitan city was once a part of the USSR. So here I present some of the most interesting Soviet sights in Moscow.


One of the most apparent reminders of the Soviet era is actually underground. Constructed during Stalin’s regime, the Metro is now one of the most efficient ways to travel through Moscow. Commuting isn’t typically seen as an exciting experience, but truly this one was! By the end of the trip, I had regretted not getting out at each of the stops just to have a look around.

The Metro is very ornate (for a metro, that is), and each stop is designed with a different Soviet theme. In Ploshad Revolutsii (Пло́щадь Револю́ции), for example, bronze Soviet revolutionary statues grace the archways. One of the most interesting representations of Soviet society is the large statue in Partizanskaya (Партизанская), which depicts partisans fighting for the homeland. And the Mayakovskaya (Маяковская) metro ceilings reveal small but discernible Soviet emblems, including the hammer and sickle. These symbols essentially became Moscow’s equivalent of Disney’s “Hidden Mickeys”, as I found myself finding them in random places throughout the city 😛

IMG_2491(Pictured Above and Below: Ploshad Revolutsii)

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IMG_2291(Above: Soviet Symbols in Mayakovskaya Metro; Below: Sculpture in Partizanskaya Metro)

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An interesting reminder of the former Soviet Union in Moscow is the “cult of personality” that surrounds its past leaders. In fact, a visit here would not be complete without seeing people dressed as Lenin and Stalin. My photo did not turn out, but this was one of two Lenin and Stalin look-a-like pairs.

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Many Soviet leaders are buried in the most recognizable part of Moscow- the Red Square. The Necropolis lies inside the square, along the walls of the Kremlin. It includes the graves of many famous (and infamous) leaders, including Brezhnev, Chernenko, Andropov, and Stalin.

IMG_4805(Above: Kremlin Necropolis)

IMG_2766(Pictures above and below: Stalin’s grave)

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Visitors can only see the necropolis if they also go to Lenin’s mausoleum, which perhaps best represents the cult of personality that encompasses leadership during Soviet times. For those who don’t know, Vladimir Lenin established the Soviet Union. His body was embalmed after his death in 1924 and is now on public display in a mausoleum that was built especially for this purpose…you heard that right! Personally, I think this is a “can’t miss” sight in Moscow, but some may find it a little morbid.

IMG_2455(Above: Lenin’s Mausoleum)

Pictures of the body can’t be taken while inside, and the guards are very strict about this. Rules about visiting the Mausoleum are constantly changing, so I’ve included the latest and most accurate information:

-The mausoleum is free; It’s open every day except Mondays and Fridays.

-There is a line to get in, but it is very short. Typically, visitors will only need to wait a few minutes at most. At least during the Winter months.

-There are metal detectors at the entrance, where bags will be inspected. Bags no longer have to be checked inside the State History Museum as they have been before.

-Photos can be taken outside on the Necropolis, but cameras need to be put away once inside the Mausoleum. Guards will also instruct visitors to take off their hats.


One of the biggest displays of Moscow’s Soviet past is the architecture throughout the city. Some of the tallest buildings were created under the command of Stalin, who had them constructed to display the great wealth and success of the USSR. The imposing Soviet towers known as the “Seven Sisters” can be polarizing to onlookers. Some people think they are really ugly, while others think they are beautiful. I’ll go with the second description, as I quite like them…but you can decide for yourself 😉

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 (Above: Hotel Ukraina, now a Radisson; Below: Moscow State University)

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IMG_2515(Above: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

While Moscow is now a part of the Russian Federation, it’s history as the Soviet capital is abundantly clear. From the Soviet symbols throughout the city’s Metro, to the nostalgic depictions of past leaders, it’s amazing to see little pieces of the past that remain.

 This is just a brief introduction to some of the many Soviet sights throughout Moscow, but any history buff could spend days walking around the city without getting bored. For those who want to bring something back home, most tourist areas also sell USSR souvenirs. From lighters to shot glasses, to authentic military memorabilia, Russia acknowledges and (somewhat ironically) capitalizes on this part of their history.

 © Destination Duo, 2014-2015

 

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The Expat Experience: UK First Impressions

Last week, my husband and I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, where I’ll be studying for the next year. While I’ve visited Scotland twice before (and loved it), I knew that living abroad would present itself with very different experiences and its own set of challenges. Here are some of the things that will take some getting used to:

Shopping

  • Instead of a magnetic stripe, the standard credit card in the UK contains a chip. Since our card doesn’t have a chip, cashiers have to ask to see our signature on the back. Instead of a signature, however, “SEE ID” is written across the back. This has confused nearly everyone. We then have to show the signature that is on our driver’s licenses, but it is quite a process even to make a simple purchase.
  • Clothing sizes are different from the US. Further, some brands have European sizes, while others have UK sizes. I’m sure this will be a fairly painless adjustment once I memorize the conversions, but it’s a very intimidating problem at first! 

Food

  • It’s very time-consuming to go out to eat here. The service is very slow, and even a casual meal at a sit-down restaurant can take up to two hours. You also have to factor in the time that it takes to get there, whether it’s by walking or via public transportation. That usually tacks on an additional 30-60 minutes.
  • Foods from home are not as readily available here in the UK. This seems like such an obvious one, but I didn’t realize the extent to which this was true. I initially had a difficult time finding all of the ingredients for my favorite recipes while on a recent trip to the store (And while there are many “express” food stores, I did go to a superstore for these items). I had to find substitutes for black beans and chicken broth, as they were not in stock. The total grocery bill was also twice the amount I pay for the same meals in the US. I’ll have to start finding new recipes that are tailored to the UK, although I guess this is not the worst thing in the world 🙂
  • It’s very difficult to stock up on food in advance. Since the food is fresh and without as many preservatives, things expire quickly. I’m finding that shelf life is typically only a day or two. Perhaps this is why refrigerators are so small here!

Fuel

  • Going to the gas station is quite an affair. Filling up can take quite a while since there is usually a line of cars waiting for the pump. This is because there are no credit card machines outside, so you must go inside to pay. And there is usually a line in there, too!

Health

  • In the US, I wash my face with an over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide cleanser. I couldn’t find any face washes with benzoyl peroxide here, and was told that I have to go to a chemist for it. The chemist explained to me that all benzoyl peroxide is out of stock until further notice and recommended an “antibacterial” face wash as a substitute. So far, it works, but if anyone has suggestions on where I can find benzoyl peroxide face wash here in the UK, please advise!

City Living

  • If there’s one thing I learned this week, it’s that I’m unapologetically suburban by nature. This isn’t something unique to the UK, but since this is something I’m not accustomed to, I’ll include it on this list. In particular, the crowds of people, public transportation, and the smell of car exhaust and cigarette smoke are a big adjustment for me. I feel like I have to carry around hand sanitizer with me at all times to stay healthy!
  • On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy living in a small space. While I wish that we had a backyard, I don’t mind living in a small flat. We have 1/3 of the square footage that we had in the US, but I don’t miss it much yet. Our “cozy” flat is definitely manageable for two people.

Culture & Misc.

  • I haven’t learned how to get people to move out of the way when I am trying to get past them. I’ve tried “excuse me”, “pardon me”, and “sorry”, but nothing seems to work! When I am going down a path with only one point of access, I simply have to stand and wait for the person to move on their own accord. Am I missing something? AWKWARD.
  • Everything simply takes longer. For example, doing laundry takes a long time because the washer cycle is approximately 90 minutes. The clothes also have to air dry, since we don’t have a dryer. Also (as mentioned above), eating and shopping takes a long time, since you typically have to take public transportation to get there. I didn’t realize how many conveniences we have in the US, and I won’t lie- I miss them! But these things will definitely help me to live a more active and healthy lifestyle overall.

That’s it for now. I look forward to the upcoming month ahead, as we get ourselves adjusted to life here in Scotland. There will be more updates to come!

Paris City Tour

Occasionally, there just isn’t enough time to take in an entire city over a week or two. Sometimes you only have a day or two before having to say “au revoir”. Luckily, it’s easy to get a brief introduction to Paris using the hop-on, hop-off bus tours.  There are a few different companies that offer these tours around the city. We got our tickets through viator.com, since we’ve used them before and had good experiences.

When Alex and I came to Paris last summer, we had only three days to spend there as part of a larger European vacation. Being so limited on time, the hop-on, hop-off tours were a great decision for us. The buses stop at various points around the city and provide a free audio tour. You have the option to stay on the bus and take the whole route, or get off at different places along the way. The buses come by every 15-20 minutes, so you can take as long as you’d like at any given stop before joining the bus tour again. It’s actually a great alternative to public transportation if you are only planning to go to the major “tourist” spots. It gets you around the city quickly and makes enough stops that you will never have to walk too far. The passes are good for an entire day, so there’s also no limit to the number of times you can get on or off.

We boarded the bus at the Arc de Triomphe. You can get on the bus at any of the stops on the route, but we chose to start here since it happened to be closest to our hotel.

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Our bus circled the Arc and cruised down the  Champs-Élysées. This is the street with high-end shopping and a ton of great restaurants. Even their McDonald’s was “fancy”…it was the first time I’ve seen a separate McCafe inside the restaurant. They sold multi-colored macarons and other French bakery items.

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After driving down the  Champs-Élysées, our bus crossed the Seine River on the way towards the Eiffel Tower. If you have a free afternoon, I’d highly recommend going on river cruise here. From personal experience, it’s a lot of fun and an interesting way to see the city. The views from the boat are magical at nighttime.

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One of the best views of the Eiffel Tower is from the plaza called the Trocadero. It’s up on a hill, offering spectacular views. Most people take their “official” Eiffel Tower pic from here, since it’s just far enough to capture the entire tower unobstructed. We took this picture from the bus while it was stopped. I think it turned out pretty well!

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Don’t worry that this is the closest you can get…the bus also stops right in front of the Eiffel Tower. You can go up towards the top of the tower and even eat at the restaurant inside, but on this particular day the line to go up was at least an hour long. Having been up inside the Eiffel Tower before, we decided to skip it and enjoy some ice cream on the lawn instead. We had just as much fun and at little cost.

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The bus tour also stops at the Louvre. It would take several days to see everything here, so we’re not going to pretend that we saw a lot. But we did spent the good part of our day here, and got to appreciate many phenomenal pieces of art. By the way, you CAN take pictures inside, just not with a flash. Remember this!

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After the Louvre, our bus took us by Notre Dame Cathedral. No Quasimodo in sight, unfortunately.

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After Notre Dame, you can stop by the “Love Lock” bridge, where lovers take padlocks with their names and anniversary dates, and lock them onto the bridge. We didn’t find it to be as romantic as it’s made out to be. First, we didn’t see any locks being sold nearby. We didn’t bring one because we were confident that they would be sold in the streets by a savvy entrepreneur. I guess no one has thought of it, but I’d imagine someone could make a ton of money off of this! Our second issue was that the locks don’t stay there FOREVER, like most people think. The oldest lock we could find was from one month prior. Which tells us that the fencing is exchanged on a frequent basis. There are just too many tourists coming here and not enough space for all of those locks. We don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but just please don’t come here thinking you will have something romantic to come back to in 20 years. They are taken down almost as quickly as you put them up! It’s an interesting bridge to look at, though.

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The last two stops on our bus tour included the Musée d’Orsay and the Opera House. We didn’t have the time to visit either, unfortunately, but loved the buildings. Paris has some of the most magnificent architecture.

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Overall, we had a great quick tour of the city. We’d also recommend taking the bus tour after dark  if you have the time. The city is most beautiful at night, and the yellow lights against the navy blue sky seem straight out of a Van Gogh.

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