10 Surprising Facts about Moscow

I've been to Russia four times, always for work and I understand that a work trip is not the best way to explore a city. 

The first time I visited Moscow was to attend the General Assembly of the European Confederation of our sport.  When I was informed our hosts had prepared a treat for my boss and that there was no time to check into the hotel after our long flight, I wondered what could be so urgent that we had to go there straight from the airport. 

I was even more surprised when I received a message from one of our Russian organizers recommending we travel dressed for a "formal event", as there would be no time to stop and change. 

I unpacked and re-packed my carry-on suitcase; out went the jeans and in went an LBD (Little Black Dress, for the guys reading this) and a makeup bag. 

We landed and were informed that the drive from the airport to central Moscow usually took about 40 minutes, but that we might encounter a bit of traffic due to rush hour.  However, not to worry because our special event wouldn't start for another 3 hours. 

Wait...3 hours?!  Why can't we stop at the hotel, freshen up and get some proper makeup on?  They replied there simply wasn't enough time.  This mystified us all.

  1. Traffic

It didn't take long for everyone to realize why we weren't going to the hotel.  Almost as soon as we left the airport, traffic slowed to a crawl.  An hour passed and we had maybe advanced a mile or two.  However, the one good thing about a traffic jam is that you get plenty of time to look at the city and it was my first time in a country of the former USSR, so I found it all fascinating.

2. Soviet Era Buildings

I noticed buildings in the suburban areas were huge blocks of utilitarian constructions that were obviously not built for their architectural beauty but to house as many people as possible.  I wondered if they had elevators, because some of them were at least 15 stories high.  The number of enormous building blocks, almost

The closer we got to central Moscow, the more beautiful the architecture.  

After 2 hours in traffic, our hosts got nervous and at the 2 and a half hour mark, they broke down and told us the surprise was that the Bolshoi Ballet was performing for the first time in two years at the Bolshoi Theater, which had been closed for renovations.  It was a huge deal.  To top it all off, they were performing Swan Lake, a ballet they very rarely performed.  We had 40 minutes to make it to the theater and if he arrived late, we wouldn’t be allowed to take our seats until intermission. 

Living in Mexico City, I must admit I never thought I would say these words: traffic in Moscow is the worst I have ever experienced. Especially considering Google said the distance from airport to the theater is 18.7 miles.  

Well, needless to say, reactions to the surprise were mixed.  The gentlemen were not feeling much regret.  I don’t know what the ladies were feeling because they were in a different car.  As for me, I immediately got antsy and anxious and kept checking google maps to see how far we were from the Bolshoi Theater.  It’s amazing how contagious anxiety can be when you’ve got skin in the game (and by skin, I mean interest in watching the Bolshoi ballet perform in their own theater!).

We arrived at the Bolshoi with only enough time to crowd into the elevators to the balcony, so I didn’t get a chance to look at the building itself (I snapped a quick photo you see here). Once inside, we were seated in different balconies and I had a couple of minutes to admire the theater. After 3 hours in traffic, observing seemingly endless Soviet-era concrete blocks of drab constructions, the interior of the Bolshoi Theater was a breath of pure air, restored to all its golden glory. The contrast between the buildings we saw on our way from the airport and those found in central Moscow is like night and day.

The lights were dimmed and excitement battled against travel fatigue and jet lag. I fought the good fight and I made it until intermission. We shuffled along with the crowd to the bar, where I noticed a lot of people were ordering coffee while the rest of us ordered champagne and other drinks (Cheaters! Using caffeine to stay awake is cheating!).

It is with great shame that I confess that when we got back from intermission, I lost the battle for who knows how long. I'm not proud of it. May the Bolshoi Ballet forgive me. The first half was absolutely amazing, the dancers were truly a dream and just having the privilege to watch them perform in person was incredible.

3. The Kremlin and Red Square

Looking at our itinerary for the following day (for once, we were getting the rare treat of sightseeing before work meetings!), the program read: Excursion to Kremlin Palace. There are two things I love when I travel: shopping and museums, so 50% wasn't bad!

I had always heard the name "Kremlin" connection with politics, so I assumed it was or had been the seat of government and that was the extent of my knowledge and I was pretty excited to see a place that had been closed to the eyes of the world for so many years. I'm not going to lie, I was a little nervous when I passed the young guard in the photo and he gave me the side eye. But not too nervous to take a picture with him to annoy him even more!

Well, it turns out that once inside the Kremlin, there is a huge museum named the Armoury that contains royal carriages, State regalia, jewelry, weapons, and art; 3 cathedrals and 3 churches; and 20 towers, all individually named. And the famous multi-colored St. Basil's Cathedral, built by Ivan the Terrible? It's actually in Red Square!

The history of this country is epic and ancient, tragic and majestic. To see parts of it represented by its architecture is nothing less than incredible and photographs simply do not do it justice. Nothing could have prepared me for this visit.

We’ve got 7 more things I never expected in Moscow…so I’ll be back soon with more of this amazing city.