LOOK: Russian trip an eye opener

Published Jul 11, 2024


When I I was selected to participate in the Sputnik Pro New Generation programme, a week-long journalism exchange in Moscow, I was thrilled but also nervous. My knowledge of Russia was limited, shaped mainly by news headlines.

I spent hours scouring the internet for vlogs and articles, hoping to glean some insights into everyday life in Moscow. Yet, nothing could truly prepare me for the experience that awaited.

My initial impression of Moscow as I got off the plane was, "Wow, so much greenery".

As we landed, all I could see between the buildings were trees, bushes and more trees. Throughout the city the trend continued with parks to enjoy for leisure.

Moscow is a huge city, with a population of about 12 million people. The long drive to the hotel being my first indication of the city's size – it took about an hour.

The change in surroundings was evident as we headed further into the city centre, buzzing with traffic and big buildings.

I think this is one of the reasons many people may opt to use public transport instead, as it is reliable and safe. It is also affordable.

The metro or the train cost us 70 Rubles (just over R14) a ride and it can take you anywhere in the city, you have to change lines based on where it is you want to go. Russia also has buses and a local version of Uber called Yandex.

My room had a beautiful view of the local area, Izmailovo. The nearby Izmailovo flea market, with its beautiful castle-like buildings with dome shaped roofs in candy-stripe greens, reds, and gold, was a must-visit.

On my first day, I explored the market with a new friend, a journalist from Mexico. The market was busy and buzzing, with stalls run by locals selling souvenirs like Matryoshka dolls, paintings, fur jackets and hats, and second-hand goods.

One of the biggest cultural shocks in Moscow was the language barrier. Most people only spoke Russian, and all the signage was in Russian.

This is where I learnt a valuable lesson: purchase a local SIM card with a reasonable data package. Public wifi without a local SIM card can be problematic and accessing a translation app is very important to help one get around.

Most locals know when you are a tourist and will try to assist if they can, as was my experience at the airport on the very first day.

However, at the pharmacy where you can only get something over the counter after talking to a pharmacist, you need an app or help translating.

Thankfully, because we were in a big group, one person among us had an app and a journalist from Serbia understood the local language even though she could not speak it.

Moscow is a city which provides a rich experience and eye into modern day Russian culture with a touch of appreciation for history.

There is beautiful historic architecture, skyscrapers, monuments, castle-like cathedrals, the river, local markets, theatres and museums.

On the second day we were taken to the Red Square. The Red Square is a vibrant hub that is very busy and filled with a diverse array of people, including locals and visitors from across the globe.

We took pictures in front of the bright coloured domes of St Basil's Cathedral and went on a walking tour with a guide which included the Kremlin and Lenin's Mausoleum.

One of our visits was to the Victory museum, which tells the story of the Great Patriotic War. The museum's design and architecture leaves a lasting impression.

The Great Patriotic war refers to Russia’s part in World War II when Germany invaded Russia on June 22, 1941.

As you walk through the rooms of the museum, it’s a surreal feeling, as if you were placed inside the scenes of war from the lighting, to the live actors in some of the rooms. I admire the effort Russia makes to preserve its history and culture.

The Russian summer was so much hotter than expected, I had warm clothes which I never ended up wearing. This coupled with the late sunset at around 8pm to 9pm and the early sunrise at around 4am, made it quite an adjustment to sleeping patterns.

Classes were informative with lessons around the future of the information market, the impact of artificial intelligence and the importance of maintaining a critical mind when it comes to the sources of information and the impact of an angle.

When it comes to food, the local diet was healthy – a salad and soup are features before every main meal which would include a protein like chicken with rice followed by a small dessert cake.

When we felt like an adventure we went for a walk down the famous Arbat Street and encountered buskers dancing and singing, local painters, and restaurants. On that street, we decided to try the Russian version of McDonald's called Vkusno & Tochka.

Here is where my colleague from Lebanon came up with the idea (to assist with the language barrier) of taking a picture on the self-order screens and then simply showing it to the cashier to place an order – and it worked.

Moscow is made for walking, which was one of my favourite things about the city. We walked for almost two hours when we visited Arbat, as we went there straight after class and got lost along the way, but it was all worth the adventure. We enjoyed the sites, each other’s company and we felt safe.

I tried my best not to convert everything from South African rand to Russian ruble, as I told myself when in Russia, try to think like a local.

So I would spend and make judgements on price based on my observation of what they charged for things.

When I eventually did the conversion, I discovered most things were affordable. One of the highlights of the trip was the cultural exchange that came with meeting colleagues from across the world.

Every bus ride or lunch became a lesson in history and current affairs from Kenya, to Sudan, Palestine to Mexico, Cuba to Cambodia and India through engaging chats.

I learnt something new about their countries, cultures and languages as we explored Moscow.

Cape Times

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