Local Insight into Moscow
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin
While most tourists are looking for tours, it might be wise to start your planning with choosing a guide who is going to give you a local insight into a local life.
We asked our friendly Moscow guides about what makes the tour success and what doesn’t.
We call our tour guides Experience Ninjas, as for them it’s not just giving a tour, but creating your unique local experience with yummy Russian traditional lunch and ideal combination of local hidden gems with must see places.
Please share with us your ideas on what kind of details can you implement on your tours to make your tour STAND OUT.
Inna: More fun stories, more details of everyday life of different epochs. Moscow bus tour is a good idea, to my mind.
Dasha: We already have foodie-tour, but what about drink-tour? It can be non-alcoholic or alcoholic experience, or both. Except vodka we have many traditional drinks – medovuha, hrenovuha, lots kinds of «nastoyka». Wine from Crimea is also very good.
Anya: To my mind, the key to success is quite simple: our tours are all about the authentic experience. I mean, you should think about activities and small things which are typical of the local people. For example, on my last tour I gave my tourists Russian sweets. Or you can try to involve the tourist into something you usually get up to: I go to anticafes quite often, and so far I went there with the tourists twice, and both times it was a success. I also try to give my tourists little local tips, for instance, what transport to use, where to buy things, what to try… Once I went to Diksi grocery with the girl from Germany to buy some water, and I told her about sgushenka, Russian condenced milk, and recommended to try it.
I always try to treat my tourists as if they are my friends. And I hope they take me as their local friend.
Try to think of as many funny details from your tours as you can
- Once we were walking along Nikolskaya street with American guys. When we met pseudo Lenin and pseudo Stalin (you know what I mean – those men dressed like Lenin and Stalin) and they offered us to take a photo with them at a price 400 rub per photo, separately, 400 rub for Comrade Lenin, and the same sum for Comrade Stalin (!!!) Then they realized that Dasha and I were Russian guides, and started gradually to lower the price until it was 150 rub for both. Unfortunately, the Americans didn’t want it at all.
- On my tour with a girl from Germany, we went to anticafe Ziferblat on Tverskaya street, and when we came into, we saw a girl, dancing and painting the wall. Very authentic experience, I suppose. My tourist was impressed. Tourists also like the shelf with dozens of clocks and the urban casual atmosphere of the place.
- On my foodie tour, my tourist from the Nertherlands, who loves animals a lot, made friends with a stray dog, who was then accompanying us all along Myasnitskaya street and to the enrance of metro. She named him Bolto and wanted to take him with her. :)
- It was totally important for one of my tourists to take pics at the every metro-station which were in his «must-see» list. He was my first tourist who had his personal list and ticked off the places one by one during our tour.
- One of my tourists (after drinking a couple of cocktails) started asking me very tricky questions, like “Were there all Romanovs killed or someone stayed alive somewhere out there?” and “What was the real reason why Trotsky was killed?” and some questions about KGB and relations between USSR and China during the 1950’s. That was an interesting conversation.
- On the Victory Day we got stuck in a huge traffic jam on the way to Poklonnaya Hill in Victory Park. And at 21:55 all drivers got out of their cars and ran to the open place where fireworks could be seen. We did the same :) Tourists were surprised to see Russians so happy and patriotic, and fireworks were really impressive.
- As it turned out, Australians are not really into history. They explain it by the fact that their nation is only 200 years old, so they do not normally pay great attention to history at school and further on. But they get genuinely impressed by all the live history under their feet and around them when they get to Red Square and the Kremlin.
- Some of my tourists were surprised to hear that Russian Orthodoxy is a branch of Christianity.
- Russia is still perceived as a dangerous unexplored land by many people in the West. My Canadian tourists said that their friends warned them against going to Russia. To my relief, the guys themselves were smart and well-read not to be scared by stereotypes.
- The New Zealand couple was surprised to know that income tax in Russia is 13 per cent, in New Zealand it’s 30 per cent.
- All of my tourists were surprised when I told them that Russians and Ukrainians are very close, that there are lots of mixed families with relatives on both sides of the border.
- One of my Italian tourists loved the story about the founders of the Moscow Art Theater, although he is not into theater at all.
Please, share your best and worst moments from your tours and some piece of wisdom – what things you will NEVER do again
- The best moment was when the Muscovites were singing and shouting “Huraaay!” and “Pobeddaaa” (Victory) during the fireworks on our tour on Victory Day, May 9.
- Dancing and drinking at Kamchatka bar is one of my favorite experiences as well.
- The Upside-down house on one of our tours was a blast! Tourists were smiling and jumping and making photos like children. I was so happy!
- One day it was awfully rainy and cold! It was Moscow Layover tour, and the tourists had only 7 hours in the city. The way from the metro to Sparrow-hills is long, and we were completely wet, but still adventurous and excited. It was part of the experience, blissful spring rain in Moscow.
- When giving a tour to my tourists I always ask them if they feel good and whether they need anything like a break, some coffee or anything else. And they actually always do. One of my tourists had a sore throat and needed some syrup and pills, so we dropped into the pharmacy. When we came to Zifeblat, a girl who works there presented a jar of raspberry jam to my tourist because of her sore throat. In Russia people always take raspberry jam when having flu. Traditional yummy medicine.
- The best moment was in the museum of Childhood, where me and my tourist compared the toys we had when we were children and found out we had many similar ones.
- And speaking about the worst experience, the first thing which comes to my mind is the story about Zhukov and Coke, which I told to Russian tourists. WARNING: Russians don’t think it’s funny, they are more likely to be offended! So I will never again tell this story to Russians.
- Once the Red Square was closed till 12 for no special reason and the Mausoleum wasn’t open that day at all, the lines to the Kremlin ticket offices were endless, so I had to focus on reorganizing the initial plan
- The best are usually the informal chat about cultural differences over a coffee or lunch.
- I remember how we were discussing with my tourists the differences in cultures and the way of life in Russia and New Zealand, it was mutually enriching.
- Well, when I was going to meet my tourists in the airport for our layover tour, we texted each other all the way while she was passing the passport control, I told her how I looked and how the sign with her name looked (it was yellow) so when we met we almost felt like old friends. At the end of the tour she invited me to see one of the productions of this theater company when I happen to come to San Francisco.
- Taking photos at the view point of the World of Children.
- When I tell my tourists about Revolution Square metro and the statues students rub to have luck at the exam, they all rub the statues too and look so happy!
- It was a bit challenging when one of my tourists didn’t smile at all and looked very serious and kind of detached throughout the whole tour.
- Another common challenge is when I would come up to the Alexander Garden with tourists and it was closed and we had to bypass it.
- I`ll never take a taxi with tourists on Friday. It was a stupid idea, really.
- One day turnstile in metro hit a tourist. It was awful. Now I deal with their ticket myself to make sure they`ll be saved from this.
- I`ll never go with them to Mu-mu, so popular among locals. It`s not convenient place to take a rest at all. Loud, crowded and too cheap.
- Once on a foodie tour, we were walking from the metro to Dorogomilovsky market, and its really dirty area. Everybody was asking us to buy flowers, souvenirs or some other crap.
Your TOP 5 fun facts from your tours?
Dasha: I can say that my favorite facts are:
- The story about first McDonalds in Moscow.
- The story about Zhukov.
- The story about Bolshoi Theatre and the birthday of USSR.
- The legend about Ivan the Terrible and blinded architect.
- The story about the monument of Peter the Great in Moscow.
- The statue of Pushkin on Pushkinskaya square used to stand on Tverskoy boulevard, facing the demolished Strastnoy monastery. This could explain his pose: his hat off, bowing a bit in respect.
- Mansion of the Apraksins on Pokrovka street, also known as dom-komod, was the place, where Alexander Pushkin had his dance classes as a child. And the mansion itself was built by the architect Rastreli – the one who built Winter palace and Petergoff in St Petersburg.
- The urban legend, that the statue of Peter the Great originally was the monument of Christopher Columbus, but the US didn’t want to take it, so the architects had to chop his head off and put the head of Peter the Great.
- Merchant Perlov ordered the facade of his house on Myasnitskaya street to be made in Chinese style because he hoped that the Chinese diplomat who was invited to the coronation of Nicholas II would stay in his house. Unfortunately, he didn’t. But the tea house has been extremely popular since then.
- Moscow metro can be considered to be a Nature History Museum: the marble used for the construction of some stations has fossils in it, which could be seen quite clearly.
- Polytechnic Museum has in its collection the only remaining prerevolutionary Russian car manufactured at the Russo-Balt factory
- Neglinnaya Street was once a river
- There were several fire-fighting teams in the 19th-century Moscow and each had horses of a specific color delivered from this or that region of Russia
- Millionaire Grigory Eliseev, who opened the famous grocery store on Tverskaya Street in 1901, was awarded with the French Legion of Honor order for an important charity donation.
- In the 19th century, there was a big market on Sukharevskaya Square where, among other things, you could buy antiquities and paintings and other pieces of art. Most of them were fake so a buyer needed to be a real expert to find something authentic. Once a lady saw a painting signed “Ilya Repin”, who was a famous artist of the time. She paid ten roubles for it saying that she was going to meet Repin that evening and that if the painting turned out a fake she would bring it back. So she showed the piece to the artist, who laughed a lot. Then he took a pen and wrote, “It’s not a Repin. I. Repin”. The lady returned the painting to the seller. A few days later it was purchased for 100 roubles because of the artist’s authentic autoghraph.
What surprises your tourists most of all? What do they particularly enjoy on the tour?
- Off the beaten track places which are hidden away from tourists are always a success: for example, private birdhouse with swans and peacocks and doves near Chistye Prudy, where we fed birds.
- My tourists are impressed when I tell them that during the WW2 metro stations were used as shelters and that more than 200 babies were born in the underground during the war.
- My American tourists love when I show them the statues from USSR, tell them the history of modern art, and when we go to see wooden church in Izmaylovo Kremlin. Those ones really look fabulous. I’d say they compete with St. Basil’s Cathedral.
- They also are interested in various cuisines of Russia. Once I was telling my tourists about Georgian food and this country in general. We had khachapuri, khinkali, shashlyk, different kinds of bread. They were really enjoying their food and cultural experience.
- There are lots of things and facts that surprise my tourists: Colonization of Siberia, Russian Revolutionary leaders, Soviet way of life.
- My tourists love listening to some facts from the current Russian life and my explications concerning Russians’ mentality.
- Tourists are particularly impressed by the fact that during Soviet Times many people lived in Communal Flats.
- The fate of St Basil’s architects, the fact that every single book published in Russia goes to the archives of the State Library, that Russians and Ukrainians are very close, with almost every family has relatives in Ukraine.
- My hand-made postcards.
- That Moscow is so beautiful!
- Local hidden gems: Pyatnitskaya street and its churches, Flacon design center and Sunday market
- I took my tourists to Kamchatka bar a couple of vodka shots at the beginning of the tour, and that was a nice surprise and fun for them.
What made your tourists happy and smile on the tour?
- The music from the 90s on New Arbat, which reminded her of her own childhood.
- This one was not the fact, but the place – she was impressed with anticafe Ziferblat, because they don’t have anything similar to it in Germany.
- Central Children’s Department Store. Many tourists feel so happy there and we can easily spend there for about 35-40 minutes.
- My toursts love Moscow metro system, views from the Patriachiy bridge, Strelka bar with the best views on the river and Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
- Trying Russian vareniki, borsch, pelmeni and, of course, Russian vodka.
- Cutlets a la Kiev in Korchma, Ukranian restaurant, is always a hit among my tourists.
- Just the fact of being in Moscow, something they have been wanting for a long time.
- When we (Anya and me) came to GUM to the fountain which is now still decorated as a cherry tree of peace and presented our Australian tourists non-trivial artistic postcards of Moscow with warm wishes and Friendly Local Guides contacts (me) and two packs of buiscuits (Anya).
- It was fun to pass Armenian side-street during the tour with my ethnic Armenian tourist whose great-grandparents flew to the US in 1915.
- I managed to show one of my tourists not-so-conventional Moscow off the traditional tourist itineraries, which she was quite pleased with: Maroseika, Myasnitskaya, side-streets of Kitai-Gorod.
What would you like them to remember you for?
Anya: being sociable, open-minded, funny, Moscow-loving, responsible, knowledgeable, trying to make the tour fun.
Dasha: as a very friendly local and fun to hang out with.
Inna: for being friendly, knowledgeable, for trying to show them Russia and Russians beyond stereotypes, for a lovely walk and talk about a bit of everything which my tourists enjoy so much.
Katya: as an energetic, smiling, positive, responsible, attentive guide.
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