Destination: Moscow

Subterranean Gulag Baroque

In an excerpt from his new book, "Straphanger," Taras Grescoe explores Moscow's extraordinary Metro system

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World Travel Watch: Deadly Heat Wave in Moscow, Underground Colosseum Tours and More

Larry Habegger rounds up global travel news

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‘Crime and Punishment’ on the Moscow Subway

NPR explores the controversy surrounding one of Moscow’s famously decorated subway stations—Dostoevskaya, the station that honors Fyodor Dostoevsky. Apparently, some Russian psychologists are concerned that the darkness of the station’s artwork may inspire violence or suicide. David Greene sets the scene:

The walls are gray and bare, except for murals capturing scenes from Dostoevsky’s famous novels: Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, and of course, Crime and Punishment, the book where Dostoevsky digs into the mind of his lead character, Raskolnikov, exploring a young man’s path to murder…

The fictional character—poor, desperate for money to help his family and mentally tortured—ends up killing two women. And it’s all depicted in a mural right on the subway platform in which Raskolnikov holds an ax over a woman’s head, while a corpse lies on the ground.

The tale itself is stirring, and the underground tunnel and echo of subway trains make it even creepier.

Dispatch From the Moscow Heat

World Hum contributor Jeffrey Tayler recently returned from Paris to his Moscow home, where soaring temperatures and wildfires have crippled the city and other parts of the country. Tayler reports from the brutal—and alcohol-soaked—scene for the Atlantic:

Another Russian saying has it that, “Heat isn’t vodka, but we feel drunk from it all the same.” Which hasn’t stopped a good number of metaphorically heat-wasted Muscovites from turning literal and tippling their way through this interminable zharishcha. I walked outside this morning to find a gang of bare-chested fellows, with shaved heads, sweaty snouts, and stretchmarked potbellies, sitting on the guardrail near our doorway, guzzling beer and smoking, and for good measure, belching and swearing about the heat. Any walk around town reveals similar scenes: men have at times dispensed with much of their clothing, and carrying a beer (plus lit cigarette) is now de rigueur. This is legal: there’s no law banning open containers of alcohol in Russia. Except that in Russia, beer hardly qualifies as alcohol. (Unless possibly it’s that 12-proof brew marked krepkoye.) Beer is more like a training beverage. But vodka is considered alcohol, and thus possesses, many would point out, curative properties for whatever ails you. So fighting noxious heat with medicinal doses of vodka makes perfect sense. And I don’t mean some dainty cocktail, like, say, a vodka collins. The idea of mixing vodka with anything except more vodka is an abomination. Why dilute the healing fun?

How Bad is the Traffic in Moscow?

It’s so bad, one traffic expert told The New Yorker, that the city is “on the brink of transportational collapse.”

The new issue has an in-depth look at Moscow’s traffic woes. The story is available only to subscribers, but here’s an accompanying video:

World Travel Watch: Airplane Safety in Peru, Metro Bombings in Moscow and More

Larry Habegger rounds up global travel news

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Looking for the USSR in Moscow

World Hum contributor Jim Heintz says that one of the hardest things to find when visiting the Russian capital “is a sense of how bleak life was under the hammer and sickle.” He writes:

Unlike Rome or Athens, where the tourist is called upon to imagine the glory that once was, in Moscow you have to visualize what wasn’t there. Walk into a food store and imagine the shelves empty; picture the store without a clever name or attractive logo—its sign would have read only “meat” or “milk” or “products.”

These days it’s unlikely that one’s tour guide briefs the secret police at the end of the day. Your hotel may not be cute or comfy, but it’s probably not overtly scary like the Rossiya, a signature Soviet monstrosity that’s now a vacant lot. In a way, this may be kind of a disappointment: Going to the Evil Empire had more cachet than a trip to the Overpriced Capital.

High-Speed Rail Watch: From Russia to America?

A new breed of locomotive-less high-speed train will launch in Russia in December, running between St. Petersburg and Moscow—and Siemens, the German company behind the new model, is hoping to bring it to America next. The New York Times has the details.

Video: An Idiot’s Driving Tour of Moscow

Here’s the idiot, who recklessly tried to re-create a car chase scene from The Bourne Supremacy:

If you want an accelerated travel experience, you’re better off doing this. (Via Gulliver)

Michael Jackson and Me: Strangers in Moscow

Michael Jackson and Me: Strangers in Moscow REUTERS

Jeffrey Tayler recalls a cold night in 1993 when he took a break from writing his first book to see a performance by the "King of Pop"

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Moscow, Russia

Municipal workers carry a reproduction of the painting "Zaporozhtsi" by Ilya Repin under heavy rain.

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A Traveler’s 10 Best Musical Discoveries

Contemplating and celebrating the world of travel

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Video: Jeffrey Tayler on His New Book, ‘Murderers in Mausoleums’

Jeffrey Tayler discusses traveling from Moscow to Beijing, "drink by drink."

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Where Can You Find the Most Expensive Cup of Coffee in the World?

And the winner is ... Moscow, where the average cup apparently costs $10.19. Forbes brings us the full list, but I have to wonder about the methodology behind the survey. Are we talking cups of joe, or are we talking venti caramel mocha frappuccinos? It was the New York City listing that got me doubting: it landed in the middle of the pack, with the average cup costing $3.75—but when was the last time you paid nearly $4 for a regular coffee from a New York City deli?

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Meet the New Moscow*

It’s changing fast, to be sure, but in some ways, it’s the same as the old Moscow. World Hum contributor Peter Delevett recently paid the city a visit and stopped by the Kremlin. As he writes in the San Jose Mercury News: “Customer service, to put it mildly, is an embryonic concept.”

* Update, June 17, 5 p.m. ET: Peter just finished an online chat with readers about his trip. Transcript here.

Related on World Hum:
* The Rise of the Russian Traveler

Photo by Argenberg via Flickr, (Creative Commons).

Tags: Europe, Russia, Moscow