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Travel & Holidays in later life


For the visitor to Moscow, there's fascination in seeing how Russia is coping. 

You meet modern Russia at the arrival airport. If you want a luggage trolley, porters charge you for it, and you load and push it yourself. That's free-enterprise Moscow!  

Want a taxi to your hotel? Cabbies and private-car pirates greet you, but they scorn taximeters and haggle in dollars or euros. The cost is very high to ride downtown, but all this hassle is avoided if you're travelling on a tour operator's package.

In early 1998, Russia pushed through a currency reform, lopping off three zeroes from the rouble exchange rate. Instead of a thousand old roubles, you got one new rouble. 

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Most tours to Russia are based on scheduled flights by British Airways or Aeroflot to Moscow or St. Petersburg. 

Intourist is still the biggest tour operator. But the field is open to many other companies both Western and Russian. They all offer a wide spread of package prices between winter and summer.

 Many UK visitors wrap up warm and choose the low-budget winter months.

It's well worth reading up the destination before departure. Check on some of the publications recommended below.  

The rouble is now running at around 50 to  the pound.

Visas are essential, and are given only when accommodation and flights have already been booked. Apply at least three weeks before departure. Cost of a tourist visa is at least 115. Check orice here.

You can get an application form from the Visa Section of the Russian Federation Embassy, 13 Kensington Palace Gardens, London W8 4QX or, in Scotland, The Consulate General, 58  Melveiile Street, Edinburgh EH3 7HF, Tel: 0131 225 7098, But it's far better to pay a travel agency to do the work.

Russian National Tourist Office, 70 Piccadilly, London W1J 8HP, Tel: 020 7495 7570. 

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At first, financial problems made the new rouble slip, making life tougher for the average working locals. But now the rouble holds firm at around 50 to the pound. But in these days of financial turbulence, check the exchange rate here.

Anyway, most visitors with western currency aren't affected. Hotel rooms are priced mostly in US dollars or euros, and the basic tariffs really haven't changed. 

All the leading hotels have been renovated or are managed by joint-venture international groups. The turn-of-the-century Metropol facing the Bolshoi Theatre has been totally refurbished in grandest possible style. You won't get a room there for under 250 a night.

But it's worth dropping in for afternoon tea, just to enjoy the Art Deco elegance and listen to music played on the beautiful grand piano.

St. Basil's Cathedral, on Red SquareBecause of the higher prices of Western-managed hotels, tourists and many independent travellers choose the much less expensive Russian-operated hotels.

The 1777-room three-star Cosmos is far out, but with a handy Metro station. It was purpose built for the 1980 Olympics, and is used by UK tour operators.

In contrast to former times, there's an ever-increasing number of fast food outlets, including numerous McDonald's, Pizza Huts and Irish pubs. Quick snacks are available everywhere. 

Otherwise, for more elegant meals in restaurants that offer international cuisine, the choice is now far wider than ever before. Waiters expect a 10 percent cash tip.

A Metro ride any distance across Moscow is unbelievably cheap. Reckon 60p to ride anywhere on the system; or buy a 5 or 10-ticket deal. It's worth learning the alphabet and some basic Russian phrases, to make full use of this cheap transport through marble halls, which are themselves tourist attractions. Everything is clean, swift and frequent.

The old-time black market is now the free-enterprise trading that has converted tourist locations into oriental bazaars. Prices can vary greatly, and the best bargains are not necessarily from street traders. 

On Red Square is GUM, the huge shopping mall built 1894. It's had a major face-lift, and most shops are now taken by famous international brand-names, and credit cards are welcomed.

The Spasskaya Gate tower with the clock installed 1625 by an Englishman. The chimes are broadcast as Radio Moscow's time-check.Meanwhile Moscow's great sightseeing highlights are reason enough for making the journey. Everyone starts with Red Square, which hasn't changed much except for the Russian national flag that flies over the Kremlin, instead of the hammer and sickle. 

Fewer people now queue to enter the ceremonial Mausoleum to pay their respects to Lenin's embalmed body, and the hourly guard-changing ceremony was discontinued in 1993. The goose-stepping ceremony is now performed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier round the corner.

Just outside Red Square, a moat has been dug around the Kremlin Wall, with an artificial stream. Fountains and statues depict characters from old Russian folk tales. Close by is the entrance to the modern underground Manezh Shopping Centre.

Entry into the Kremlin grounds is free, with minimal charges for admission into the museum cathedrals. The great highlight is the fabulous historic and jewellery collection in the Armoury, with much higher entrance prices. For art lovers, the Pushkin Museum offers the richest display of foreign art in Russia, after the Hermitage in St Petersburg. All the Italian, Flemish, Dutch and Spanish schools are well represented. 

But the Pushkin Museum's world fame comes from its great collection of French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists - Cezanne, Monet, Van Gogh, Monet, a dozen Gauguins, lots of superb Matisse, and Blue Period Picasso. 

In the Tretyakov Gallery, the highlight is the world's finest display of historic ikons from 12th century onwards. For anyone unfamiliar with the Russian tradition of ikon-painting, the exhibition is breathtaking. 

All shoOn the outskirts of Moscow, the Church of the Ascension, built 1532 on the royal estate of except food stores are closed Sundays. But an outdoor Sunday market operates at Izmaylovsky Park in a north-eastern suburb. It's packed for Russia's largest open-air craft and flea market, and is easily reached by Metro.

On offer is an enormous range of antiques, paintings and folk-art souvenirs - and lots of worthless junk. There are long lines of painted and hand-carved chess sets, Matryoshka nesting dolls, painted tiles, samovars, T-shirts, medals and cap badges, postage stamps, ikons of every age and condition, old cameras, broken watches, and pictures that are individual or mass produced. 

Haggling is normal, and sales are made in any available currency. Here you'll come face-to-face with today's Russia, better than anywhere else in Moscow. 


Where else to visit in Central and Eastern Europe

BUDAPEST - Try a short break

KRAKOW - the pub capital of Poland

PRAGUE - Pulling back the Czech curtain

SLOVAKIA - for old-time price levels

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Lonely Planet: Moscow by Ryan ver Berkmoes - Covers the history and culture in good detail, with a special section on the treasures of the Kremlin. 

Moscow and St Petersburg Pocket Guide - A lightweight Berlitz publication, useful for skimming the surface of the two cities.

Moscow (Rough Guide Travel Guides) - A 500-page updated guide which helps you keep within budget.

Moscow (Eyewitness Travel Guides) - A detailed guide reaching many of the lesser-known sites, and beautifully illustrated.

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