Photo: Exeter International
By Wendy Perrin
Still in Russia for an article for Conde Nast Traveler. Spent the last two days in ancient towns along the Golden Ring that are the cradle of Russian culture, then got to Moscow a few hours ago. Can't give away what my article is about--you'll have to wait to read it in the magazine--but I can share a few of the weirdnesses I've encountered:
1. Tonight I was checking out rooms at the Hotel National, close to the Kremlin and Red Square, and the employee who showed me a balconied suite told me that you can't use the balcony without getting permission from the front desk first, since the Kremlin might consider it a security threat.
2. I was in a McDonald's in Sergiev Posad (Russia's most sacred ancient town), taking a photo of the big neon menu above the counter, when the manager jumped on me, saying that taking photos is strictly forbidden . . . although she could not explain why. Now, I've photographed dozens of McDonald's menus the world over, and never before have I been reprimanded for it. (To anyone tempted to post a snarky comment about why I was wasting film in a McDonald's: It's the fastest, easiest way to document (a) the cost of a Big Mac--a telling economic indicator; and (b) the local specialty reflecting popular taste. In Sergiev Posad it's something called a Greek Mac--two patties with yogurt sauce wrapped in pita.)
3. My hotel concierge, handing me a map for my walk in Moscow this
evening, advised me to carry my passport with me. In other countries I
typically leave my passport in the hotel-room safe, since why risk
losing it or having it stolen? But here in Moscow, where street crime
is not uncommon, you're supposed to walk around with it -- in case you get stopped by a policeman. Apparently some policemen will accept a photocopy of a passport, but some won't.
4. Museums, monuments, and other tourist sites in Russia are a mob scene in high season (May through September), with endless lines to gain entry (which is why I'm here in October), yet the government won't rectify this problem by opening places a couple of hours earlier (opening time is usually 10:00 or 10:30), closing them a couple of hours later (closing time is usually 5:00), and/or cleaning them at night rather than shutting them down for an entire day each week just to sweep up. According to two English-speaking guides I've used here in Russia, museum and monument workers are on fixed salaries. The government doesn't extend hours because it won't pay the workers for the extra hours, nor would it hire extra employees to work those extra hours.
My humble opinion: I think this country needs a minister of tourism.