Thursday, March 06, 2014

Moscow (Part II - Planning)

Click here for Part I of this series.


Before traveling to Moscow, I had been outside America and Israel to only two places: London (where I speak the local language), and Vienna (which I visited with my mother, a native German-speaker). This would be my first time traveling alone to a country that was new and strange to me, and where I do not speak the language. It would be an adventure!

I had only a few weeks to prepare. Preparing, anticipating – it's half the fun of going away on a trip! I worked hard to be ready for any potential problems, and to enjoy the process.
  • Borrowed a friend's "Russian the Fun Way" textbook and learned to read the Cyrillic alphabet, so at least I could sound out words on signs.
  • Bought a Russian phrase book and familiarized myself with how it's organized.
  • Carefully researched where to spend Shabbat, since that would affect the short list of hotels I'd look into (within walking distance of my Shabbat plans). Got connected with the "Israelis in Moscow" group, affiliated with the Chabad center at Moscow's Marina Roshcha synagogue - perfect!
  • Carefully researched hotel room prices and booked a room for six nights at the Metallurg; online reviews warned that the reception desk clerks do not speak English, but I figured between my phrase book and miming maybe I'd be OK. Anyhow, everyone told me that in central Moscow, it is easy to find people who speak English – the language shouldn't be a problem.
  • Researched the kosher food situation: there is a kosher mini-market near my hotel, and a few kosher restaurants, but it would be smart and cheaper to bring my own food
  • Connected with my colleagues in Moscow, Rusina and Michael. Rusina made an itinerary for me for two days of my trip, for me to see Jewish Agency programs in person (for example, schoolchildren learning Judaism in Moscow – a miracle!) and to meet other colleagues and emerging leaders in the Jewish community there.
  • Read "Moscow Top 10" cover to cover and made a short list of tourist attractions I want to see. At the top of my list were, of course, Kremlin and Red Square (conveniently located near The Jewish Agency offices), and third was the little-known Matrushka Doll Museum
  • Booked a ticket to the Bolshoi Ballet. Most of the nights I'd be in Moscow, the Bolshoi was doing opera, not ballet. So I bought a ticket for the one night they were doing ballet that wasn't also Shabbat. I knew it would be modern ballet, not classical, so I knew not to expect fancy tutus. People asked me what I'll be seeing, and I said "I don't know. I had one night to choose from, so whatever it is they are performing that night, that's what I'll see." For the equivalent of 250 NIS I got a seat in the 10th row, center aisle. I was so excited and felt very fancy, having such a wonderful seat booked at the Bolshoi Ballet.
  • Went to buy rubles. The currency exchange place I visited in Jerusalem said they don't sell rubles, but I could buy dollars and then exchange those when I got to Russia. I decided to avoid doubling my fees, and figured I'd try again at Ben Gurion airport; if the money changer there didn't sell rubles, either, I could always buy dollars at that point.
  • Ordered a new credit card. The Isracard I've used for the past 10 years is not international; it's usable only in Israel. I've managed for 10 years without a Visa or Mastercard, but when going to a foreign country I figured an international credit card would be a smart idea. Don't want to get stuck without funds!
  • Arranged with my new roommate to take care of my cat, Wylie. When I left for Moscow, Yasminah had been living in the apartment only a few days, but she's smart and sweet and it's not hard to give Wylie fresh food and water every day. My friends Mory and Yardena said that Mory would come over a few times to clean the litter box.
  • Kept a running list of what to pack.
  • Compiled Wikipedia entries on various aspects of Russian history into one Word document and printed it out: 80 pages of background reading for the flight on the way to Moscow!
  • Did some research into how I could get phone service while in Russia, and decided simply to buy a sim card at the airport there.
  • Bought traveler's health insurance in case I got hurt in some way.
  • Made a list of emergency phone numbers
  • Sent an email to people at work, friends in Israel, and my family in America letting them know what I could about my itinerary and how to reach my hotel and each other.

I'm a great planner, right?

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