Hey there and welcome to the BigAppleSchool podcast. My name is Sam.
And today we’re asking what’s the craic about Moscow versus Saint Petersburg. So we’re gonna look at our experiences with them cities, when and how we visited – we didn’t go together, so we’ll talk about our individual experiences. You didn’t go with me?
No, I don’t recall you following me. I forgot you, I forgot you.
What made us visit these places, expectations versus reality. And the amount English-speakers that we experienced in those cities compared to Novosibirsk where we are now.
How would we describe these people in a few words and what about the places to see there, the tourist places – what was our favorite, the least favorite things. And overall, our impression. And ultimately, we’re gonna say which is best. So, in our opinion.
We’re not gonna discuss, it’ll be an official…
We could confer a new title, you know, to one of those cities.
That’s a big day, I can feel it.
You mean like butterflies in your stomach?
It’s exciting, it’s a big responsibility. Well’ let’s be serious about it.
I think we’ve prepared for this all our lives, so…
It was just preparation for this moment.
Just for this moment, this 2019 podcast, Moscow versus Saint Petersburg, here we go. Right, some people call it Peter.
They do, they do. Sophisticated people call it Peter.
Yes, that’s why I don’t say that.
I say Saint Petersburg to fool everything.
And you’re American, right?
And I’m British. And what I say is [moskou].
It is interesting. And of course the real name is Moskva. You need to forgive my pronunciation, which is probably terrible. And in the Northern Irish it would be *pronounces with an Irish accent*, no sorry, *pronounces with an Irish accent*, I’m going to Moscow mate.
So there you go, a little bit of my local accents.
Wonderful. You should do them more often.
When did you visit Moscow?
Well I have visited Moscow kind of like many times.
I say Moscow, you say… Okay, keep going, keep going.
Right. We’re all talking about the same place. We are talking about the same city, however it sounds. But I visited thee many times, because of, well, having visas. I was on visas for many years, as you are now. And that means that you can only to be here for so long without either leaving the country or going back to your country of origin.
And so that meant a lot of trips through Moscow. And I also had friends there that I would stay with during some of those visits. And they showed me the city a little bit, and… So I got to know the ropes as we say.
When is the last time you were in the capital?
For actually visiting, it’s probably been maybe even two years. I used to do the thing where I would be… my flight to come back to Novosibirsk would be an early arrival in Moscow, and then I would spend the day there and then take the night plane back to Novosibirsk.
So I’d kinda spend the day. And that I haven’t done for a while, but that was a thing that I have done. So I have been there for a lot of times.
Overall, can you guess how many days you’ve spent there overall?
Maybe… two and a half weeks.
Right. Okay. So I’ve been… I mean, if you ignore airports, cause I’ve just been through airports and I never really count airport as a city, if you’re not really leaving there.
So I mean, cause you can go without a visa as long as you stay in the airport, so I would argue that’s not really visiting, so I’ve only really been maybe five-six days in Moscow, but over like 2-3 trips. But the last time was the last year. Last December. Very quick – I came and returned in the same day.
So just on my route I couple of times came to Russia as a tourist and spent a couple of days in Moscow. Moscow wasn’t my main goal, but I spent a couple of days there of course, I think everybody really wants to see a bit of, you know, the sight to see in Moscow.
What about Saint Petersburg? Or St Pete?
Yeah, Peter. I think you’re supposed to say Peter. Yeah, without the Saint, Peter. But I don’t do that. So keep doing whatever you’re doing, don’t listen to me.
We’re just gonna say Saint Petersburg.
Yeah, I think it’s safe. Anyway. I’ve been there, I don’t know, three or four times maybe five. Not too many, not too much time overall.
There was also some, you know, visa capacity. Sometimes I would go through to Finland and so you can do that also that way. But not very much time in Saint Petersburg, so it affects my opinion and my knowledge of the place.
So, maybe less is more, or maybe more is more. We’ll find out. The last time I was in Saint Petersburg, the only time, was in 2011. And I actually travelled the whole way to Vladivostok from Saint Petersburg.
Oh you did that thing, yeah.
Yeah, I know. Some people would think I’m mad, but that’s what I did. It was an adventure. Maybe not as exciting as you would expect, but an adventure. Maybe we’ll talk about that in a podcast. But however, I spent a few days there in Saint Petersburg, got the feel of the city, overall as a tourist.
Definitely not to live there and understand the culture or anything, but as a tourist I got to feel it and moved on. But that was quite a while ago. So, yeah. So maybe that will affect my decision.
Mine would be even longer ago.
Maybe you were still in… what do we say? Still in knee socks, or knee pants.
Knee high to your dad or knee high to a grasshopper?
Something like that. But anyway, it’s been a while.
It was a while ago. Are you gonna tell me exact… Do you know the… roughly?
I think I’ve been there since then, but one time I remember was, I think it was probably 2001.
I was out of nappies, I promise, I was higher than a grasshopper.
Yeah, I had finished school.
I was 18. I’m older than…
I know. You look so young. I don’t know how you do it.
Thank you. That’s exactly what I wanted you to say.
That’s right. Just like you told me to say it, I said it.
I’ll give you your 500 rubles later. What made you visit this country? Well, you kinda talked about Moscow – it’s on route.
Yes, it’s on route. Well Saint Petersburg was also on our route, but in different ways. I’d say none of the trips were specifically to go there, even though I could happily have done so, but I think there were more…
Well, for me – I chose to go there as a tourist, but not to spend too long in either cities. But yeah, I did choose specifically, especially for Saint Petersburg, you know – I chose to go there and to spend some time there. So, it was for a little bit of tourism, but not for too long. It wasn’t my main goal.
How did your expectations compare with reality? If you can think back, before… I mean, my first time in Russia was, for many people I suppose it’s true, tourists, was in Moscow. It was my experience in Russia.
Well, my first experience was in Magadan.
The great gateway city to the Kolyma prison system.
How did you get to Magadan first? Did you come from Alaska?
I came, yeah. What I did was, it was a really strange thing to do, but I drove across all the United states, believe it or not, in a rented truck, big rental truck. This is another long story of why I was doing this, but I went to Seattle, and then I flew in Alaska air to Anchorage and then to Magadan.
And it was a really strange way to.
I wonder if you can do this now, cause…
They may not even have the flights now.
They might not have flights, yeah. I mean, most – it seems to be through Moscow nowadays, everything. If I’m not mistaken.
Yeah, I think you may not be able to even do that now, no. At the time it was… I think it was once a week or so. Something like that.
Wow. Okay. And was it better to do that or was it shorter?
It made sense for me, cause I had some purposes for that long driving trip to Seattle, and then I was in Seattle, and so…
Yeah, just everything is wrong. I got a big piece of paper, I got a pencil, and I looked at a map, I got a map, I looked at the map.
Seems that I’m going west.
Let’s see here – Russia, Russia, Russia. Let’s think it’s over here to the left.
So, well, if I can answer this question – expectation and reality.
Yeah, what were your expectations? Obviously, you had expectations, cause you were making more choices in different ways.
Yeah, even for me it was quite a while ago, but I guess… I don’t know, I think I expected… Maybe I expected a little bit more English… I’m not sure. It’s tricky. If you’re a European, it’s quite tricky, because a lot of European countries where people go on holidays, you know, talking about tourist destinations and so on.
English is just there, it’s common, and you can talk to anybody. And maybe it wasn’t huge shock to me, but maybe I expected a little bit more English, cause I… Just being completely naive, you know. Not being in such a situation before, I think. It’s very hard to answer it actually.
So as far as the English speaker part, yeah, I was already speaking Russian pretty much, even kind of a beginner… I didn’t actually made it to Moscow until … maybe it was still early. I think I had to go back, I immediately had a visa problem when I was coming to Novosibirsk.
I was kind of out of order and I needed… That was my first visit to Moscow. But so, I was already speaking Russian, and so I wasn’t looking for English speakers. And I had friends there that were…
Well, when I travelled, I travelled alone, because…
And did you know any Russian?
До свидания, привет. Where’s the restaurant?
Well, maybe a little bit more. I knew some phrases, some words, but not conversational or anything like that. So, I was alone. I mean, I couldn’t get my friends to come with me, and anyway…
Yeah, I was gonna ask why were you alone? Well, that’s the reason, that’s the reason.
So, I guess… It was difficult I guess, being alone.
I would think it would be. And then you were gonna make that long…. Is that when you did that Vladivostok thing?
That was the second time. The first time I went to Yakutia.
Yakutia! Excellent choice! That’s the other great gateway to…
It’s not a person’s immediate choice I guess when you think of Russia.
Not even secondary, yeah. Or tertiary.
Back then at least I wanted to do the non-tourist things, and I wanted to see a little bit more of the real Russia I think. I think that was my reason. But it was in the summer, it wasn’t cold. I think that time was August-September, so it wasn’t super cold.
How were the mosquitoes? Did you have mosquitoes?
No, not a problem with that. At that time. Not in Yakutia anyway.
I mean it wasn’t cold – was it cool?
It was a little bit chilly. It was late August. So basically September in Yakutia is the same as winter in Northern Ireland. It was a little bit of snow and it was -1, so not severe.
That’s why you didn’t have the mosquitoes. Well the good thing you didn’t have the mosquitoes.
And the mosquitoes wouldn’t have survived that. But anyway, we’re talking about Yakutia. It’s better than Saint Petersburg and Moscow. More interesting. I’m joking. There’s a lot more to see in the capital and in the former capital.
Did you notice the difference in the number of English speakers? I think this is kind of following on with what I just said. So, compared to Novosibirsk, do you think that there is a big difference in the amount of English speakers in Moscow or in Saint Petersburg?
I can’t say. I would assume that there are more, but the other thing – there are gonna be more probably native speakers there, meaning Brits and Americans, Canadians.
Yeah. You got more tourists, people working, things like that, yeah.
There are just a lot more foreigners there.
Honestly, I think it’s impossible to answer, unless you do a survey or something. But I would imagine. I mean, based on my experience, really, is that the last time I was in Moscow I spoke Russian. And I didn’t try to speak English.
I think you speak English when you’re in a hotel, you know, if you would choose to or if you don’t know Russian. You speak English when you’re in a hotel, I think, regardless of which city – you’ll have someone to speak very good English with you.
You know, here in Novosibirsk, or in Moscow, Saint Petersburg – I don’t think it matters in that respect. I think it all depends on what, you know, if you’re thinking about service industry or tourism or buying/selling, if you’re doing business,
you’re probably gonna get some English if you’re there doing business or in a hotel or something. You’ll get as much English as you need. So, it’s a tricky one actually. Why did I write this question? I think it’s worth noting. What do you think?
Well, yeah, I agree. I wasn’t specifically looking for English speakers. I had my friends there, and that was all the English, you know, that was all the English I cared to speak, and the rest of it was just, you know, a Russian environment and as far as I was concerned. But I would assume that there have to be more students. Maybe more international.
They’re sort of secret speakers sometimes, you know. People that might be just a little bit nervous to speak, but they can speak it. Especially if you’re automatically speaking Russian and they’ll follow that through I think.
At least for a lot of people, not everyone. How would you describe the people of Moscow in three words? I don’t know the answer to that actually.
Yeah, who wrote these questions?
I don’t know either, I don’t have the answer to this. You know people there.
Well, as for people in Moscow – I don’t think I have enough exposure to people there to even have an impression. I think big cities in general, especially very big cities which Moscow is, and I don’t think Saint Petersburg is, Saint Petersburg is one scale down.
But they’re a little bit less friendly, you know, and that going to be which you think of them being open, it’s like in New York, you know. Although if you address somebody in New York, they’re gonna be quite outgoing with you. But there wouldn’t be classic friendliness.
It’s like a small town fella like me, who doesn’t quite relate always to these city folks.
And if you have a different culture, the language, you can be on another spanner in the works maybe.
I couldn’t answer it, honestly. I was kinda hoping you might.
Our answer is we don’t know. We cannot describe people…
We might be able to describe a city, like hustle and bustle, you know, it’s all going, it never sleeps, like you talk about New York as well, but I think it’s very tricky to describe the people. And anyway, it’s very stereotypical.
Well, that’s what we’re here for. Cause we’re all about stereotypes.
That’s right. We’re gonna stereotype all of these cities.
What places did you visit? This should be good, I think you can answer this.
Tourist attractions or not.
Yeah, I’ve gone to, you know, the classic places. Which I’m really tired of, particularly seeing the Kremlin, you know.
Is always impressive, even though I’ve seen it I don’t know how many times, but still when you get there and the history, and just the atmosphere of it and the scale of the city in general…
That’s beautiful, no, it’s very impressive, it’s beautiful.
I’m very fond of Saint Basil’s Cathedral, architecturally speaking, you know.
I’ve never been inside, but the colors, the shapes, you know, the architecture of it – it’s really…
It’s beautiful. Okay, it’s may be not completely unique, but it’s certainly something. It’s the symbol of Russia.
Yeah, it’s’ one of the really iconic.
Like Big Ben for the UK and the Statue of Liberty for America. It’s the symbol of the nation.
It really is, it really is. And you really do feel it there, I mean, you really feel there, along with 50 thousand tourists that are there, but…
I’ve been a couple of times to Red Square, maybe three times actually. Not the very last times I was in Moscow – I decided just to see a little bit more of a city and not do that, but I’ve been…
I went to like a shopping center and saw a little bit of the street that I was on, kept things simple for myself, cause I had to get a flight. But yeah, I’ve been to Red Square.
I’ve been inside the armory, which is pretty good. There’s a lot of stuff to see there. I’m not a huge history buff.
Did you do the tour of the Kremlin?
I did tour, well, not as a group – I just walked around myself. But it was very impressive, and you see the big canon and the bell and everything, and in different churches. And it’s very impressive.
And I’ve been in Moscow River, I walked along that and it’s quite nice in good weather. But it’s been the summer when I was there as a tourist. Apart from the last time it was in the summer, so it was good weather for that.
I think that’s the main thing really. I didn’t explore an awful lot, I was at the market – is it Arbat?
I was at that and, well, I was impressed, but I had no… I had nothing in mind to buy, so at that time I could get souvenirs, genuine Russian souvenirs in Belfast. In December, in November and December there was, and maybe still is, an international market in Belfast.
And I bought all the souvenirs I wanted from a Russian woman who came and brought stuff, genuine. She came from Moscow I think actually. So I didn’t need the souvenirs from Arbat, you know.
But it was nice to see it.
I bought some stuff at the Arbat in… I don’t know what year would that be, maybe 2000 or something. It was… You could buy really great stuff – maybe still can, I’m sure you still can. But it was quit inexpensive at the time, and I don’t think it’s inexpensive now.
But it was then. And I did enjoy that, so I got something that I really liked – these gifts… So that was great.
And what about Saint Petersburg?
Saint Petersburg – I really haven’t been there too much. I might’ve seen St Isaac’s. I walked around, you know, I did things. I came in on the train – I took an overnight train from Moscow. And I started early, but I was extremely tired, because of…. Anyway…
You didn’t get the full experience, unfortunately.
I didn’t get the full experience unfortunately.
So I was at… I’m not sure if it was St Isaac’s or where it was, but it was a big big cathedral, regardless anyway… Probably was St Isaac’s. And I saw a lot of bridges, which for me is exciting, or interesting at least, coming from an engineering background.
And I also walked past, but didn’t go into the Winter palace – it’s very impressive! I would’ve liked – to palace, I would’ve liked to go in, but my friends with me weren’t so interested. Well, it’s a big commitment of course to go in and, you know, there’s a lot of stuff to see.
Did you go to the Hermitage? Эрмитаж.
Yeah, I didn’t. Is it the same as Winter palace? Or am I mistaken?
I think it is the same, yeah.
So I was outside, but I never… I didn’t go in. I think I got the feel for the city. People say that the weather is much colder and rainy, you know, in winter in Saint Petersburg. People often say that it may be a lot like the UK. I think it’s probably much colder in the winter.
It’s way colder I’m sure.
I’m pretty sure. But maybe as far as the amount of rainfall it’s probably quite similar. It could be, I guess. But that kinda is the point for me, cause I kinda miss a little bit of rain to be honest.
Okay. If you feel like cold rain.
Well, not cold rain. I’m not sure…
If you don’t like cold rain, then Saint Petersburg is probably not..
It’s important to point out that I was there in summer, I didn’t get cold rain. Maybe if I had…
I think you would’ve got different…. Changed your opinion. But before we go to your other thing – in Moscow there’s other things that were very interesting to me. One is that Третьяковская галерея, Tretyakov Gallery. And it’s Russian art. Have you done that?
I didn’t. I didn’t see it.
It’s really pretty wonderful, and… But the other one that I liked – I like museums – is Pushkin museum of European art.
And they have some wonderful Picassos and some wonderful impressionists, just… And the setting is rather amazing. So I ‘ve actually been there several times.
Right. So you would recommend that actually?
If you’re an art lover I guess?
Yeah. It’s not gonna be everybody’s thing, but I really appreciate that.
Well, I did… I went to an art college for a while, and I sorta learned a little bit about impressionists. I was quite impressed by it, impressed by impressionists. Oh no! I didn’t mean to do that.
We’re already there, so you had to do it.
I would like to maybe see that actually. But I don’t generally go to museums. It’s not my first choice generally. Although I do do them, but I don’t necessarily, it’s not necessarily my first choice. What was your favorite thing about Moscow?
My favorite thing… Wow. I do just enjoy walking around there. There’s this… Is this Garden Ring? Garden Ring I think it’s a road, I think it’s not a mobile road, but there’s a walking, it starts from a place called Чистые пруды, and you can walk…
Clean ponds, yeah, you can walk all the way around in this very broad, it’s divided kind of roadway, you know. And a big park down the middle. And you can walk all the way to the Kremlin basically, if I’m not mistaken.
Or at least you can… Maybe not to the Kremlin, but you can walk all the way to… What you can definitely do is all the way to Pushkin square, which is what I did. And that was…
It was far. It felt like…
You were ready for a drink.
I was ready, yeah. I was ready for something to… Just something was gonna happen there. No, it was good, but anyway, it was one of those things where it was… It’s through historic, historic part of the city.
Some kind of a scenic route basically.
It’s very scenic, yeah, extremely..
[raut], you would say [raut], yeah?
Oh do you? Some Americans say [raut], yeah?
And what about your favorite thing in Saint Petersburg?
Wow. Saint Petersburg needs… I need another visit to Saint Petersburg. The Hermitage, I would say the Hermitage, Эрмитаж, right. It’s a fantastic museum. You know, it’s kind of like infinite, you know, it’s very very very large.
So for me, I think Moscow my favorite things are the Kremlin… Maybe Red Square, just being there besides the Kremlin. And for Saint Petersburg I guess it was seeing the Winter palace.
But I also really liked the cathedral I visited. But again, I would like to visit Saint Petersburg again. I only had been once there. Anything you disliked about these trips?
You had bad weather maybe?
No. I mean I was there enough times in the whole different kinds of weather and all different kind of reasons. I wouldn’t say that… I mean, some things I disliked were because of my own, pardon my phrase, stupidity.
You know, like the reason that I didn’t have a great day in Saint Petersburg was that I tried to buy a cheap train ticket. And I ended up on the upper shelf, and the window was open, and so I kinda got sick.
Oh, I see. You did have a bad day.
But then you maybe spent it on cough syrup or strepsils.
Do you have strepsils in… Do you know strepsils?
Oh, it’s like a cough lozenge. You take it for a sore throat. It’s basically a little sweet, but I think that you get them… Actually you can get them in chemist’s here, drugstore, chemist’s. But they’re from the UK, strepsils.
Lemon flavor or different flavors. They’re quite… I don’t think they’re medicated, well, maybe slightly medicated.
But they’re quite effective I think actually, for just a sore throat or something. Anyway, how did we get to that?
I don’t know how we did that.
So what was your overall impression of the underground train system? So both cities have one. What do you think of those?
Well of course the Moscow is world treasure, you know.
It’s huge, it’s fantastic. It’s a museum under ground.
Actually that impressed me a lot in my first trip. Maybe even more than the Kremlin actually in my first trip. And you’ve seen the architecture under ground.
It’s amazing. In Saint Petersburg it’s more…
It’s hard to compare it, cause it is much smaller.
Deeper though, it’s kinda good depth, so you get longer elevators. If your thing is elevators. I love a long elevator.
Gets me going. Gets me pumped.
So, we’ve come to the end of the questions. Which is best in your view? And why? You must say why! So between Moscow and Saint Petersburg – which is better for you?
Well, I have to say that Moscow is better for me only because I’m so much more familiar with it. So I think I had more opportunity to visit Saint Petersburg and spend more time there, and I would also have stronger feelings for Peter, as we say. I don’t say it anyway. For Saint Petersburg, yeah. How about you?
Well, back in 2011, and even more recently I probably would’ve said Moscow, but I was very impressed with the underground system there and the architecture and… I mean, it’s got much a bigger system and I think it goes much further places with it.
And also because for me at that time I would’ve said ‘well this is the real Russia’. You know, whereas Saint Petersburg of course is not, you know, the real Russia for some people. It doesn’t have that iconic architecture as…
Well, of course you can argue against that, but Saint Petersburg was made to be kinda with different architecture, more European. And in my mind it was not Russia, but now actually I would favor Saint Petersburg. So we’re not getting an overall decision here.
You say Moscow, I say Saint Petersburg. But I would, I think I would favor Saint Petersburg just because it’s gotta maybe a little bit smaller, different weather, a little bit different, but architecture – because of the difference I think I would favor it, because of the different architecture,
because it is more, it’s got maybe more character. Because of that difference in architecture. Because it’s less like the rest of Russia, maybe I would favor it more. So that. But maybe I will change my mind if I go in the winter.
I think, yeah, one late November visit, and you’re cured.
Icicles dripping from my nose.
Snapping off your fingers.
But there you go. So sorry if you were waiting for a definitive answer. I disappointed you again.
Again. In another way. But we’re very consistent.
But you’ve learned that American people prefer Moscow.
All American people indefinitely, without….
Without question. Definitely without a question. And British people or people from Northern Ireland, at least Northern Irish people let’s say, prefer Saint Petersburg. That’s the answer.
So that was the craic about Moscow versus Saint Petersburg. So we’ve looked at our experiences with them as tourists. We’ve looked at some of the places you can visit. Some of the places we visited and things we did there.
Our overall impressions, impressions of metro system. What we liked. We didn’t really talk about what we didn’t like. I don’t think as tourists we had that problem. And ultimately we found out that, well, one is legged and the other is legged too.
So they’re both got their own value and worth. So that was the craic about Moscow versus Saint Petersburg.