GUIDE TO RUSSIA
RUSSIAN VISA SERVICE
Moscow still has no official tourist office, but you can get information from travel agencies or upscale hotels.
Visas & Documents
You are required to register your visa within three days of arrival in Moscow. Normally your visa's sponsor or your hotel will do this for you, but you should double-check to make sure.
Otherwise, register yourself at the main branch of PVU (formerly OVIR; Tel: 200 8497; ul Pokrovka 42; open 9am-1pm, 2pm-6pm Mon-Fri), the city's main visa and registration office; it also deals with visa extensions and can replace lost visas.
Banks, exchange counters and ATMs are ubiquitous in Moscow, starting at Sheremetevo-2 airport. Rates do vary, so it may be worthwhile shopping around if you are changing a large sum. The best rates are usually offered by individuals on the street. As always, exercise due caution and avoid any deals that gem too good to be true.
Currencies other than US dollars and auras sure difficult to exchange and yield bad rates. Travellers cheques can also be problematic, although you can usually change them at Alfa Bank (ul Arbat 4/1 • Kuznetsky Most 7 • Marriott Grand Hotel, ul Iverskaya 26; all open 8.30am-8pm Mon - Sat. There are locations all over the city and the ATMs at the branches listed dispense roubles and US dollars.
Credit cards, especially Visa and MasterCard, are becoming more widely accepted in upscale hotels, restaurants and stores. You can also use your credit card to get a cash advance at most major banks in Moscow.
American Express (Tel: 933 6636, fax 933 6635; ul Usachyova 33) is the most reliable place to cash American Express travellers cheques. It also offers ATM, mail holding and travel services for AmEx card holders.
Contact Western Union (Tel: 797 2194; ul Taganskaya 17-23) for wire transfers of money.
Although service has improved dramatically in recent years, the usual warnings about delays and disappearances of incoming and outgoing mail apply to Moscow. Note that mail to Europe and the USA can take two to six weeks to arrive.
The convenient Central Telegraph (Tsentralny Telegraf; ul Tverskaya 7; postal counters open 8am-10pm daily) offers telephone, fax and Internet services; the telephone office is open 24 hours. Moscow's main post office, Moskovsky Glavpochtamt, (ul Myasnitskaya 26; open 8am-8pm Mon-Fri, 9am-7pm Sat & Sun) is on the corner of Chistoprudny bulvar.
The major air courier services operating in Moscow include DHL Worldwide Express (Tel: 956 1000), Fedex (Tel: 234 3400), TNT (Tel: 797 2777) and UPS (Tel: 961 2211). They can advise on drop-off locations and arrange pick-ups.
Major Western telephone service companies have access code telephone numbers for Moscow that allow you to call home using your own long-distance service. These include MCI (Tel: 747 3322, 960 2222), AT&T (Tel: 755 5042) and Sprint (Tel: 747 3324). These can change frequently, so check before you leave.
Moscow pay phones operate with cards that are widely available in shops, kiosks and metro stations. The cards are available in a range of units; international calls require at least 50 units.
The phones are fairly user-friendly, and most of them have an option for directions in English. Make sure you press the button with the speaker symbol when your party answers the phone.
Email & Internet Access
Time Online (Tel: 363 0060; www.timeonline.ru; open 24hrs), on the lower level of the Okhotny Ryad shopping mall near Red Square, claims to be the largest Internet cafe in Eastern Europe, with over 200 zippy terminals. It charges from R33 to R60 per hour; after normal business times, enter from the Kuznetsky most underground station.
Drinks and competitive rates (R60 per hour) are available at the equally central Internet Club (Tel: 924 2140; Kuznetsky most 12; open 9am-midnight daily).
Nearby NetLand (Tel: 105 0021; Teatralny proezd 5) is on the 4th floor of Detsky Mir children's store.
NETCITY (Tel: 969 2125; Paveletskaya pl 2) has fast terminals, and more of a cafe feel, with drinks and music.
Infinity Travel (Tel: 234 6555, fax 234 6556; www.infinity.ru ; Komsomolsky pr 13), formerly IRO Travel, is affiliated with the Travelers Guest House. It offers rail and air tickets, a visa support service, and transSiberian and Central Asia packages. It's a great source for cheap international and domestic airline tickets.
Andrew's Consulting (Tel: 916 9898, fax 916 9828; ul Volkhonka 18/2) offers a full range of services aimed at business travelers.
G&R International (Outer East Moscow Tel: 378 0001, fax 378 2866; www.hostels.to; ul Zelenodolskaya 3/2, 15th floor) is located in the G&R Asia Hostel and is an efficient, convenient organisation offering all the normal services, including international airline tickets.
Newspapers & Magazines
The undisputed king of the hill in locally published English-language news is the Moscow Times ( www.moscowtimes.ru ), a first-rate daily covering Russian and international issues and staffed by top-notch journalists and editors. Available by subscription, it's free at hotels, business centres and restaurants. The Thursday edition is a great source for what's happening at the weekend (another Moscow daily, the Moscow Tribune, always seems to he on the verge of closing).
The Exile ( www.exile.ru ) is an irreverent, free weekly, with extensive entertainment listings.
Numerous other English-language weeklies and monthlies seem to appear at random, lasting a few issues and then vanishing. One very useful established monthly is the Moscow Business Telephone Guide, a free, invaluable, bilingual phone book. Capital Perspective is a glossy bimonthly with great photos and indepth articles about cultural events and places around Moscow. Both can be found in the same places as the aforementioned publications.
Libraries & Cultural Centres
The Foreign Literature Library (Tel: 915 f669; ul Nikoloyamskaya 1; open 10am-8pm Mon-Fri, 10am-6pm Sat) is home to several international libraries and cultural centres, including the American Cultural Center Library, the French Cultural Centre, and the British Council Resource Centre (Tel: 782 0200, fax 782 0201; open noon-7pm Mon – Fri. Take your passport.
The Russian State Library (Rossiyskaya Gosudarstvennaya Biblioteka; ul Vozdvizhenka 3; open 9am-9pm daily), on the corner of Mokhovaya ulitsa, is one of the world's largest libraries, with over 20 million volumes. If you want to peruse any of these, take along your passport and one passport photo, and fill in some forms at the information office to get a free chitatelskv bilet (reader's card). The library is closed the last Monday of each month.
Although such facilities are still a rarity in Moscow, there is a self-service laundry (Outer South Moscow ul Vavilova 11; open 7am-10pm Mon-Sat) which charges R60 per load. Take tram 39 from Leninsky prospekt or Universitetskaya, head up the short flight of stairs and enter through the unmarked white door. Many places to stay also offer laundry services.
Several foreign-run health services offer Western standards of treatment, but they are very expensive and can be fiscally ruinous without valid insurance coverage.
American Medical Center (Tel: 933 7700, fax 933 7701; Grokholsky per 1) offers 24-hour emergency service, consultations (from US$175), a full range of specialists (including paediatricians and dentists), and an English-speaking pharmacy (open 8am-8pm Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm Sat & Sun).
European Medical Center (Tel: 787 7000; Spirodonovsky per 5) has similar service and costs.
The best Russian facility is Botkin Hospital (Tel: 945 0045; 2-y Botkinsky proezd 5).
Pharmacy Kutuzovskaya (Tel: 243 1601; Kutuzovsky pr 19-21; open 24hrs) stocks Russian and Western medicines.
The emergency telephone numbers are fire (01), police (02) and ambulance (03). They have Russian-speaking operators only.
Dangers & Annoyances
Despite Muscovite paranoia about rising crime, visitors will mostly have little to fear. As in any big city, be on your guard against pickpockets and muggers, and watch out especially for gangs of children (generally referred to as 'gypsy kids'), who are after anything they can get their hands on.
Certain members of the police will also bug anybody who doesn't look like a fairhaired Muscovite - practical advice from a Moscow synagogue is 'cover your kippa'. Other members of the police force target tourists (see the earlier boxed text 'The Great Moscow Police Tourist Rip-Off').
The most common hazard is violent and xenophobic drunks. Or even worse, overly friendly drunks.