MBRussia200x115Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran was on a Russian river cruise on the Viking Pakhomov, a 210-passenger ship that was just renovated. Her fourth and final dispatch follows. Click to read Michelle's first, second and third dispatches.  

Moscow is a city that carries with it a host of connotations and preconceived notions — some good, some not so good. And the tourism industry that works to bring travelers to and through the city knows it and is addressing them systematically, according to Sergey Shpilko, chairman of the committee on tourism and the hotel industry in Moscow.

I met with Shpilko while visiting Moscow as part of Viking River Cruises’ 13-day “Waterways of the Czars” itinerary (all of Viking’s Russian itineraries either start or end with the capital city).

Notion #1) Moscow is not safe. According to Shpilko, there were just 24 criminal reports filed by tourists in Moscow in 2010, and 39 filed in 2009. And while he admitted that the bombing at Domodedovo Airport in January raised concerns about the city’s safety, he hopes to get the word out about the other side of Moscow.

Moscow-footbridgeIndeed, while visiting the city, often wandering completely on my own, I never felt unsafe. Concern about Chechen rebels was buried somewhere deep in the back of my mind. As for my personal safety, I just kept my bag zipped and my tourist map folded, and never felt uncomfortable. It’s a big city, it’s easy to blend.

Notion #2) Moscow is expensive. Okay, this is where Shpilko and I disagree a bit. He cited information that the average cost of a business-level hotel room in 2010 was 6,664 rubles, or about $230 (not really that inexpensive).

He also noted that there are mainstream and budget operators that offer tours with $100 per diems. Okay, that’s a little cheaper. But generally speaking, I didn’t find Moscow or Russia in general to be cheap. It might not be as expensive as Western Europe or the United Kingdom, where the currency exchange rates put the dollar at a disadvantage, but prices were often on par with New York.

Notion #3) There’s nothing to see in Moscow but the Kremlin or the Bolshoi Theatre. Shpilko said this was a myth about Moscow, and I don’t know if people actually think this, but it definitely is far from true. The city is teeming with museums and galleries (new and old), churches and monasteries, theaters and performance venues — not to mention shopping and a host of other attractions. One could easily spend four or five days in Moscow and not get bored.

Notion #4) Moscow is the economic capital of Russia and St. Petersburg is the cultural capital. This kind of goes with Notion #3, and it was something I was told by several people who had been to Russia. I disagree wholeheartedly.

Moscow-RevolutionPlazaYes, Moscow is the political and economic heart of the country. Yes, St. Petersburg is incredibly charming and full of cultural institutions and happenings. But Moscow has its own charms and cultural offerings. And what’s with people thinking Moscow is one big, ugly business center? I didn’t get that at all.

Notion #5) Moscow’s traffic is horrendous. This is no myth. Shpilko admitted it, Viking’s staff admitted it, and Viking passengers experienced it.

According to Shpilko, plans are in place to address the issue, which is obviously more burdensome for Muscovites than for tourists. St. Petersburg traffic isn’t much better.

On the plus side, I got around very easily and with much delight on Moscow’s subway (I didn’t get a chance to experience St. Petersburg’s metro). In addition to being efficient and clean, Moscow’s subway has incredible stations worthy of touring for their design and decoration.

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