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Notes on living and working in Russia

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Moscow Vnukovo airport

Vnukovo, VKO is the oldest, smallest (Zhukovsky does not count as airport yet) and closest to Moscow airport. Vnukovo has three terminals: one for commercial airlines, one for private and business jets and one for official delegations. Vnukovo handles government flights, so that official delegations terminal serves that purpose and it is closed for general public. Terminal for private and business jets(called Vnukovo-3) is located on the far end of Vnukovo airfield. It’s a small terminal designed for handling relatively small number of flights and passengers. All further information is about main Vnukovo terminal — Terminal A, that takes all commercial airline flights. There is old terminal D that is adjacent to terminal A, it serves only few domestic flights.

Vnukovo is one of the first Moscow airports, built in soviet times. In the past ten years or so, the airport went through a major rebuild, including airfield infrastructure extension and renewal, building of the new passenger terminal.

Design of Vnukovo terminal is nothing very special. It’s a practical piece of airport architecture, new, spacious, convenient, very clean. Vnukovo terminal A offers all usual airport amenities: food, shops, toilets, business lounges and other passenger services.

Vnukovo has capsule hotel inside terminal A (third floor, nearby VIP lounge), opened in 2018. Across the street from terminal A, there is DoubleTree hotel, also opened in 2018.

In my experience flying through Vnukovo airport, it has less passenger traffic compared to Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo. This means less crowded terminal and quicker security checks.

Transportation to Vnukovo airport:

Vnukovo is connected with Moscow by rail; aeroexpress train runs from Kievskaya station. Unlike trains to other airports, that run twice an hour, trains to Vnukovo run ones every hour. Train station in Vnukovo is underground and connected with terminal by a short walkway.

If you travel to Vnukovo by car you have a choice of two freeways: Kievskoe or Borovskoe. The airport is located in between these freeways. For drop-offs Vnukovo has elevated ramp and a separate drive for arrival pick-ups. It is very convenient and since passenger traffic through Vnukovo is less compared to other Moscow airports, ramps and driveways in Vnukovo never seem to be congested. Vnukovo also has parking, located next to the terminal.

Vnukovo is the only airport that is easily accessible by city bus, due to its proximity to Moscow. Sheremetyevo (SVO) also has city bus routs, but because of distance and traffic they are not that convenient. For Vnukovo you have two city bus options — from Yugo-Zapadnaya or Salaryevo subways stations. Salaryevo is closer to the airport and also it avoids traffic bottleneck on Kievskoe shosse. This option is good if you are on budget, have enough time and no bulky luggage. Same bus will take you from the airport, back to subway.

Bus number 911 gets you to Vnukovo from Salaryevo subway, running every 15-25 minutes and 611 runs from Yugo-Zapadnaya every 25-40 minutes. The bus 611 from Yugo-Zapadnaya takes about 30-40 minutes if traffic is good. The bus takes you to Vnukovo in 20 minutes almost for sure as it avoids most traffic bottlenecks. From Yugo-Zapadnaya you also have an option of marshrutka, paid in cash only.

As usual, taxi is also a good option traveling to/from Vnukovo airport. Beware of traffic congestions on the intersection of Kievskoe shosse and MKAD. It’s a good idea to check traffic situation when traveling to airport, especially in the late afternoon and evening.

Official website of Vnukovo airport

Check out Russia Simplified article on Domodedovo DME airport in Moscow.

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Safety in Moscow: essentials

Moscow is a safe place. Like any big city however, basic precautions have to be taken whether you are visiting short-term or staying in Moscow for a while. Below precautions are valid not only for Moscow but most large cities in Russia.

Never exchange money in the airport. Not exactly a safety threat, but exchange rates in airports especially before customs is a rip-off. You will get almost double Rubles for your currency exchanging it in the city center. Use ATM to withdraw money or pay by card, cards are taken almost everywhere.

Do not use taxi drivers offering their service at the airport arrival area. When you arrive to any Moscow airport, upon exiting from customs area you will be met by a crowd of taxi drivers offering rides to Moscow. Never use any of those drivers, no matter how official their badges look. Use express trains. If express trains do not work for you, you can order taxi from official taxi counter (available in all airports) or through apps like Yandex taxi.

Do not take taxi on streets. Use apps like Yandex taxi or Gett (acquired by Yandex). If your business contracts taxi company use their service even if there is wait to get the car.

Do not buy sim cards from street sellers. Go to an official retailer. You will need passport to buy a card.

Beware of pickpocketing, especially in public transport. Keep your passport, wallet and other valuables secure. In subway don’t stand near the doorway playing or texting on your smartphone.

Do not leave your luggage, bags, valuables out of sight even for a split second — everywhere.

Be extremely cautious crossing streets. Even if you are on pedestrian crossing, going on green light, be absolutely positively sure that cars actually stopped before the crossing.

Never give money to any beggars, especially in subway.

Always check bill, when eating out, before paying, to make sure you pay for what you ordered. Information on related subject — tips, can be found here.

Avoid walking in remote areas of Moscow or have company (preferably a local).

Do not walk alone in the dark, in areas where there is no one around, even in the city center.

Do not talk to strangers, asking for your attention on the street.

Do not eat shawarma. Exception can be made to shawarma in cafes and restaurants with table service.

In winter — do not walk close to buildings due to danger of snow and ice falling from roofs. Wear proper winter shoes, as it gets very slippery in Moscow in winter season. Especially be careful on underground passage stairs, as they are made of polished stone and get slippery even in rain. Some guidance on clothing in winter can be found here.

In summer — beware of ticks. Here is separate article on the subject.

Wash hands as often as you can. Have a pack of wet napkins or anti-bacterial fluid with you.

Do not do your own driving in Moscow, unless you are fully and mindfully confident about driving in Russia.

Do not pay in any currency other than Rubles. This is illegal and there is risk of a fraud.

Beware of scam and fraud of all types still high in Russian business and private dealings. Be extremely cautious buying products and services appearing to be very cheap. Russian wisdom says: “Stingy person pays twice.”

If you are in trouble and there is no one local to help you, look for police with sticker on their uniform saying — “Tourist police”. Their job is to assist foreigners and they (well, in theory) speak English.

shashlik

Modern Russian cuisine is a mixed cuisine. Cooking traditions and recipes popular before communist revolution are almost extinct now. They were replaced with soviet cooking traditions, which in many parts, has been borrowed from ussr republics Russia used to be one of.

One of those borrowed modern cuisine dishes is shashlik. Shashlik is kebab type of BBQ dish, brought to Russian cuisine and firmly holding its place in Russian culture. No one can say exactly which country shashlik came from, but it’s versions are popular in the Middle East and former ussr republics like Armenia, Azerbaidjan, Georgia and others.

Nowadays shashlik is almost a staple food in modern Russian cuisine. A good picnic or dacha weekend cannot go without making shashlik. In summer you can see people grilling shashlik everywhere.

Shashlik is normally cooked outside as it requires barbecue pit and burning charcoal, so it is known as summer BBQ.

Shashlik is more than just a popular summer BBQ.

Making and eating shashlik is an activity and event by itself. People go outdoors to spend time in the nature and have picnic, but this is all secondary. Everything people do like swimming, sunbathing, playing games happens around shashlik. People do not say: “Let’s go outdoors”, they say: “Let’s go to shashlik”. Thus, shashlik, making it and eating it, is an important summer outdoor activity, event and everything else evolves around it.

In Russian culture socializing for the most part happens over the food. Very often shashlik is a reason to get together with friends and have a good time. Shashlik is a summer leisure, a reason for going outdoors, inviting friends and family.

The importance of shashlik as a cultural artifact is not in the food itself, but as an activity or event that brings people together. This is why shashlik is best on dacha or somewhere in the nature with friends or family. Like any other food, shashlik goes well with a drink and “doing shashlik” can be acclaimed as a Russian summer outdoor way of partying.

How to make shashlik.

For shashlik you will need: portable bbq fire grill pit (mangal), metal skewers (shampuri), charcoal (ugol’), charcoal lighter fluid (rozzhig), meat (myaso) and marinade ingredients.

All the items can be purchased from most grocery stores. Late spring throughout summer retailers place shashlik items at the store entrance. Many grocery stores also sell marinated shashlik meat. It is better however if you prepare and marinate meat for shashlik yourself. Stores use mix of meats, not always producing good and tender shashlik.

Shashlyk can be made from any meat: beef, chicken, lamb or pork. Pork is more common because it is easier to find, it is cheaper and more tender (if properly prepared and cooked).

The meat for shashlik has to be cut in square pieces and marinaded. Marinading takes about an hour, some people prepare meat in advance and marinade it overnight. There are tons of different marinade recipes for shashlik and each family seems to have it’s own, so shashlik recipes vary. (Subscribers of this blog mailing list will receive shashlik marinade recipe)

Although women take care of all the cooking in a typical Russian homes, making shashlik is a pure men’s responsibility.

Cooking process is very simple. Marinated meat is stringed onto skewers and grilled over the hot charcoal. Along with meat you can grill onions, bell peppers and some other vegetables that make compliment or garnish to shashlik. The charcoal must be not flaming, just producing enough heat for cooking the meat. Skewers have to be turned for meat to cook thoroughly and evenly, and sprayed with water to avoid burning.

Shashlik goes great with seasonal vegetables such as lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions and so on. Good shashlik is tender, but it can be complimented with some sauce. For sauce you can use adjika (purchased or homemade), ketchup or almost any other type of sauce that goes with meat. It is good to wrap shashlik in lavash — very thin non-yeast bread, sold everywhere.

Be mindful that in Moscow setting open fire (bbq included) is strictly prohibited, except for specially designated places. Many locals are not familiar with the rules and brake the law unknowingly.

If you wan just to try shashlik not cooking it yourself, it is served in many cafes and restaurants. Not a rule, but usually places specializing on Azerbaidjanian and Georgian cuisine make best shashlik.

Bitzevsky park in Moscow

Most expats know centrally located parks like Gorky Park, Park Pobedy, Neskuchniy Sad and many others. All these are very popular, really nice places, providing lots of activities.

There are however secluded areas in Moscow where you can escape crowds, enjoy the quiet, be in the nature without leaving the city. One of those places is Bitzevsky park. If you look at Moscow map, you will find large green area in the South of Moscow, stretched from Chertanovo to MKAD. This is Bitzevsky park or Bitzevsky forest.

Bitzevsky park has status of a nature reserve. This status does not allow any construction or any activities in the park, that would disrupt the nature. For the most part Bitzevsky park is a dense wood with extensive grid of trails. Basic park amenities include some paved walking lanes and benches. The park has dedicated picnic area where you can officially use fire grills (setting fire in other parts of the park is prohibited). Picnicking is quite popular among people living nearby.

Other activities park is popular for include running, biking or just walking. There are numerous walking routs through the park. It is a quiet place and if you go off main paved lanes, you will be all alone in the wood.

The park can be accessed by car or by subway. Nearest subway stations are: Chertanovskaya, Belyaevo, Novoyasenevskaya. To access park entrance it will require walking on foot or taking bus from any subway station, except for Novoyasenevskaya, which is located right on the edge of the park. From Novoyasenevskaya one of the main alleys starts, which is paved and cuts through souther part of the park.

Northern part of the park has dedicated bike lane. The lane has special marking and bike traffic signage. The lane starts at Belyaevo subway, runs along Mikluho-Maklaya street and continues into the park. It cuts through the northern part of the park, goes around Chertanovo Severnoe and ends at Chertanovskaya subway station. Leisurely ride between two subway stations takes approximately an hour of time. There are rental bike stations available at both ends of the lane.

Bitzevsky park in Moscow

Bitzevsky park in Moscow

You can however get off the bike lane and do biking in other parts of the park. The park is extremely popular among bikers as you can do all types of biking in the park. The park terrain is not flat, trails go up and down, there is lots of ravins in the park. Some people do extreme biking, some do just slow rides. I filmed short video to show what not so extreme biking in Bitzevsky park looks like.

Northern part of the park has large field (bike lane and main walking lane in the North go through it), popular for sunbathing in summer. In the middle of a field there are some wooden statues and structures made of log. Those used to warship pagan gods. Sometimes on weekends you can see a group of people singing songs and saying prayers to gods well forgotten after Russia accepted Christianity.

Bitzevsky park in Moscow

Wildlife in the park is represented by over 90 species of birds, squirrels, snakes (not venom) and smaller animals like frogs and mice. A number of springs and small rivers run through Bitzevsky park.

Bitzevsky park in Moscow

It takes approximately two and a half to three hours to cross the park on foot from north to south. Exiting on the far south end of the park gets you to Lesoparkovaya subway station. Southern end of the park is less visited by people and feels more like a wilderness area. There are many other routs that will get you from subway station to subway station through the park.

Bitzevsky park in Moscow

Bitzevsky park in Moscow

In winter, Bitzevsky park turns into a cross-country skiing paradise. If you are a skier, you do not have to leave Moscow to enjoy skiing. Skiing is popular in Russia and in winter the park is packed with people of all ages from young kids with their parents to elderly people — all skiing. On the western edge of the park there is mountain ski slope equipped with elevators.

Bitzevsky park in Moscow

Bitzevsky park in Moscow

Few precautions when visiting Bitzevsky park:

Although the park is patrolled by police and even on week days has many people, going alone is not a good idea. For safety sake, have company, especially if you walk in the southern part of the park, more secluded and less visited by people.

In some areas of the park there is no cell network coverage. It depends on your provider and location in the park, but there will be blind spots.

There is no streets light in the park. Walking in the dark requires good torch light.

The park has lots of trails, some of them are on maps, specifically Yandex maps has all major lanes. However it’s easy to get lost, so having compass and printed map can be quite useful.

There is no way of buying water or food in the park, take some snack and water if you go on a long stroll.

Most trails have no pavement, having proper footwear is important. Especially in summer and in between seasons it gets real dirty in the park. Some trails have gravel covering and this is a rough type of gravel, so have proper shoes on.

Be cautious about bikers, ride their bikes like crazy. Be careful not to step onto bike lane and be cautious about bikers riding off dedicated bike lane.

Bitzevsky park in Moscow

Bitzevsky park in Moscow

All the pictures in this publication are taken by me.

Vacations and holidays in Russia

Vacations in Russia

By the law, all full-time employees (expats included) in Russia get minimum of 28 (twenty eight) calendar days of paid vacation each year of employment. An employer cannot give less of vacation. Some employees get extra days of paid vacation, which has to be reflected in their job contract.

By the law, vacation days have to be split in two parts. One part has to be consecutive 14 days. Remaining portion of paid vacation can be used all at ones or split in any number of days and used up throughout the year.

For each calendar year HR people make internal document called “schedule of vacations”. Each employee has to plan and schedule their vacation for upcoming year. In most Russian companies schedule of vacations is just a formality and no one follows their vacation plan. It is possible to change days of vacation (from those indicated in the schedule of vacations), but for that an employee has to obtain their supervisors consent and write an application.

On top of minimum 28 days of vacation Russian employees get 17 (seventeen) days of public holidays (as of 2018), also paid for. Number of holiday days change slightly each year as government adjusts them. Adjustments are for making holiday days more “compact” and organized. All the national holidays, working and non-working days are fixed by the government before calendar year starts in an official document called “labour calendar”.

To see up to date calendar of public holidays, copy-paste following phrase into a search engine of your choice: производственный календарь 2018. You will get year’s calendar with working and non-working days indicated. This calendar has status of a law and a must to follow for businesses and government organizations of all kinds. This means everything will be closed on public holidays.

In addition to days off, working hours must be reduced by one hour when working day precedes a public holiday.

Public holidays in Russia

January 1st through January 10th — New Year. The most celebrated holiday in Russia. There is January 7th — Orthodox Christmas, a standalone public holiday. Christmas is not really celebrated (it’s a purely religious holiday in Russia) and it always hides somewhere in between New Year holidays. Exact days of this public holiday change every year, slightly.

February 23rd — Defender of the Fatherland Day. Former soviet army day is widely celebrated as men’s day in Russia.

March 8th — Women’s day. I wrote separate article about this holiday.

May 1st and May 2nd — Labour day. Soviet holiday, migrated into new Russian history. On a private level this holiday is a literal celebration of hard labour as many people start dacha season in these two days. They say these two days are used for planting potatoes on dachas. More about dacha here.

May 9th — Victory Day. This is the day when World War Two officially ended. One of THE most significant holidays in Russia.

June 12th — Day of Russia. Signifies end of ussr history and Russia becoming independent country.

November 4th — National Unity Day. Many people view this holiday as a substitute for the communist revolution day (in ussr observed on November 7th). This holiday however is a celebration of harmonious co-existence of people of different cultures, ethnical backgrounds, religions that never divide, but rather unite all people of Russia, making the country stronger.

Holidays have significant impact on business activity in Russia. Subscribers of Russia Simplified newsletter receive this and other extra materials on each publication of this blog.