Basic survival guide for Moscow
Currently dollar is about 27.1 rubles, and euro is about 34.0 rubles, ruble is gaining in regards to both. Best places to exchange cash are small currency exchange points in center of the city, as competition is high there - banks and places more distant from center have worse exchange course. In general currency exchange points are honest, however better to count the cash before getting out from there. Usually they change only euros and dollars, but some change any currency whatsoever.
Usually there is no a separate commission fee, but ask about it - in case there is, better to check for another place nearby at least if you are attempting to change a small amount. Changing money from hand is not necessarily a good idea. Do not change money in airport, or change about the minimum amount to make you to center, that is 15-30 rubles for a bus ticket.
Cash automats are widespread, with visa, visa electron, MasterCard etc. you may draw cash in most of the metro stations, many shops, in about every bank etc. Thus bringing a card could be a better idea than bringing all the cash you need. Unfortunately we have no experience on traveler's checks, but probably it will not be a problem to cash them in any bank - if you need info about them, ask us and we'll find out.
There are 6 means of collective transport in Moscow - buses, trolley-buses, trams, "marshrutnaya taksi" (= private mini-buses), metro and local trains. Three first ones use same kind of tickets, in "marshrutnye" you have to pay each trip separately in cash, metro and local trains have a separate ticket system.
A single ticket for both over-ground transport and metro costs currently 15 rubles (around 45 eurocents), prices of marshrutnye vary according route, but usually they are 15 rubles as well. Practically all over-ground transport has had turnstiles installed during last few years, but there are still occasional controls inside as many people share tickets or dug under turnstile (as a rule, drivers do not care if you do). A bit cheaper tickets for over-ground transport may be bought from special kiosks; these are around many metro stations. Only tickets that do not limit amount of travel are monthly ones, so you better buy a card of 1, 2,5,10 or 20 trips. A single-trip ticket may always be bought from a driver as well with a price of 15 rubles (could be a bit more expensive is travel goes beyond Moscow city limits).
"Marshurtnye taksi" (private mini-buses) are faster than buses, because they skip stations if they get full. You should ask driver well enough before your station to stop. They often agree to stop also between the bus, tram and trolley-bus stops, except when that would result a traffic violation. Most "marshurtnye" carry numbers of the corresponding bus/tram/trolley-bus routes, others are only operated by "marshrutnye".
Metro tickets are sold in every metro station - only tickets that do not limit amount of travel are monthly ones, so you better buy a card of 1,2,5,10 or 20 trips. If you want to jump over the turnstile, watch out first for cops lurking by! There is no any ticket control inside metro. Metro is the main transport system in Moscow; you should almost always prefer it to an above ground alternative. First thing you should get in Moscow is a map of metro - without it you will not get much to anywhere. It is also included in any city map - normal price for a city map is 50-100 rubles. It is also rather safe anytime of the day - but if you are piss drunk and sleeping on the floor alone, your trip may cost you some property. Unfortunately metro closes 1 AM, however this is only the time when the doors are closed - as last trains are leaving from the last station 1 AM, it is likely that you will get to your destination if you get into metro just before 1 AM at least if you do not have to do many changes. Opening times vary slightly among stations, but 5:45 AM is rather usual.
Local trains are not much of help in traveling inside the city, but you will probably use them if you have some business (such as a night place) in suburbs. Ticket prices vary according to distance, tickets are sold in stations. Most of the stations have now turnstiles installed, and there are also turnstiles at exit gates so do not throw your ticket away before exit if you have one - otherwise you may have to pay extra to get out from the platform! There are also controls inside trains.
There are two kinds of taxi in Moscow - those with signs and those without. Latter ones may be twice cheaper than the former ones. Both variants are rather safe, however if possible it would perhaps make sense to ask local friends to negotiate price for you before the trip. Drivers prefer negotiating the trip to using the counter, and you may be fine with that as long as you know what a normal price is. Thousands of car owners look for extra income by driving nighttime, thus anytime of the day you may get a ride by waving hand at any bigger street in five minutes to any part of the city. In nighttime, expect to pay a lot, at least 300 rubles from a trip to other part of the city. In daytime, 50 rubles is a normal price for a trip of few kilometers and 200 rubles to opposite side of the city for a trip in "unofficial" taxi. In St. Petersburg, taxis (as well as collective transport) are slightly cheaper than in Moscow.
NEVER TAKE A TAXI FROM THE AIRPORT! They may cheat lots of money from you. Use collective transport instead - "marshrutnye" would be better, as for example a trip from international airport Sheremetevo 2 in a bus to city takes enduring 2 hours whereas "marsrutnaya" is more than twice faster.
Heavy police presence in Moscow is intimidating - you see plenty of them in any metro station, extracting bribes from illegal immigrants and small traders. However you have no reason to be scared of them if you have been in the city less than 3 days or you have made a registration. ALWAYS CARRY YOUR DOCUMENTS AND REGISTRATION (or equal document given to you in a hotel) WITH YOU! If you are busted for being in the city more than 3 days without a registration, call our number. Otherwise, promptly show police your passport, visa and registration when asked, and most likely they will let you go. Even if you have a registration, police has right to take you to police station for "purposes of identification", but if you are self-confident, they will probably make a conclusion that there is no easy cash that could be extracted from you and they will let you go. Even if you do not have a registration, police has no right to arrest you for more than 3 hours for lack of it, so be tough. But do not be aggressive even if cops are fucking you up, as they are unpredictable.
Taking into account their size and vast income disparities, both Moscow and St. Petersburg are relatively safe cities. There is less crime specialized on tourists (such as pickpockets) than in those major Western European cities that are also tourist attractions. But this does not mean it is a good idea to count your cash in the street, to carry mobile phones in easily accessible pockets etc.
Unlike Russian periphery, Moscow and St. Petersburg are also relatively safe for people with "alternative" outlooks. Number of racist assaults and murders is appalling, but both cities are huge and you may spend weeks in them without seeing a single Nazi. In another hand, these days only few Nazis are wearing any symbols or traditional skinhead gear, so it is often difficult to recognize one.
So keep watching around, and if you have "alternative" outlooks, move around only in bigger groups if coming to or from any political events (demonstrations, concerts, lectures etc). In other cases we would consider it rather safe to move around freely.
Best self-defense is always your legs, so if you have any suspicion in regards to some group of people around, pace up your walk, and leg it if necessary. Russia has a rather strict regulation in regards to firearms, thus it is unlikely that these are an option for self-defense for you. However a number of pepper-gas devices are legal and easy to obtain, these cost from 120 rubles (4 euros) upwards - we will help you if you opt for these. Laws regulating cold steel have been liberated lately, but sometimes cops do not know this, so if you want to carry them around consult us first for some specifics.
Libertarian forum in Moscow is paying a lot of attention to security of its participants, and these issues will be discussed together in plenary of the forum 8th of July. Please take security concerns seriously, and do not leak any information about forum or its participators to outsiders unless information is already published in spb8.net website.
Moscow group of Network Against G8