Taking a cue from My Sardinian Life’s Jennifer, I have written up a little review of Moscow’s living expenses.
Since the end of the USSR days, Russia’s capital city has frequently topped or ‘podiumed’ the lists of the world’s most expensive cities or and the most expensive places for expats. It’s the kind of place where you can drop $2000 on dinner without making an effort; an effort will easily run you ten grand. Many can afford it — 2013 was the fourth time in five years that Moscow was home to the greatest number of billionaires on the planet. However, on average (in terms of real GDP per capita and mean salaries), Moscow is much poorer than other common entries on these lists: New York, London, Tokyo, Seoul, Zurich, Oslo and Hong Kong. This means there are a whole lot of people working and living in Moscow who have to make do on much more conservative budgets, yet who are doing so comfortably enough to account for literally thousands of crowded restaurants and sold-out movie showings.
Here’s a couple of my own recent Moscow (or Moscow-adjacent) going out experiences and their associated costs:
During the Winter Hols my friend and I went to a gorgeous country palace & estate, Arkhangelskoye, just outside of Moscow. It was going to be a full day trip, so I needed my morning coffee, which I grabbed at Coffee House, one of Moscow’s ubiquitous coffee chains (the others are Shokoladnitsa (roughly translated as ‘chocolate place’/’chocolate maiden’), CoffeeMania, Starbucks and McDonald’s’ McCafe). If I have to get coffee on the street, I usually prefer McCafe, but Coffee House was right by the metro stop that I needed, so I decided to be lazy. A 400 ml/ 13.5 oz cappuccino to go cost me RR245, or $7.45 at today’s exchange rate (a couple of months ago it would have been $8 – the Ruble has been rather weak lately). Also, it tasted absolutely horrible. By the way, Coffee House is a mid-range place; while going through a bout of job interviews upon my move to Moscow, a prospective employer took me to a coffee shop where a cup of Americano with milk rang up at roughly $12 — and that was two years ago!
As I was heading out to the countryside, furthermore, a place I was not familiar with, I decided that it would be best to insure against being stranded in the middle of cold nowhere with no food or drink options. The insurance came in the form of a 0.5 liter bottle of sparkling water, two freshly baked savory pies (one with minced chicken, another with feta cheese), and a raspberry-filled pastry (ok, that one was my breakfast) for a grand total of RR165, or $5. I had written before about what a great deal Moscow’s bakery stands are, but this felt like a real bargain after my coffee experience just a hundred yards away.
My friend and I got to the estate by taking the Metro (a 60-ride, all-access Moscow public transport pass with no transfers runs me RR1200/ $36), and then the route taxi at RR50/ $1.50 per person. Admission tickets for the grounds and museums (there are three) were RR250/ $7.60 per person. After hiking the grounds and visiting all the exhibits over the course of four hours, my friend and I sat down for dinner at the estate cafe, named — not particularly imaginatively — The Estate. Our bill for chicken quesadilla, pork shashlyk (kebab, more or less; it was amazing), hot tea, two pints of Czech beer (that…would be all me) and, unexpectedly, pre-added 10% gratuity, was RR1287/ $39. Afterwards we bought 3 ponchiki outside, to go, for dessert (for the sake of this conversation and until I devote a separate post to them I will call them Russian doughnuts, but they are completely different and in every way superior to their American cousins) at RR20/ 60 cents a pop.
Things to bear in mind: tax is ALWAYS included in the price of the items; gratuity/tip is almost never added to the bill but nowadays a small tip is expected. Before my friend and I noticed that already-included line item, I was going to leave RR800 and she — RR500 for our bill, based on our respective orders and small gratuity. A RR1300 total — nearly identical to our RR1287 bill.
Of note on this particular menu: a cup of tea will run you between $4.50 and $6.00 (average), half a pint of freshly-squeezed juice is $7.60 (also average), and a shot of vodka — $4.50 to $10.00 (high, a lot of places will start at $3.00). Compare this to the most expensive dish on the menu, salmon shashlyk, which costs around $15. A slice of cheesecake is more than double the price of a serving of tiramisu. Side sauces, including ketchup, are extra — here, under $1 per serving.
If you think $1 for a side of ketchup is a lot, lemme tell you about my recent burger outing. A few weeks ago I decided to explore the neighborhood just north of where I live, and to take some more photos of the New Year’s Trees. I stopped for dinner at this cute German place, called Burger Beer Restaurant (in Russian, the word Burger is associated with German people and not hamburgers). Well, I did order a burger. And it was EXCELLENT — fresh, meaty, on a crispy grilled bun, with fresh and pickled vegetables on the side and possibly the best fries I had since Belgium. It came with a little pot of house dressing, kind of a sour cream-mayo hybrid with fresh dill mixed in. But no ketchup. I need ketchup for my meat! So I asked for it on the side, without inquiring about the price. When I got the bill, my jaw dropped: the big, juicy burger was RR450, a pint of specialty ‘smoked’ German beer (it smelled like smoked sausage and was just a bit lighter than Guinness) was RR300 and the ketchup — RR100!!! for a grand total of RR850/ $26, $3 of which was a condiment. I left RR900 on the table .
Other assorted going-out expenditures in Moscow:
Movie Tickets — RR100 to RR1000 ($3-$30) per person for a new foreign release, based on the prestige of location and the time of day. If you’re catching a film at one of the big shopping malls, which start popping up around the Garden Ring (semi-official demarcation of the city center) and spread outward to the suburbs, the ticket price is likely to be between RR300 and RR500.
Gasoline/Petrol — roughly RR 32/ $1 for a liter, or $3.8 per gallon. Not too bad by American standards but kind of high for the 2nd largest oil producer (and mass net exporter) in the world.
Groceries, utilities and other costs of staying in coming up in a few days.