Why on earth would you want to visit a country that’s always in the news for all the wrong reasons? After all, the Russian bride thing has past and the government seems to always be at odds with western ideals.
Russia is a paradox, one that unless you’re prepared for you’ll either love it or loath it. My first trip to Russia was at the end of the wild 90’s when Russia had experienced a phenomenal change. Moving from a socialist communist regime into a capitalist free market economy was always going to wreak havoc among the people.
In the 90’s the outpouring of Russian women desperately wanting to taste the west was frevelent, This mass exodus coincided with the rise of the internet and saw in its heights, 1 in 10 women in Russia placing adds in foreign magazines and logging in on line looking for love.
Now, Russia has settled. It’s once iron curtain has been lifted and the doors are open to those who want to taste more than vodka and buy the souvenir shapka (traditional Russian winter hat). But don’t just sample the stereotypical cities portrayed in the glossy travel brochures. Be sure to spend some time journeying beyond the Ural Mountains and explore the Siberia once ruled by men on horseback. Russia has awoken, it’s now time to visit the warm hospitality that is Mother Russia,
10 reasons to visit
1. – Trans Siberian Rail – If you’re a bit of a train travel buff, then you’ll know that this is the longest rail journey in the world. Spanning 8 time zones and traveling 9,258km (6,152 miles). We often use the route from St Petersburg to Chelyabinsk. There’s several different train types to travel on; from budgets open carriages, to high end. It’s the only way to experience the vast interior of the worlds largest country. In our search for information we often refer to Seat 61, what we consider the BEST TRANS SIBERIAN SITE
2. – Red Square – With walls flanked by so much history you’re going to need more than one day to explore what’s considered the heart of Mother Russia. To the East stands the iconic St Basil’s Cathedral. On the South West of the square you’ll find Lenin’s Tomb. You’ll also find The State History Museum and Gum, the once state owned department store that now houses western high end fashion brands.
3. – Moscow Metro Rail – Built in 1935. This Merto system just has to be seen to believed! Descending to depths of 100m underground, the Moscow metro is one of the most stunning collections of Marble and art deco mosaic creations I’ve ever seen. Traveling the system is relatively cheap.
|20 rides||580 rubles (single ride = 29 rubles) / 90 days|
|40 rides||1,160 Rubel (single ride = 29 rubles) / 90 days|
|60 rides||1,400 Rubel (single ride = 24 rubles) / 90 days|
|1 day||210 rubles|
4. – Hermitage Museum St Petersburg – If Moscow has St Basil’s, St Petersburg has the Hermitage. Founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great the Hermitage is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world. Spread over 5 buildings and containing more than 3 million treasures it is not only huge but breath taking. The Hermitage is open 10.30am until 9pm daily.
5. – Peter and Paul Fortress St Petersburg – Founded by Peter the Great in 1703 and open 10am until 4pm daily. And somewhat lacking the fame and tourist appeal of the Hermitage or the Mariinsky Theatre, the Peter and Paul Fortress is certainly no less of an incredible landmark.
The first structure to be built in St. Petersburg, and the birthplace of the city, it never served its intended defensive function. Instead it has had a rich, hugely varied, and sometimes sinister history as a military base, a home of government departments, the burial ground of the Russian Imperial family, the site of groundbreaking scientific experiments, and a forbidding jail that held some of Russia’s most prominent political prisoners.
6.- Russian Circus – There’s nothing like a good circus, I don’t mean the dog and pony shows that travel from village to village. Russia rates as the best in Circus entertainment and all large cities have buildings with permanently staffed performers. The Circus in each city often hosts a troop from another city, so each month the theme and entertainment changes. Be sure to get candid pictures as usually photo’s inside the venue are prohibited.
7. – Ural Mountains – Forget what you think you know of the Russian interior. If all you’ve seen is ice and snow then you need to look again at Russian summers. The Ural’s are no exception. One of our best experiences was rafting the Ay River during a scorching summer for 3 days. The Ural’s are picturesque in both seasons. Winter is a great time to settle into a log cabin in the small town of Serostan .
8. – Lake Turgoyak – If you’ve been following our journey you’ll understand that we prefer wilderness and warm hospitality over the well trodden tourist traps. Lake Turgoyak, in the Southern Ural Mountains is a gem waiting to be discovered. Forget the KGB. The Southern Ural’s is one of Russia’s best kept secrets. With recent Archeological findings dating back thousands of years and the vast collection of geological minerals at the museum of Ilmenskii reserve, and flanked by one of the quaintest Mountain cities, with the city of Miass literally minutes away.
9. – Ice Festival – New Years Eave in Russia has to be one of the most festive nights on the calendar. However to avoid the hangover we plan to wrap it up about 2am. Ice Castles can be found in many of the city squares and are equipped with mazes and slides for the young and young at heart. Just a word of caution though, be wary of standing too close to the bottom of any slide. Riders can reach some pretty high speeds and a combination of Vodka and festive spirits can lead to catastrophe.
10. – Russian Sauna – .Sure you’ve been in steam room, and you’ve had a thai massage, but unless you’ve sat in a Russian sauna in the middle of winter and got so hot your body is tingling and you’re delirious from the dry heat you’re doing it wrong…. Then jump out and roll in the freezing snow to cool off…. Now you’re getting the picture. This trick is NOT for the faint hearted.
Planning your trip
All foreigners are required to have entry visas to travel to the Russian Federation. Please note, that your Russian visa is an exit permit just like it’s an entry permit, so don’t misplace it!
There are 4 types of visa’ to enter Russia
- Russian Tourist Visa
- Russian Business Visa
- Russian Private Visa (Homestay Visa)
- Russian Transit Visa
If you’re planning to get a visa heres a great site for more information
A word on Safety
When in Russia, try to dress like a Russian. On public transport keep quiet as the sound of English can be annoying to some of the youth who cram onto busses in drunken states and try to pick a fight. The less you say the safer you are.
Beware the dual pricing at some of the major tourist attractions. When we visited St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow Elena went to pay for our admission while I wandered away an pulled out my digital SLR. Suddenly Elena was forced to pay a larger amount for me as I was an “American Tourist”.
Times have changed in the last 20 years of visiting Russia. On my first trip I managed to run the bank out of money when exchanging USD in the the local currency (Rubles). I remember stepping out on the street and exchanging money with the Russian Maffia. Nostalgically and slightly sadly those days are long gone. Now every bank and ATM is available however it’s advisable to check what your bank fees and charges are once you travel abroad.
Where to stay
Unlike most, when we travel we try to look at alternative ways to seek out accommodation. These are what we consider “must do’s” in Russia.
- Russian Summer House – Obviously not much good if you’re planning to have Christmas in Russia. Although we did spend Christmas day having a BBQ in the Summer House of Elena’s parents one year. Summer houses are usually small and uninsulated, so wrap up warm in the lat summer months. If you’re lucky some are equipped with the traditional Russian Banya (Sauna) and make for great places to relax and “let off some steam”.
- Private Apartment – In larger cities like Moscow and St Petersburg you’re going to put a serious dent in your travel budget as these two cities are some of the most expensive in Europe. A one bedroom apartment in downtown Moscow can set you back $
- Local Hospitality – Initially you can be forgiven for thinking that Russian people are about as cold as the climate in winter. But staying with locals gives you more of an in depth discovery of typical Russian life. With the rise of Couchsurfing and Air BnB more young Russians are opening their homes to foreigners and allowing them to glimpse into a typical day in the life of Russia.
Our Accommodation Choice
For us we have family in Russia and it’s an obvious choice. But with the option of staying with Elena’s Parents, Sister’s and Uncles it’s hard to differentiate between them all. It also depends on what time of the year you plan your trip.
Winter – It has to be good old Mum and Dad’s in downtown Chelyabinsk. It’s central location gives us opportunity to shop in underground shopping markets and frequent the Ice sculptures that are erected in November and won’t melt until March.
Summer – I have to say stay in a Russian Datcha (Summer House). Most people of the soviet time who lived in a city were given an apartment. They were also allocated a plot of land (800m) to grow crops for their families. Most people had to bus across town and as a time saving effort they would build a small house on these allotments.
Our Country Rating – 4/5 GLOBES