What is the first thing that comes to one’s mind when one thinks of Russia? Well, it is most certainly grandeur (yes, we know that your mind instantly flashed to vodka but we are trying to stay on the sober side here – wink). Why? Because it is not only a beautiful country but also grand (note the pun)! Joking aside, Russia is a country where the youth flourishes and where bonds are strong. Yet, like with any other country, there are a couple of things to keep in mind prior to hopping on the plane (or the train, for that matter). So, here are six things to know before visiting Russia.
1. English and Russian:
This is good to know if your backpack is only filled with the English language: most people in Russia do not speak it. This, however, does not apply to the younger generation, whose representatives have been exposed to the internet. Since everything is written in Cyrillic, you might run into confusing situations quite often. If you see a youngster around, do not hesitate to ask them for help because they are often kind and will try to do their best to point you in the right direction. If you do speak Russian to some degree, do not be afraid of making mistakes because the locals will greatly appreciate your efforts and will correct you politely if you ask them to. You will find that fluent conversations erupt sooner than one would believe due to the accentuated hospitality of the natives.
It is quite sad that most countries have pirate cabs. Russia is no exception to this as Moscow has fallen victim to their malady quite intensely. Some of these hustlers will even try to mimic the yellow colour of official cabs and attempt to take you on what we like to call “Ring Around the Rosie”-s. Just avoid the taxis that are around train stations and airports and always urge drivers to start their metres, no matter where they might be. Oh, and most of them do not speak English, so try and tell them where to go using famous or somewhat renowned landmarks.
Russia has a strict code when it comes to visas and we urge everyone to take heed of it. If you are planning to stay for no more than three days, then you do not require a visa but if you wish to linger for more than that, be sure to apply for one. Oh, and it is very important to keep a close eye on your scheduled flights/trains, because missing them can land you in trouble if you overstay your three-day visa-free welcome. So, even if you are merely passing through Russia, it is advised that you check out the city that you are using as relay while waiting for your next flight (72 hours are more than enough to get a general feel of things).
This is a subject that most people disagree on: whether to carry your documents with you or not. Mugging is not uncommon in Moscow, Kazan or St. Petersburg (as is the case with most major cities) but as a tourist, you might not want to be left without your vital papers. For this particular reason, we encourage all travellers to make copies of their passports, IDs and visas, and take only those copies with you when you are visiting the cities. Leave your originals at safe places so that you may collect them later and always be sure to talk to your hosts (be it a hotel or friends) about what the area is like for it can get you valuable insight about “where” you actually are.
5. The subway:
Russians are especially proud of their subway system and to be fair, it is the best choice when it comes to getting around in large metropolises. Yet these subways are sometimes visited by undesirable people such as petty thieves or bullies. For this particular purpose, it is best to keep to yourself and not make noise. The latter one is considered extremely rude and it will get you as far as people shunning you. Be polite, do not push others out of your way and do not be taken aback by the lack of patience when it comes to subway queues. Make your way through the crowds with a modest attitude and you will experience an efficient and fast metro system in return.
6. Tap water and vodka:
This is an aspect of Russia that we could not have left out because it generates a lot of confusion around the world. Understand that the local tap water IS drinkable but large quantities can go nasty on your digestive system. We recommend that tourists stick to bottled water and all should be well. Oh, and by the way, know that vodka in Russia is extremely cheap – so, if you go there to indulge, you can do it at full speed (wink).
Did you enjoy our list? What experiences have you had in Russia and how have they shaped your overall trip? Hit the comment section below and tell us all about it. See you soon and safe travels!