Rookie in Russia

The Winter PalaceSt Basil's, Red SquareArriving in Russia, during winter, as an unseasoned traveller is a daunting experience. Many of the well travelled people I’ve met recently have said Russia is the hardest place they’ve ever visited, so as a first timer I was comforted to know that I wasn’t alone in finding the going tough.

It is however a vast, intriguing country that is still struggling to find its cultural identity in a post communist, pro-capitalist era. With a mixture of seventies style concrete soviet tower blocks, ornate and intricate cathedrals and churches, luxury high street stores in St Petersburg and Moscow and sprawling Siberian scenery that goes on for days, there is so much to see and do if you are prepared to seek it out.

From my short time there, here’s a few observations for any Russia rookies:

  • If you expect anyone to say please or thank you…you will be disappointed
  • If you expect anyone to smile at you…you will be disappointed
  • Learning Cyrillic will reduce your chances of feeling isolated and offer a much more rewarding experience (And no, I didn’t!) If you have at least a clue what a bank, cafe, pub, museum or hotel looks like from the outside (and it is not always as obvious as you think!) that is half the battle
  • Take a guide book and Russian dictionary…you will use both and it will enhance your chances of striking up a conversation (and once you do you will find people thaw and are generous and friendly)!
  • Be prepared to pay more as a “foreigner”. It grates and you will feel hard done to, but get over it and just go with the flow
  • If your guide book translates maps to English, get a Russian street map or tourist map – the road signs are in cyrillic (where there are any)
  • Be VERY careful when crossing the road, pedestrians are very much second class citizens
  • Eat Borsch (Beetroot and carrot soup with beef in), Bilini (pancakes) sample Vodka, eat a meat or mashed potato doughnut (yes, doughnut with mash in it!) and try smoked Omul at lake Baikal and you will have pretty much tasted the main Russian delicacies. The food is for fuel and not fancy
  • Take cash rather than cards or travellers cheques. Its easier and smaller shops and cafes prefer it. British Pounds and Euros get a better exchange rate than the US dollar
  • Visit the metro stations…many of the ornate stations in Moscow are something to see and give the London Underground a run for its money
  • Book a guide or an interpreter for some or all of your trip. Tourist attractions cater only for Russian speakers and without any English explanation museums are not worth the entry fee. Guides are also invaluable for finding trains, explaining tickets and making the most of the time you have available
  • Be prepared for some less than PC views on race, religion and sexuality

Above all go with an open mind and expect the unexpected! It is an interesting and overwhelming place and would recommend a visit at any given opportunity (but if you go in Winter, make sure you pack your warmest wardrobe!).

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8 responses to “Rookie in Russia

  • Matt

    Brill,amazing ,can’t believe you re actually doing it ! x

    • rachvo

      Me neither! Have to pinch myself regularly! It is fantastic and so glad I have. Hope all good with you and the Kitchen empire is taking off enough for a cheeky trip to Thaliand…! Take care and speak soonest x x x

  • Kirsty

    Hello Lovely – sounds like the first leg of your journey has been a baptism of fire, but in a good (and ironically freezing) way I hope. Stay out of the way of that angry Tsunami! xx

    • rachvo

      Hey you! Yes defo!!! Not planning on going anywhere near there…one guy already had to cancel plans. So much happened in such a short time! Three week mark today and already seems like a lifetime…but exciting and pretty full on! No phone or facebook but still managing to keep in touch just about! Hope all good with you and will catch up for some Skype action soonest. Miss you x x x

  • Anna

    Hey Rach
    WOW I’ve been keeping up with your adventures from this side of the world. It looks and sounds amazing and its great I can live vicariously through you :o)
    I tried texting your mobile – i guess you are out of range :o)
    Travel safe – looking forward to having you in Aus.
    lots love Anna x

    • rachvo

      Hiya! Its so amazing, can;t really take it all in! Blog is giving me a good way to take stock of all the fantastic stuff that I’ve been up to. Very luck girl! Yep phone been out of range since Russia, so trying to stay in touch through Skype and when i work out how I might try and get a Chinese sim! Really looking forward to Aus too. Hope all good, lots of love x x x

  • Nicki

    Hi Rach!!
    Just a quickie to say ‘hi’! Hope you’re doing OK – from the sounds of it you’ll be glad to get to Aus?? Think of the sunshine mmmmmm…
    All good here – no gossip just yet, but don’t worry, if that changes you’ll be the first to know! (Well, actually Amy will probably be the first to know cause she usually is, but after that… you get my drift…!)

    Take care matey xx

    • rachvo

      Hiya! Yes the sunshine is Aus will defo be a welcome relief but will be hanging out in China for a while, hopefully going to do a TEFL course in Shanghai in April so will be staying put for a little bit. So much happened in such as short time its amazing. China is most definately an experience!!! Hope all good, say hi to the gang. Loads a love, Rach x x x

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