Inside this section you will find
basic information about Russia and Russians
Travel to Russia
When to visit Russia
What should you take with
How to organize your trip
Russia is the largest country in the world with the total area 17 075 400 square
meters (over 6.5 million square miles), that is about 1,8 times the size of the
USA. It's situated in the Eastern part of Europe and Northern part of Asia. The
main part of the European territory of Russia is situated within the Eastern
European Plain (Vostochno-Evropeyskaya Ravnina). The southern border is on the
North Caucasus. The main part of the Asian area of Russia is on
Zapadno-Sibirskaya Ravnina and Sredne-Sibirskoye Ploskogor'ye. The territory of
Russia spans through 11 times zones.
Russia borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus,
Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China and North
Korea by land, and with Sweden, Turkey, Japan and the USA by sea.
The climate of Russia varies from the steppes in the south and coastal on the
north-west through humid continental in much of European Russia; sub arctic in
Siberia to tundra climate in the polar north and monsoon on the Far East. The
average temperatures of January vary from 0 to -50°C, July - from 1 to 25°C.
Many regions of Siberia and Far East are situated in the permafrost zone. Thus,
Russia is one of the coldest countries in the world. The town of Oimyakon in
north-east Siberia is the coldest inhabited place on earth, with temperatures
recorded at more than 70°C below zero. The inhabited areas are mostly in the
continental climate zones with long freezing winters (5-6 months long) and short
The largest rivers: Volga, Lena, Irtysh, Yenisey, Ob, Amur. The largest lakes:
Caspean Sea, Aral'skoye More, Baykal, Ladozhskoye, Onezhskoye.
Russia has an extremely wide natural resource base including major deposits of
oil, natural gas, coal, strategic minerals, timber, diamonds and gold. There are
85 nature reserves and 25 national parks.
Total population is about 150 000 000 people, with 73% urban population. Most of
the population are Russians (81,5%), with more than 100 other nationalities
(Tatar 3.8%, Ukrainian 3%, Chuvash 1.2%, Bashkir 0.9%). The official language is
Russian. Every autonomous republic use its own language as the second official
language. Religions: Russian Orthodox, Muslim, Judaic and others. 1066 cities
and towns, 2070 urban settlements (1994).
The official name of the state: Russian Federation. It is a democratic
federative republic. The country was formed as independent 24 August 1991 from
the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic of Soviet Union. The current
Constitution was adopted 12 December 1993 by national referendum.
Russia is divided into 21 autonomous republics, 10 autonomous okrugs, 6 krays, 2
federal cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg), 1 autonomous oblast and 49 oblasts.
The national capital is Moscow.
The chief of the state - President, elected by popular vote for a four-year
term. Current president is Vladimir Putin (since March 2000).
The legislative branch is bicameral Federal Assembly (Federal'noye Sobranie),
which consists of State Duma (Gosudarstvennaya Duma) and the Federation Council
The executive branch is run by the government. The head of the government is
appointed by the president with approval of the State Duma.
Russia is potentially one of the wealthiest countries with its natural
resources, a well-educated population, and a diverse industrial base.
Nevertheless, its economic situation has deteriorated since the beginning of
Perestroyka, which announced moving from centrally planned economy to a market
economy. The absence of a clear economical doctrine and means led to destruction
of internal economical structure and declining of industries. In its turn, it
led to significant raise of unemployment, with unofficial estimations about
9-10%. Russian health and education systems, which used to be of the highest
standard during the Soviet times, were slowly deteriorating. Inflation, started
in 1992, reached its peak in 1994, and increased 10 000% by the end of 1997. In
1998 the government implemented a 1000% denomination of national currency
(Ruble), turned back prices from thousands rubles to rubles.
August 1998 brought a new serious crisis. The exchange rate of US Dollar flew up
from 6 to 24 rubles in less than 6 weeks. Small businesses were almost
devastated. Prices for consumer goods increased in 4-5 times with the salaries
increased only on 20-30%. However, the crisis gave a boost to the development of
national industries, which could not compete with foreign goods with the low
dollar rate. Now, one year after the crisis, the results become visible with
reviving the industrial enterprises, particularly in production of consumer
goods and food processing.
The government experiences permanent difficulties with collection of taxes and
fulfilling the national budget. Frequent changes of prime-ministers and
government during the last 1,5 years left the country out of control. A lot of
economic activity is officially unaccounted for and organized crime plays a
The main industries: complete range of mining and extractive industries
producing coal, oil, gas, chemicals, and metals; all forms of machine building
from rolling mills to high-performance aircraft and space vehicles;
shipbuilding; road and rail transportation equipment; communications equipment;
agricultural machinery, tractors, and construction equipment; electric power
generating and transmitting equipment; medical and scientific instruments;
consumer durables, textiles, foodstuffs, handicrafts.
12 economic regions: Northern, Northern-Eastern, Central, Volgo-Vyatskiy,
Central-Chernozemniy, Povolzhskiy, Northern-Caucasus, Ural, Western-Siberian,
Eastern-Siberian, Far-Eastern and Kaliningrad region.
National income: industries - 44,5%, agriculture - 10%, building - 11,5%,
communications, mining and others - 34%.
Russian culture has a long history and tradition and Russians are very proud of
it. Russians consider themselves as a well educated nation. They read a lot,
books are cheap, and one can afford to buy 5-10 books a month without serious
damage to a family budget.
At the same time the majority of Russians don't have what you call in the west
"good manners". Their manners are not bad, they are just Russian. Russia is
quite a rough country, and Russians usually do not hesitate to say what they
think in a way that doesn't leave room for any misunderstandings. During the
Soviet period having "good manners" was considered as a bourgeois survival.
Russians are very straightforward. When they meet or phone each other, they do
not spend time on questions like "How are you?" and go straight to the point.
They are not rude, it's just a way of doing things.
The majority of Russians consider themselves as believers, and belong to Russian
Orthodox Church. It's a great achievement for a country where atheism was the
official state religion for more than 70 years. Frankly, they are not true
believers. They appreciate Christian moral values but do not follow them.
Religion is not a real part of their life. Russians are more aware of horoscopes
than the Bible.
Medical aid and education in Russia are free, though Russians joke that
education becomes less and less free with every year. One can still get a
university education for free by passing the entrance tests (exams), but the
universities have to decrease the number of students studying on a free basis
because of poor state financing.
Having a university or college degree is common, and Russia has the highest
educational level in the world. Since Perestroyka started, the system of higher
(university) education is slowly deteriorating as well as the medical aid
system, which used to be among the world's best. The problem with Russian
education is that it was always rather theoretical and unrelated to practice.
Therefore, it's common for a person having an engineering degree to work in
sales, or one with
a chemical background to find himself in marketing. In the old days having a
degree was an end in itself. They are trying to change the educational programs
now, but the process has just started.
It's not of any wonder if a woman with university degree works as a secretary.
Having a Ph.D. is also not a big deal, and doesn't give you a big advantage;
good knowledge of English will provide you with a better competitive edge. The
position that one has in a company is not as important as the company in which
one works. Foreign companies and even foreign public/charity organizations are
considered to be the best employment.
Having your own business in Russia is a big challenge. The tax system works in
the way that if one has a small business (individual private enterprise), he
must pay tax before he receives permission to act. It's unbelievable, but it's
true: one is supposed to estimate his future income, and pre-pay taxes
proceeding from the assumption. Then he gets a permission to start his business
activity; but he must run to the tax department the second he earns 1 Ruble more
profit than it was estimated and paid in advance. Otherwise it will be
considered a hidden profit, and one can easily get a fine of the size equal to
200% of the amount of the hidden profit. I understand that it sounds funny, but
it works like this. The authorities are suspicious towards owners of small
The bigger enterprises have a more convenient tax system. In 2000 the government
announced united tax of 12% on profits, and even said the hidden (*black*)
capitals may be legalized if the owner pays this 12% tax. At the same time there
were comments from top government officials that this is only a temporary
retreat, and the progressive tax system will be brought back as soon as people
get used to paying their taxes. Actually, the government hoped that people would
start paying tax and show their real profits - but Russians know their
government. They don't want to be easily trapped by showing off their true
income, and then be obliged to pay again enormous taxes of the past (up to 90%
in different - state, region, city and others - taxes on profit). Collecting
taxes is still the biggest concern for the Russian government. Most serious
investors of so called "New Russians" transfer their capitals abroad (of course,
it's illegal, but there are so many ways to take a roundabout).
Before the year 2000, the Russian tax system was one of the most complicated in
the world. If counting all the taxes supposed to be paid, the total amount could
reach 90%, including taxes on the salaries for employees. To pay 100 rubles to
an employee, an employer had to pay about 80 rubles of tax to the state: pension
funds, social insurance, medical insurance and so on. There were many federal,
regional and city's taxes, which were different from one region to another. The
system made companies have double accounting, and sometimes double salaries - an
official one and so called "black cash salary".
Another reality businesses face in Russia is organized crime, which often has
close connections with authorities. Small and medium businesses have to pay
about 10% of the profits to "raket". Nowadays many businesses prefer to employ
"commercial" departments of police organizations or private security companies,
which are in reality just a camouflaged "raket". They will "help" you in a case
of bad debts, problems with business partners or criminal situations like
robbery etc, providing you a "roof". All "criminal cooperations" have official
businesses registered, and you pay them an official fee additionally to
It was a very funny case in Ekaterinburg at spring 1999, when one of the
"cooperations" registered their association as "OPS". In Russian it is a common
abbreviation for "organized crime syndicate" ("Organizovannoye Prestupnoe
Soobshcestvo"). The guys from "OPS" explained their name differently as "Public
Political Union" ("Obschestvenno Politicheskiy Soyuz"). It was one of the most
famous and big groups in the city, and the choice of such a name demonstrated
that the guys were feeling absolutely comfortable with their status. Well, you
consider us as "OPS"? You've got it.
If you have some problems with your business partner, your "roof" ("krysha")
will meet with the other guy's "roof", and they will try to settle your business
problems trough mutual discussion. If they can't get right, they may apply to an
unbiased source - a person "in law" ("v zakone"), who will take a decision,
usually quite just. This decision is final, and you can't apply against of it,
or get rid of it. There is an official way of settling the problems through a
state court, but it's almost out of use: it's long, unpredictable and rather
But businessmen are in a better situation than the people that work as
employees. With all the headaches and stress, they still have some money and
considerably good living standards.
Government employees, particularly medical doctors and teachers, do not receive
their salaries for months, sometimes up to 6-12 moths. It does not mean that
they don't receive salaries at all. It started years ago, first as delays with
payments. So the first time one received his salary a week later, then next
month - 2 weeks later, and so on. Eventually it happens that in June you receive
your salary for last December. One receives some money regularly, and he can
survive, though the government owes him thousands. This way was quickly picked
up by the other organizations, and now even if one works for a private company,
he seldom receives his salary on time. The government constantly promises to fix
outdated payments, and pay pensions and salaries to people working in a budget
system on time, but so far it's only promises.
Russians are smart. They have so many difficulties and problems in life, that
they can easily find a roundabout way for anything. They don't have a deep
respect towards any law, including traffic rules. Russians are of some the worst
and most reckless drivers, and the most careless pedestrians in the world.
A famous Russian comic, Mikhail Zadornov (it's also quite a coincidence that he
is a name-sake of a former Russian minister of economy; once in a foreign
encyclopedia they mixed up their photos - at the article about a minister was
published a picture of the famous comic; well, nothing to worry about - Russian
economy is also a very funny thing), so, this famous comic said that to make
Russians happy, you must just let them steal...
Stealing is not considered to be a big deal as long as you have not been caught,
and don't steal from your friends or the people you know. Stealing from one's
work place was considered for years as an essential "skill of well being".
During the Soviet time there was such a phrase: "Everything around belongs to
the public (nation), so everything around belongs to me".
There was no such term as "private property", that's why Russians don't care
about intellectual property either. No other country in the world has such abuse
of pirate software, video and audio records, CDs etc exposed for sale on every
corner. They used to publish books of Western authors, and the authors found it
out only when started to receive letters of thanks from Russia. The pirate
production is very cheap, for example a CD with the newest version of Microsoft
Office or Windows will cost you $3 or less, the same is applicable for any other
Russians are used to a situation where everything is unpredictable and unstable.
They live in a society where anything can happen, and don't wonder when the
national currency loses 25% of it's value 3 days after the president's public
promise that there won't not be any inflation in the nearest future because the
situation has never been more stable. They have to adapt to new rules and laws
quickly, and they manage successfully with this task. After "The Black Monday"
(17 August, 1998) when the government announced default, and the ruble fell
dramatically, people from any Western country would run to change the
government. Russians ran to exchange rubles for dollars.
Russians had to make the long journey from the total control of the Soviet times
to the total uncertainty of the current situation. Their life has changed
extremely, and if taking peoples' happiness means of measurement, it definitely
changed for the worse. The older people are very sorry for the Soviet times,
when everything was understandable, predictable and stable. One could not get a
much better life than the others with all his talents and hard work, but he was
confident he would have the necessary minimum: a place to stay, a job, free good
quality medical aid and affordable prices for goods, his children would have
free education and free access to any sport and cultural facilities. Well, guys,
it was not such a bad time!
Nowadays people have lost those advantages of the socialist state, and they have
yet to have the advantages of Western capitalism. The majority of people do not
really understand the huge difference in the level of life in Russia and on the
West. Russians do NOT consider their life as miserable. They are under
impression that life on the West is inhuman, restricted and boring, despite of
better cars and houses that people have. Russians like to emphasize their
different attitude towards material values and consider themselves as sincere,
cordial and understanding. They like to talk about "specifics of Russian soul"
or "mysterious Russian soul", and repeat the famous phrase of a Russian poet
"You can't understand Russia by your mind".
Generally, Russians love their country. They can criticize it severely, but if
you try to do the same they will defend it furiously. They feel like the
citizens of the largest county in the world, and they are proud of it.
Daily life for the majority of Russian women is very much the same. One gets up
at 7-8 a.m. depending on working hours of her company. Factories and plants
usually work from 7-8 a.m., and offices and shops from 9-10 p.m. After a simple
breakfast (normally just a sandwich with tea or coffee), she goes to catch a
bus/tram/trolleybus/underground train. Most Russians live in flats in outskirts
("sleeping zones"), work in the center of the city, and have to spend from 30 to
90 minutes to reach their working place. Public transport is always overcrowded
during the "peak" time, and she does not have any chance to have a seat. People
in the transport are like fishes in a can, some of them are touching her, but
it's quite normal - there is nothing one can do. People in transport are always
unfriendly and irritated, though if you are pregnant, with a small baby in hands
or very old, they will offer you a seat.
Normally the working day is 8 hours with one 30-60 minutes lunch break. If one
works for a state enterprise, she may have a few tea pauses - there is a poor
discipline on those plants, one can easily leave her job to settle some personal
problems. Working for a private company means a better salary than working for
the state, but also staying after hours often or from time to time.
Leaving her work at 5-7 p.m., she has to make her way all the way back home
using the same overcrowded public transport. Having a car is still considered to
be a kind of luxury, and even if the family has a car, it's always the husband
who drives it. The price of the cheapest new brand car is about 45 000 rubles,
with the average women's salary 1850 rubles. One can afford to buy a second hand
car but it's very expensive to keep it on the road. You will also have to use a
paid secure night parking or have a garage, both options will make an average
woman run out of money.
Using public transport makes one twice as tired. During a cold season it will
also make you cold because you can't move there, and it's the same temperature
inside as outside. So if it's -20°C outside, it's probably -18 in the bus. I
used to have my own car, and used to go to work by bus, and I can say for sure -
public transport exhausts you.
After arriving at her stop on her way back home, the woman usually goes to the
nearest shop to buy some food - bread, milk and meat. Russians don't go shopping
once a week, they buy products if they are finished. One must buy or provide
your own plastic bags in a shop, they seldom give the bags away for free.
Carrying bags home also doesn't make the woman relaxed - even if it's only a few
kilos and few hundreds meters (usually homes are within 1-2 miles from shopping
areas), you still feel it.
The woman arrives home completely exhausted. If she has a child, she must fetch
her from the kindergarten on her way back. If she has a family, she must make
food for it. Cooking in Russia is more complicated and takes much longer, not
only because of different recipes, but also because of the lack of half-ready
products. There are half-ready products on the market but they are mostly
imported and therefore expensive.
After the supper, the family can watch TV for a couple of hours, then they go to
bed. Russians seldom dine out as well as to gym, cinema or theatre.
Entertainments are expensive, and usually they are limited by visiting friends
or relatives on the weekends.
Generally, the daily life of a Russian woman can be described as *home - work -
home* or *home - work - shops - home*. You can say that it's normal for the life
in any western country as well, but there is one big difference: even small
things in Russia require much more efforts. Buying a packet of milk on your way
back home will take you a couple of minutes, in Russia it will take you at least
20 minutes. This *time rule* is applicable to everything.
Another thing about Russian daily life - they do not enjoy it. They get awakened
not to enjoy a new day but to cope with today's problems. There is little
comfort and happiness. Russian daily life is tough, and it's probably the reason
why they smile so seldom. Rarely you will see a smiling face in a bus or on the
streets - the fact that usually makes foreigners wonder.
The keyword to Russian family life is dependence. The family life is built on
dependence, and Russians are attached to their family members.
The roots of this situation are in the way of being. Russians live in small
flats in blocks, with 2-3 generations living together. It's normal when grown
single children live with parents, and even when married children with spouses
stay with one of the parents.
During the Soviet time one couldn't buy a flat, he could only "receive" it from
the state. The flats were given to people for free, according to the time they
worked on the enterprise. One should only pay a small fee for communal services.
The state norms for giving the flats were rather tough, with 5-8 square meters
for a person. A family with 2 children of the same sex would get only 2 rooms
apartment of about 30 square meters (kitchens, bathrooms and passages were not
taking into account). A divorced woman with a daughter would get only one-room
Nowadays one can buy a flat, and the state does not give flats to people for
free anymore. Buying a flat is unachievable for the majority of people because
of small salaries. One of my friends, 37-years single woman, still lives with
her mom in one-room apartment, and they have zero chances to get a better one
unless she gets married and leaves. (Which is also doubtful as there are more
women in Russia than men and all men who wanted to get married are normally
married by the time.)
Living in small flats together with parents and/or children makes Russians take
care of each other. They have to be considerate and ready to compromise. One has
to adapt to the family lifestyle and rules.
Any person has his own limit of patience and acceptance of the things but
Russians have much higher potential limits. If compare those limits with
thermometer, Americans have 20- degrees "thermometer", and when they reach this
point, their emotional "thermometer" just fails to work further. For them it's a
critical situation. Russians have 100-degrees thermometer, and in the same
situation, which is unacceptable for an American, they will act as if nothing
That's why I think that Russian women have the proper skills to make good wives.
They usually do not let situation to come to the point of no return. It does not
mean that they give up their goals easily, but they try to reach them in a
different, less complicated or roundabout way. They do not intend to prove their
point, and the result is of more importance than the rightness. You won't even
notice how it happened that you eventually did what she wanted. And it does not
mean that the woman is devious or the like; for her it's just natural.
Well, coming back to Russian family life.
Russians get married early, at the age 18-22. Because they don't really care
about making a career (see Myth 2 for details), they don't wait until they are
independent. Young couples usually stay with wife's or husband's parents during
the first years of marriage.
Being single in Russia puts a label on a woman. If she is over 22 and still
single, it means that something's wrong with her. Not any amount of money she
earns or her career successes can give her high social status, if she is not
married. From the other hand, it's not such a fortune for a woman - to be
married in Russia. A decent woman is supposed to stay at home, while her husband
is allowed to spend time with friends in cafes, restaurants and discos. All
housework is also women's responsibility, and it's quite a lot if taking in
consideration the lack of home electronic utilities. About 80% of Russian
families do not have even an automatic washing machine and microwave. Russian
society is pretty male dominating.
Infidelity is common in Russia. Women outnumber men, and a guy can easily find
somebody for relations. Sleeping around is a kind of honor for a man. Women are
not supposed to do it to be respectable, but still, guys find partners, so I
believe that the girls just keep quiet. One of my male friends, who has probably
about 30 new partners every year (he is not married, at least), told me in a
frank impulse: "The only good thing about Russia is girls. Beautiful, gentle and
One of the most prominent Russian traditions is hard drinking. It does not mean
they all are alcoholics; Russians are just drinking more alcohol when they are
It's applicable more in particular to men though women also drink much more than
it's accepted on the West. Drinking a bottle of vodka for three, or a bottle of
vine for each is normal and is not considered as excessive. Refusing to drink as
much as the rest of the company is considered as disrespect. The favorite men's
drink is Russian vodka, the favorite women's drink is Soviet Champagne - a
decent Russian sparkling vine.
Drinking until one falls is all right. The parties usually take place in private
flats, and majority of the guests stay to sleep overnight occupying all free
space on coaches and the floor. The next morning the party may continue. "The
morning after the night before" condition, named in Russian "pokhmel'ie", is
supposed to be cured by drinking a small amount of alcohol ("opokhmelitsya"). It
does provide some relief but thereafter people usually can't stop. Small shops
on the streets (kiosks) selling mostly alcohol and chocolate, work 24 hours 7
days a week, and the party can get extra drinks any time if they think they do
not have enough.
A Russian joke (produces lots of loud laughing in the company):
(The diary of a foreigner working in Russia)
25 June 2002.
Was drinking with Russians. I think I'd better die.
26 June 2002.
In the morning came Russians, and said we should "opokhmelitsya". I'd better die
Russian drinking traditions are very much a cultural thing, and the person who
drinks and does not become drunk is always respected. It's called "he can
drink". The more you drink and don't fall down drunk, the more your friends will
respect you. Many business deals are solved while drinking together, it's
probably one more reason why women don't succeed in making careers.
Drinking alone is considered as being an alcoholic, drinking in company is
Russians do not drink without a reason. It does not mean that they do not drink
just when they want, it means that every time they want to drink they bring up a
reason. It can be anything - from buying a new thing (in this case they call it
"obmyt" - in literal translation "to wash" the new thing) to celebrating the
The process of drinking is specific. The glasses of all company members must be
full, then somebody should propose a "toast" - what for the company is going to
drink this drink. "Toasts" can vary from trivial "Na zdorovie" or "Budem
zdorovy" ("For our health") to any other wish or somebody's desire: "Za udachu"
("For good luck"), "Na dorozhku" (before leaving - "For the way"), "Daj Bog ne v
poslednij raz" ("Hopefully it's not the last time when we drink, with God's
help") etc. After the toast people clink their glasses with each other and drink
their drinks. Everybody must finish his drink, otherwise it means that he does
not support the toast. The next toast follows in 5-10 minutes.
The biggest Russian holiday is New Year (1 January). During the Soviet time
people were not allowed to celebrate Christmas (Russian Christmas is 7 January),
and New Year was the most cheerful holiday.
The next holiday is the Old New Year (13 January). Russians had a different
calendar before February 1918. The difference between Julian (the old Russian)
and Gregorian (European) calendars was 13 days, and after the Soviet government
adopted Gregorian calendar Russians started to celebrate many holidays twice:
according to the new style and the old one.
Non-official "Men's Day" is 23 February, the Day of Army. All men in Russia are
liable for call-up (including reservists), so they all are celebrities. On this
day women usually give men small gifts.
Official "Women's Day" is 8 March. On this day men give women gifts, usually
flowers. Men also are supposed to do all the housework, this is pretty nice - at
least once a year women can have some rest and forget about dishes, cooking,
kids, take a magazine and relax on the coach...
1 April is non-official "the Day of Laugh". People tell jokes to each other,
newspapers and TV publish funny stories and jokes. The motto of this day: Do not
trust anybody on 1 April ("Pervoye aprelya - nikomu ne veryu").
1 May is the Day of Labor. During Soviet time there were huge demonstrations on
this day, as everybody was obliged to show his loyalty to the state; now only
communists organize meetings on this date.
12 June - the Independence Day. It's an official holiday but Russians are not
used to it yet. They spend this day on their "dachas" - small plots in
countryside where they plant some vegetables.
1 September is the Day of Knowledge - it's the beginning of a school year.
Children go to schools with flowers for teachers, there are meetings before the
classes start - nice and exciting.
7 November - the Day of October revolution (25 October according to the old
calendar). It's still an official holiday in Russia though there is not such a
huge celebration as it used to be during the Soviet era.
Russians love to celebrate. They adopted the Western holidays such as St.
Valentine, Catholic Christmas (they celebrate Christmas twice - Catholic and
Orthodox) and Halloween. They also appreciate Chinese New Year, Muslim and
Travel to Russia
Russia is a beautiful country and you will enjoy your trip. At the same time
it's quite different from other tourist destinations and you should plan your
When to visit Russia
First question that you will face when starting to plan your trip - what is the
best season to come to Russia. There are no doubts, you'd better go in summer.
Summer in Russia lasts from June to August. If you are going to Siberia or Far
East, the most beautiful weather there is in September.
Winter travels have their special charm, but you'd better don't try if you are
not used to subzero temperatures.
What should you take with
Rains in Russia are usual for any season, except winter, so take an umbrella
with you. Even in summer the temperature sometimes is only +3...+5 degrees C,
and warm clothes (jacket and sweaters) are necessary. Russians are not fond of
shorts, you'd better take jeans. Washing in hotels is quite expensive and in
some of them not available at all.
Don't forget to take special gifts for the people you are going to visit and
some more small souvenirs. If you are visiting your lady, take pictures of you,
your house, your city etc.
How to organize your trip
Though during the last years traveling to Russia has become easier, you still
have to obtain a visa. You can apply for a private, tourist or business visa.
Tourist visas are the least complicated to obtain. When you choose a travel
agency, make sure that they have a reliable Russian partner in the city you are
going to visit, otherwise you can be lodged in a low class hotel somewhere in
the outskirts. It's important to be met at the airport by an English speaking
person and you'd better arrange it from home. You must register with Russian
authorities after arriving at your destination. If you are staying at a hotel,
the administration will do it for you. You should have a contact in a Russian
tourist agency in the city to solve problems if they appear. The agency will
also offer you some excursions if you are interested.
If it's your first trip to Russia, you will definitely experience language
problems. If you do not know the Russian alphabet, you won't be able to read
signboards and find your way. Even hotel staff may not speak English. The
situation in regional cities is worse. You will rarely find a café or
restaurant, with an English menu.
You should always have a card from your hotel. If you are looking for some
address, it's better to have it with you written in Russian. Ask your translator
or friend to write down a list of necessary phrases that you can give people to
read what you want. If you can't get right at the hotel or any other place, ask
for a person who can speak English. Russians are very helpful and they will keep
trying to help you even if they don't understand you.
Credit cards are almost out of use in Russia and in regional cities it can be
impossible to pay by credit card or draw cash. In Moscow and St. Petersburg you
will be able to pay by credit card in many places, usually the most expensive
ones. Dollars or another currency are officially not allowed as payment means
but can be freely converted at banks. There are no any restrictions of amounts.
You must produce your passport for the exchange. It will be wise to have money
with you in cash and travelers checks as well as a credit card.
You will be safe as long as you don't show around big amounts of money or walk
alone at night along dark lonely streets. Murder is considered to be an
extraordinary event in Russia that usually happens with people who are involved
in organized crime. You can visit any place and peacefully walk on the streets.
However, you can easily become a victim of pocket thefts; so take care of your
wallet and do not keep big amounts with you.
Restaurants and cafés offer a wide range of dishes, and you will find something
according your tastes. The only problem you can face is that they seldom have a
menu in English. Tipping is expected but not mandatory. Check your bill before
paying, it is likely to have counting mistakes.
Russians are very fond of soups (which include meat, vegetables and broth), pies
and pelmeny (similar to ravioli). Russian cuisine is not spicy. Portions are
usually smaller than you are used to.
Russians call their services "non-obtrusive". Be aware that toilets are
difficult to find, and usually you have to pay there. To use a public phone you
will need a token or card. International calls can not be made from street
phones. Your mobile phone will work in Moscow and Saint Petersburg but seldom in
As a taxi you can use any car, not only a specific one. Drivers are eager to
give you a lift to earn a few rubles. Taxi fee must be discussed with a driver
before a journey.
To send e-mail you can use Internet cafes or official postal services. Russia
has become quite Internet savvy and you will easy find a place with access to
the Internet. The best hotels will also provide you with this facility.
In the major cities you can rent a car but it's expensive. Public transport in
Russia is quite good, cheap and easy to use though sometimes overcrowded.
Russia is a country with the long and unique history. There are many places to
see. Foreigners are usually impressed with its unusual architecture, especially
churches and cathedrals. There are many museums, monuments, and theatres. The
most popular tourist destinations are Moscow and Saint Petersburg. If you are in
Russia, you should see at least those two cities.
Quality of tap water varies from city to city but normally is quite poor. It
will be wise not to drink tap water, and use bottled water for brushing your
teeth. Be aware though, that Russian mineral water is usually salted and has a
special taste. Buy imported water or ask a salesperson which one is not salted.
Russians do not wear shoes at apartments, and usually you will be offered to
change your shoes to slippers. Even if your hosts do not ask you to take off
your shoes, do it yourself.
It's polite to bring something with you when invited for socials. Bring
flowers for a hostess and you will never be mistaken.
It's considered being rude if you leave something on your plate when eating at
a private house and you can offend the hosts. If you do not drink alcohol, at
least take a glass and have a sip. You are supposed to try every dish on the
table so keep space. Ask the person who invited you, how many dishes are in