Travelling to any country for the first time can be a little intimidating but given the given the current mass media perceptions (and House of Cards), it is especially true for Russia. It is not just media perceptions though. The former Soviet Union has had its problems in the past and is still very daunting for the public. Whether this is true or manufactured consent is a question of seeing with your own eyes. People who have visited the country have seldom been disappointed.
So here are 10 tips for travelling in Russia.
Getting a visa can be tricky, so to save time and effort it is advised to book Russian vacation packages that come with visas included. There are many to choose from according to your needs and budget. The more popular tours include a unique adventure called the Trans-Siberian tour. It is essentially a railway tour that runs along the Trans-Siberian railways. Other options are also appealing. Poke around to find what suits you.
Get to Know the Places You Will Be Visiting
This is especially true for monuments and museums. The timings in Russia are a little unusual and have very little in common with the rest of the world. Some may open at 10 am and close down by 1 pm, and some may open at 1 pm and close by 5 pm. So do your research beforehand to not get disappointed. Some places have unusual decorum even. You are expected not to put your hands in your pockets while inside a church or even the mausoleum of Lenin.
Know the Russian Metro
This might sound redundant and perhaps even patronizing but the like their language, the metro routes are extremely difficult to understand for an outsider. The first thought upon reading this might be to bunk it all together, in that case, you would be missing out on of great architecture. The stations alone are some to marvel at. Be alert though. Always carry a map which is written in both Russian and English. The directions which the trains move are also not obvious always double check where ever you are. Don’t be shy to ask people around you.
All About the Vodka!
Look: Russians take their vodka very seriously okay? You don’t want to offend them in any way. Don’t get it wrong. Not all Russians drink and the people who do enjoy getting intoxicated are not necessarily alcoholics. Having said that, if you are drinking with a Russian, it is imperative that you know their alcohol customs. For instance, never keep an empty bottle on the table as another one is being introduced. In Russia, this is considered bad luck. Always keep the empty bottle on the ground. Also don’t say yes to drinks unless you are completely sure that you will be able to sit through an entire bottle because once a bottle is opened, it cannot be kept back.
Plan Your Meals Beforehand
Finding a good to place eat that pleases your palate will be difficult to do in Russia. Before you go out to visit a place, make sure to go online and look up restaurants and cafés in that area. Food can truly be the best and the worst experience in an unknown country. The foulest part would that you have to go hungry for hours before you can grab a bit to eat.
Acquaint Yourself with the Culture
The Russian culture is by no means absolutely bizarre, but there are a few quirks you should be acquainted with. As mentioned before, the church and vodka customs are a must remember. In Russia, you are not expected to split the bill. Say you are on a date and you are a man, you have to pay the bill. It very well may be that your date will not be carrying any money with her. Living in progressive countries and being a liberal-minded person, it might be difficult to navigate with these vestiges of patriarchy but when in Rome! So please bear with it!
To be frank, the Russian mindset is biased against deviations from the sexual norm. Public display of affection amongst members the same sex will perhaps not be taken lightly. Even dressing in a non-heteronormative fashion may also be looked down upon. Legally there is no problem as same-sex unions had been decriminalised more than 20 years ago. None the less, it is of utmost importance to exercise caution and well, the closed doors of the hotel rooms are always there at your service.
Trust Your Own Senses
Don’t believe everything you hear in the media these days. Russia is one of the most beautiful places to be on earth. The scale of the country itself will leave you in awe and especially the different cultures of the country are something to learn about first hand. All in all, travelling in Russia is not very different from travelling in other countries. Like all places, it too has its own quirks and nuances. By the end of it, if you are aware of your surroundings and put time into research then you will not be disappointed with your experience.