For many overseas tourists, a trip to Russia is nothing short of an adventure. They find the vast, cold and mysterious country irresistibly appealing, yet are daunted by less-than-complimentary stereotypes and complex visa requirements. However, those who make it to Russia never remain indifferent to it. The tourist service WhizzMate interviewed several overseas travellers for Lenta.ru about their impressions of Russia.
Shannon and James Farrelly, US
We had an ambitious plan to visit all or most of the stations of the famous Moscow Metro. Although we didn’t know any Russian, the colourful diagrams made it easy for us to find our way around. Despite the crowds of marching Muscovites, we couldn’t help thinking we were in some museum, not on public transport. There were elaborate chandeliers, marble, mosaics and sculptures everywhere! A ticket to the metro costs almost nothing compared to the popular museums.
We always kept counting the stations so as not to miss our stop; however, we did goof it up once. My husband somehow thought that trains made longer stops at the final stations to let all the passengers out. I was struck dumb when I saw my husband’s startled face behind the closed doors of the carriage travelling to the depot! It all ended happily: I didn’t lose my husband, and he now has an excellent story!
Sean Barrett, UK
For me, Russia is one of the most thrilling places on earth. It extends across nine time zones and offers a great diversity of landscapes, a rich history and a fantastic literary heritage.
Most of my friends tried to talk me out of this trip. They told me I was insane, described a myriad of problems awaiting me in Russia (which ranged from bad phone reception to food poisoning) and predicted I would most certainly be mugged. In reality, the worst things I saw on my trip were Russian women’s hairstyles, which looked more and more strange the farther I travelled from Moscow – they could fill a separate Instagram account!
What I liked best was the so-called Putin discount resulting from the dramatic slide of the rouble, as I suddenly discovered my budget could stretch to luxury hotels. The high standard of service was another pleasant surprise. For instance, I was able to book and print my train tickets and even my tickets to the Hermitage before leaving England! Such little things give every reason to hope that things will work out well for Russia.
Daniel Lorenz, US
I was supposed to travel from Moscow to St. Petersburg by plane but decided against it at the very last moment. Instead, I booked online tickets on a fast train – and I don’t regret it! I had a comfortable and pleasant journey even though I was travelling in economy class.
The Internet is full of articles saying that Russia is a dangerous country. Frankly speaking, I took them seriously and carefully followed all the instructions they gave, like making several photocopies of all my documents. I wish I hadn’t.
I felt completely safe both in Moscow and St. Petersburg, where I stayed in accommodations outside the city centre. I usually travelled to the hotels by metro or on foot and never got into any trouble, not even late at night.
The road signs, subway maps and restaurant menus are all written in Russian and English. You can always find at least one person speaking English in any popular tourist spot. On the other hand, I would highly recommend learning the Russian alphabet. It’s easy and it doesn’t take very long. The fact is that many Russian words like café or museum sound like English but look very different in Cyrillic letters.
Jörg and Anna Lechner, Germany
I first visited Russia in the early 1980s when it was still the Soviet Union. I often shared memories of this trip with my family and dreamt of returning to Russia one day, and my dream finally came true. This time I travelled to Russia with my wife. She had always admired photos of Leningrad in the Soviet era. The city looked absolutely empty, with few pedestrians and almost no cars on the streets. A car used to be a luxury in the USSR.
A lot has changed since that time, of course. To bridge the gap between my first and second visit, I booked a trip in a Soviet-era Pobeda car – it was amazing! My wife was completely ecstatic. After the car trip, we had lunch in a Soviet-style cafeteria, where we ate chebureki, a type of deep-fried pastry popular in the USSR. Incidentally, the cafeteria wasn’t at all easy to find as modern youngsters have other food preferences. I did stumble upon a couple of pelmeni places though, but they look very different from the Soviet ones. If pelmeni with duck or salmon had been available in the Soviet Union, the country would have never broken up!
Marie Stuart, France
As soon as I had booked my tickets to Moscow, my friends started telling me countless distressing stories about Russia’s capital. Moscow was described as “unfriendly,” “cold” and, on top of everything, “expensive.” What scared me most, however, were all the nightmare tales about the draconian “face control” policy towards foreign guests in bars and clubs. When I finally arrived in Russia, I had no problems visiting any bars anywhere, either because I have many Russian friends or because the stories about the horrible bouncers turned out to be some kind of prank played on first-time visitors to Russia. The bar scene was best in St. Petersburg. It is a city with a student vibe, so the clubs are a lot cheaper there and the people are infinitely more relaxed.
I sometimes joke that the toughest door policy I ever experienced was at the Hermitage. As we were standing in an enormous queue to enter the museum, we noticed that people came out of the building in large groups. We joked that they couldn’t get past the doorman!
Patrick Wellner, Canada
It sounds funny now but I was worried that Russians would treat me badly when they found out I came from Canada. Well, I spent a week there and never faced any discrimination based on political grounds. I talked to a lot to expats from other NATO countries and although they constantly discussed the serious effects of the current political tension on the economy, no one complained that their Russian colleagues’ attitude to them had changed for the worse.
The Russians I came in contact with left a really good impression on me and were mostly helpful. There are many young people who speak fluent English. As I am planning to regularly travel to Moscow on business, I will extend my next business trip for several days and bring my family here with me. Not in winter, however, as we have enough snow at home. I heard the best time to visit Moscow is in May; it’s also a great opportunity to watch a military parade. Russia is probably the only place in the world where you can see tanks rattling down the main street of the capital city!
Andrew Ward, Canada
Why do they spray water on the streets in Russia when it rains? On the whole, Russia is an unpredictable country, not a dangerous one! Although I felt safe throughout my stay there, I never knew what would happen next. This is something I never experienced in New York or London or any other big cities I have been to. It’s gripping, but I couldn’t live under such pressure all the time.
In all other respects, I think people across the world still have very stereotypical ideas about Russia. True, I never got farther than Moscow, and maybe other parts of Russia are as dyed-in-the-wool as they say. In Moscow, however, you can get Wi-Fi coverage everywhere, even on the subway. Most places take credit cards, though it doesn’t mean you will never need any cash at all.
This is another unpredictable thing: you may walk into a popular, expensive restaurant and only discover they don’t accept cards when the check arrives. Or you may come to a museum on a usual working day and it turns out to be closed. I find this incomprehensible.
The only stereotype about your country that does hold true is the beauty of Russian women. This is one thing you can’t deny.
Robert Spencer, UK
Russians have absolutely no sense of privacy. I found this really disturbing. I noticed that Russians tend to flock together no matter where they are – in queues, on the underground, even in the streets. They can happily walk three, four or five abreast across the width of the pavement. There must be some historical explanation for this habit. A Russian colleague told me you even have a type of fist fighting called “wall-to-wall.”
On the underground, people often troop into the carriage without letting out the other passengers. I practiced rugby some time ago and had to use my skills a lot when getting off the train. Interestingly enough, women on the metro are more aggressive than men. The larger they are, the pushier they get.
I am thinking of moving to Moscow in the near future. I’m sure I will be fine. The only problem will be having to do without cheese and many other familiar foods. It’s a source of great and, if you ask me, unnecessary discomfort for any non-Russians residing there.
David Price, US
Russian dashboard-camera videos are among the most commonly watched videos on social media. Sometimes they look like scenes from “Mission Impossible,” but in most cases I just catch myself thinking, “gosh, what was that?” I don’t think I will ever try to drive in your country. When we were visiting Russia, we travelled everywhere by taxi. Luckily, you have Uber and Gett, which are much cheaper than in the United States. But even when I was a passenger, I sometimes felt as if I were in a dash cam video. One should think twice before renting a car: it’s a real test of strength! You could create a whole video game series out of it.
There was one thing I didn’t understand: we tried to order a taxi near the Kremlin once but the phone kept saying we were in Vnukovo. Later, I was told it was some kind of security arrangement for the president. I don’t know if this arrangement makes any sense but we thought it was hugely inconvenient. I am sure many other tourists as well as Moscow residents will agree with us here.