What was the biggest culture shock to you about Russia?
Sophie: I think the biggest shock was that there wasn’t really a shock! I had this mind that Russia was going to be so grey and smoky and the people would be unfriendly. But, actually, it’s really pretty and colourful. The language barrier can be a problem sometimes and not being able to read Cyrillic was a little challenging but you eventually work it out.
Stella: It’s a cliché, but Russian waiters, bus drivers, etc really do not smile at customers as much as Americans in the service industry do. I sometimes felt that people were angry at me because of their serious facial expressions, but I don’t really feel this was the case. It’s just a cultural difference. However, I did meet some Russians who smile at customers, so this isn’t a universal practice.
Katie: Not being able to read any of the signs as they were in Cyrillic!
What areas would you say is NOT safe to be in Russia or where should you pay particular attention to.
Sophie: I only went to Moscow and St. Petersburg while I was there and me and my friend felt safe the whole time, even at night! Saying that, we were centrally located in both cities and I think that’s important for safety when you travel.
Stella: I didn’t find a single neighborhood I didn’t feel safe in, but I only went to St. Petersburg. I will say that I saw a few political protests when I was there, and I didn’t feel safe being near those. They weren’t especially rowdy, but I couldn’t understand what was being said, and I didn’t want to get involved. Getting arrested in Russia is NOT on my bucket list!
Katie: I didn’t have any safety issues in Central Moscow or Central St Petersberg – the biggest issue when I was there was the minus 30 temperatures, you simply cannot be outside for that long without the right clothing and even then I would not recommend being in the wind for more than 30 minutes walking.
Please give us some of your MUST eats and drink suggestions
Sophie: I absolutely loved Tepemok in Russia. It’s a popular fast food chain but it’s a great way to try loads of the local food for a cheap price. That way, if you don’t like something you haven’t spent much money. We used to order the ham and cheese pancake (Syrniki) a lot.
Also, it’s almost criminal not to try the red caviar and vodka for breakfast…local style! We sampled some in the Baluga Caviar Bar in GUM so it was pricey but if you’re going to try it once, may as well be good quality!
Stella: If you have a sweet tooth, you will like Russia! My favorite sweets were Russian chocolate and Korovka, which is a brand of chewy candy with a cow on the package. Georgian food is very popular in St. Petersburg, and my favorite was the khachapuri, which is warm bread filled with cheese. I also really enjoyed a cabbage soup called shchi and draniki, which are potato pancakes.
To drink, of course you must try Russian vodka. But the non-alcoholic drinks were good too, especially the tea and the tarkhun, which is a tarragon soda.
Katie: Russian dumplings, sausages and pancakes (sweet and savoury). Plus chicken kiev, borscht, beef stroganoff, and of course Russian vodka!