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Things to know before traveling to Russia

Things to know before travelling to Russia

A few women in the community were asking about Travel in Russia. So I decided to set out and ask a few women who have travelled to Russia about the country, safety, recommendations and more. If you have been to Russia, get in touch. I would love to include your thoughts. If you are thinking about a trip to Russia, have a read of the thoughts below. If there are any questions we didn't answer, you can always ask them on the She Roams Solo Russian Forum. You can join the community for FREE and ask any and all questions you may have.

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!

Women travelling in Russia

What is your CANNOT miss place to visit, see, do or hang around?

Sophie: I mean, did you even go to Russia if you didn’t take a picture of the Red Square?! For me, I think my heart skipped a beat when I saw it and the colourful domes of Saint Basil’s cathedral. Everywhere around the red square is a must visit in Moscow, including window shopping in the super glamorous GUM. Also you have to watch a ballet at the Bolshoi theatre, it’s expensive but the talent is incredible!

If you’re thinking of heading between Moscow and St. Petersburg definitely book on the Sapsan train. It only takes 4 hours. But, you may have to book through a booking office as it can be tricky to book through the station, seats also book up fast. 

A boat ride in St. Petersburg is a must and a step inside the Church of the Saviour on Blood. The city palace museum is beautiful inside and out and also the Elysiev Imporium is the place to go for the most delicious cakes.

Stella: I love museums, but even if you don’t, you can’t miss The Hermitage Museum. It is one of the world’s greatest museums and it’s also inside a stunning palace. It’s like someone dropped the Louvre inside Versailles. Plus it is full of cats. Be sure to buy a ticket in advance online or you will never get inside.

Katie: St Catherine’s palace in St Petersberg and the Red Square in Moscow (although they closed it for NYE which was a shame). Pskov was worth the detour to see – amazing historic buildings and orthodox churches

What did you love about Russia?

Sophie: I loved all the colourful architecture! Even the metro stations in Moscow were absolutely gorgeous and a tourist attraction in their own right. Everywhere we went there were all sorts of buildings with character and vibrance.

Out of the two cities, St. Petersburg was my favourite. It was like walking through a fairytale with all the old colourful buildings and canals. Next time, I want to visit the Catherine palace as we didn’t have enough time last time.

Also, I loved seeing brands I recognised like Mcdonald’s and Starbucks written in Cyrillic. I know it’s sad but I thought it was so cool! Me and my friend kept taking photos of the signs haha!

Stella: St. Petersburg is so pretty! You can take a short day trip on a bus and you can spend the day exploring a royal palace and picnicking on the palace grounds. But maybe the best thing about St. Petersburg is the metro. It is beautiful, clean, cheap, and insanely punctual. As a New Yorker, I was green with envy.

Katie: It was magical being there in deepest darkest winter with snow all around

What did you not like about Russia?

Sophie: Unfortunately, the food wasn’t great. I mean, I had Beef Stroganoff…a lot! And the pancakes were good but other than that we struggled to find food that we liked! But, that’s the great thing about travelling trying new things.

Katie: I was terrified of getting lost on the metro in Moscow!

Women travelling in Russia

What do you wish you had of known or been prepared for?

Sophie: Surprisingly the weather! We thought June was going to be one of the hottest months of the year but on some days it was freezing!

Also, I wish I had done more research on tube stations before I got there as the metro was really hard to navigate. The tourist maps would write the station in English but the metro station, train and announcements were all in Russian! So, you had to be careful you didn’t miss your stop.

Thoughts on Russia in General?

Katie: I liked my winter trip to Russia, I’d like to go back and see more of the country in the summer or spring though!

How was the nightlife in Russia? Did you feel you could walk around alone at night etc?

Stella: I’m not really a nightlife person, but I did go out to the ballet one evening and took the metro back to my room at night. It felt very safe. Nobody bothered me. I didn’t get hit on at all in Russia except maybe by one cute blond guy who bowed to me in the street and handed me a balloon. I’m not even sure he was flirting! Perhaps it was some sort of promotional event.

Katie: I didn’t go out, out, but friends did and they found zero atmosphere mid week – we were fine to walk around centrally

Women travelling in Russia

Where did you visit in Russia?

Stella: I spent one week in St. Petersburg only. I plan to go back this summer and visit St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Katie: I went to Moscow, Pskov and St Petersberg

Did you find the locals to be friendly and helpful?

Stella: The locals were really friendly and helpful. Most young people were excited to meet an American and wanted to know what Americans thought of Russia and what I thought about Donald Trump. I had one woman help me get tickets to the ballet and another tour guide who actually got on the metro with me and took me to a restaurant she liked after the tour was over. In general, I would say St. Petersburg is in my top five cities for friendly locals.

Katie: Yes! They were willing for us to try and embrace their culture, but not out in the street in the cold! People were much easier to talk to inside!

Did you experience corruption?

Stella: I did not experience any corruption. The closest I came was when a public toilet attendant accidentally tried to charge me twice for admission to the toilet. She didn’t understand me when I explained that I already paid her, but fortunately a Russian woman who spoke perfect English helped me out.

Katie: No

Are there any “do not dos” that you came across?

Stella: Don’t go into an Orthodox church wearing skimpy clothing, or with your head uncovered, if you are a woman. It is pretty easy to find headscarves for sale outside major Orthodox churches, but you can be safe and bring your own.

Katie: Be careful drinking vodka with Russians!! They have detailed etiquette around this

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Things to know before travelling to Russia

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