TRAVEL TO RUSSIA ‘SOLO’: 5 Myths Eliminated
As a first-timer to Russia this year, I had a stack of preconceived ideas and images about what it would be like, and not of all it was favourable. On reflection my thoughts were gravely unfounded.
It was a virtual list – just ideas in mind about day to day life, the people, how it would be to travel around, and the weather, particularly since I was going in winter and had timed my trip unknowingly just as the cold snap swept across Europe in March.
My trip was a whirlwind with just a few nights in St Petersburg and the same in Moscow, connected with the fast train between the two cities (which by the way, was impressively fast and comfortable). Although, a brief visit, it didn’t take long before I busted my top five myths about Russia.
#1 – THE FOOD IS BORING
I love food experiences when I travel. So, I was a little worried that I’d be eating bland meals, devoid of decent flavours, and a lacking for choice – I have no idea where my ideas came from. Maybe something about their cold weather made me think it would all be stodgy and unseasoned cuisine. Well, that stereotype was quickly squashed.
Black Dumplings With Pike Perch and Soft Smoke Celery Puree
Wow, I had some amazing food experiences. The highlight was in St Petersburg. I seeked out a traditional Russian restaurant, and thanks to Trip Advisor, took myself off to Severyanin, well located in the old centre of the city. I was chuffed when arrived. It’s this quaint small restaurant with styling of an era gone by. Sometimes it feels a bit daunting to dine solo, but as soon as I arrived, I was warmly welcomed and offered my choice of tables. It was attentive service and friendly help with the menu (well spoken English by my waiter), which I needed as there was a lot I didn’t know. For my starter, I loved the Baked Beetroot with Fried Goat Cheese, and Dandelions Salad. Then onto my main, the delectable Black Dumplings with Pike Perch and Soft Smoke Celery Puree – hard to describe the amazingly unique taste of those dumplings that I’m still dreaming about. And, by the waiter’s recommendation, I went with their ‘Special Dessert’ – it was ‘smoking’ when it got to the table. Still not sure what it was but I liked it.
#2 – IT'S DANGEROUS
I was hosted by a Russian tour company so was taken care of through my days, but at night I had time to wander out and about around the city centres. It felt no different to most western major cities I’ve visited, and I felt entirely at ease strolling around on my own. I had a little free time on my own during the day - I felt a part of big urban cities, with great transport, lots of shopping and restaurants, and hustle and bustle. There’s places when you travel that you don’t feel safe or just feel uncomfortable in when travelling solo, but I didn’t get that at all during my visit to these Russian cities. Another interesting day was Election Day, that happened to coincide with my visit. I thought it may cause some city chaos or demonstrations, but as a tourist, it all went by without even noticing it was Election Day.
#3 – DON'T VISIT IN WINTER
It was the week before my visit and I was seeing the daytime temperatures in Russia plummet to -13 degrees celsius. I was a little worried, not something I’ve ever experienced in a big city. But, I was prepared and had a layering approach to the clothes, with a warm hat and clothes and boots – definitely wear boots in their winter.
The upshot was that I loved it – my visit felt very ‘local’, as tourist numbers were low. I didn’t queue anywhere and every icon and major landmark was picture perfect – no other tourists blocking the view of the photo I wanted to take. And, because I was prepared I was almost always comfortable. Just two exceptions, and the most memorable was when I walked to the water’s edge from the Summer Palace just outside of St Petersburg – it was bitterly cold, and when I went to talk my lips had frozen and I couldn’t talk….i couldn’t even move them to warm them up…. Anyway, it passed.
Travel Tip for Russia in Winter – your iphone will probably experience mega battery drain. Mine did, and I ‘googled it’ and found out that was normal for the iphone in sub zero temperatures. Take extra battery power banks with you.
#4 - RUSSIANS ARE UNFRIENDLY
I’ve never met many Russians until I my recent visit, so it was a bit unfair I had ‘labelled’ them as the people that don’t smile. It was only down to a few experiences of Russian holiday makers in other countries that I had formed this opinion. I was expecting a cold and unfriendly reception as a tourist. I was first greeted by my tour guide at the airport in St Petersburg with a warm smile, and it was the same in Moscow. Hotel staff greeted me with a smile, and in restaurants and other locals spots I’d err towards saying ‘half smiles’. It seemed to me that Russian people don’t gush with big warm welcomes, but they do receive and greet you in a way that’s not rude, just not overly friendly. There was just one wait staff in a hotel who was the epitome of my pre conceived idea of unfriendly Russians – but that was it.
#5 - IT'S TOO HARD TO GET A VISA
It’s true, there is no joy in paperwork, and the Russian visa paper work like many other countries isn’t exciting. There’s two options, apply directly with the Russian Embassy or Consulate or otherwise use a Visa Processing company to assist with the process. Living in Sydney, I decided on dealing directly with the Sydney Consulate. I googled the process and came up with a site that helped me understand the process before I got started.
It’s not hard to get the visa. The only painstaking part was listing my travel records for countries I’ve visited, and entry dates for the last ten years. However, you just need to set aside time to calmly do the paperwork, and carefully read through the steps, and apply with enough time before you travel – it was a two week wait from submitting to collecting my passport with the visa.
Now, on the flip side of never having travelled to Russia, I’ve busted by big myths and a whole lot more including the fact that not all Russians drink vodka – it was a point made by my tour guide – she said it was one of those grossly general sweeping statements that couldn’t be further from the truth - she, nor any of her friends when they’re out for a night drink vodka!
BUDAPEST TO MOSCOW, ICONS OF EASTERN EUROPE SEPTEMBER 2018
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