Travel to Russia

For centuries the world has wondered about Russia. The country has been reported variously as a land of unbelievable riches and indescribable poverty, cruel tyrants and great minds, generous hospitality and meddlesome bureaucracy, beautiful ballets and industrial monstrosities, pious faith and unbridled hedonism. These eternal Russian truths coexist in equally diverse landscapes of icy tundra and sun-kissed beaches, dense silver birch and fir forests and deep and mysterious lakes, snow-capped mountains and swaying grasslands – those famous steppes. Factor in ancient fortresses, luxurious palaces, swirly spired churches and lost-in-time wooden villages, and you’ll begin to see why Russia is simply amazing.

To get the most from Russia, you should head way off the beaten track. After taking in old favorites such as dynamic Moscow, historic St Petersburg and beautiful Lake Baikal, dive further and deeper into the largest country in the world. Visit the soft, golden sands of the old Prussian resort of Kranz, now known as Zelenogradsk in the far western Kaliningrad Region; the charming Volga river village of Gorodets, home to folk artists and honey-cake bakers; fascinating Elista, Europe’s sole Buddhist enclave and location of the wacky Chess City; the 400-year-old mausoleums of Dargavs, a North Ossetian “city of the dead;” or the hot springs of Kamchatka’s Nalychevo Valley in the Russian Far East.

Russia’s vast geographical distances and cultural differences mean you don’t tick off its highlights in the way you might those of a smaller country; the Russian Far East, for example, is the size of Europe. A more sensible approach is to view Russia as a collection of countries, each one deserving exploration. Rather than transiting via Moscow, consider flying direct to a regional center such as Irkutsk to have an Eastern Siberian vacation or to Yekaterinburg to explore the Urals mountain range.

If cultural and architectural highlights are what you’re after, stick to European Russia, which is all of the country west of the Urals. If you don’t mind occasionally roughing it and are in search of Russia’s great outdoors, train your eye on the vast spaces of Siberia and the Far East. Alternatively, boost your adrenaline on the country’s top ski resorts and raft-friendly rivers. You can also get a bird’s eye view of it all from the cockpit of a MiG-25 or even from outer space, as well as unique experiences such as getting a beating in a banya (traditional steam bath).

ELECTRICITYElectricity throughout Russia is 220 volt/50 Hz. The plug is the two-pin thin European standard. Be sure to bring your own converter since most places in Russia do not carry them.

CURRENCY All prices are generally quoted in rubles. Currency can be freely converted at banks, hotels or kiosks. Traveler’s checks are difficult to cash. Credit cards are accepted in most places that work with foreign tourists. Some may decline American Express cards. Visa and MasterCard are more widely known, hence more widely honored. ATM machines are widely available in major cities, but note: They do not have letters on the key pad, so if your PIN includes letters, remember them as digits!

TELEPHONES Despite the recent rapid improvements in the telecommunications infrastructure, telephoning in Russia can be difficult and expensive. Your best bet is to use the phone at your hotel or use AT&T, Sprint or MCI’s USA direct services. Tokens or calling cards are required for street pay phones, which can be purchased at newsstands, in some stores, and many kiosks.

TIME Time is GMT +3 for both Moscow and St. Petersburg.

MEDICAL CARE Remember to bring any medications you may need. Check with your health insurer before you depart to determine your coverage in the event of emergency. Many insurance providers offer specialized riders which can cover emergency evacuation. We recommend buying a travel insurance.

WATER Water quality varies widely in Russia. Your best bet is to drink and brush your teeth only with bottled water which is widely available in supermarkets. Be careful to avoid ice and raw foods and vegetables.

CRIME The crime situation has considerably improved in Russia over the past couple of years. Moscow and St. Petersburg are now safer than many American cities. Precautions include not flaunting valuables or walking alone at night through city outskirts or parks.

TAXIS In Russia, taxi fees are usually negotiated with the driver ahead of time. Do not use gypsy cabs or accept rides in cabs that already have a rider. We can provide you with airport transfers by our company car.

TIPPING Tipping is increasingly expected at restaurants. Tip 10-15% depending on service. It is typical to round up the amount due to the next round figure.