Privyet from Russia!
Back from the Russian Federation with a vicious cough, a thousand photographs, chocolate snacks, and some great memories. Met a lot of interesting people, got pretty close to “Taken,” met a Mariinsky company ballerina in the cereal aisle of Stockmann, realized my body can hold 2 liters of beer, almost crushed a kitten skull, and ate way too many carbs and meat than should be allowed.
Russia is an amazing place.
None of the subway signs or anything signs for that matter are in English in Moscow. Welcome to Cyrillic 101. Nyet spasiba! Be prepared at all times to have your hotel names and subway stops printed out in Cyrillic and English so you can ask people for help if you muster up the courage. I promise they’re not as intimidating as they look!
Saint Petersburg feels like Europe. Moscow feels like Russia. If that makes any sense. If you want to see beautiful canals, lovely architecture, and quaint little cafes, go for St. Pete’s. If you want to see the politico, St. Basil’s, Lenin’s preserved corpse, and that gritty urban culture, go for Moscow. You really appreciate a rawness to a city with so much culture, political unrest deep-rooted in the people’s psyche and history, excessively gold, ornate churches juxtaposed with buildings that look decidedly communist and KGB. A strange place indeed.
Saint Petersburg is awesome. AWESOME. If it were summer in Saint Petersburg year-round, I might consider moving there.
Speaking of summer in St. Pete’s… Summer in Saint Petersburg means 66 degrees and rain. You shiver like a pansy because that is considered winter in LA. You fully acknowledge that you are a big fat baby. Winters can be up to minus 20. Dear Lord, I’m from LA. Spare me.
You should know not to wear Steve Madden boots that you love when you’re going to be walking up and down 6 flights of stairs everyday. The wooden sole of your right boot will crack and you will want to cry. You will be walking. A lot. Both cities are very walkable but please bring comfortable shoes as your feet will thank you later.
For clothing, in the summertime, I suggest layerable clothing as some of the nicer days would be 70-80 degrees and then when it got chilly, it would dip below 60 and we’d get pummeled with rain. Very unpredictable weather, so keep that in mind when you’re packing.
Food & Beverage:
Vodka is disgusting no matter what country you’re in (just my opinion). However, drinking beer on the streets, drinking beer at breakfast, yes, those are all good ideas. Americans are missing out. Pahzhausta peva all day long. Europe just has the best selection of a lot of German and European beers – our favorite was Lowenbrau. And Russians have lightly alcoholic ciders that are AMAZING.
As for food, be prepared to eat a lot of meat and carbs. If you’re vegetarian, oh man, good luck. Russians love their potatoes, bread, pierogis (meat pies), beef stroganoff, borscht, and sour cream. Man, oh man, do they love the sour cream, or what?
Your new favorite word is pechenya. It means cookie. Pechenya.
Some random words to know …
Privyet = hello!
Kak dela = how are you?
Pazhausta = please
Da = yes
Nyet = no
Spasiba = thank you!
Voda = water
Peva = beer
Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world – a cup of coffee is $3. Cup of coffee at a regular diner/restaurant, not a grande special latte. We’re talking house black. St. Petersburg is less expensive but it’ll be about $10 for a regular plate of beef stroganoff in the city. I spent about $1200 in 10 days on transportation, food, souvenirs, hostels. They have ATM’s everywhere and money exchange places everywhere, but I suggest bringing cash or pulling from the ATM. Traveler’s checks will get you nowhere here. Foreign exchange is great everywhere except the airport. Airport = shitty rates.
Russian police are notoriously corrupt. Make sure you get have your visa and papers ready. Do this farrrr in advance as you might need to do it through a third party to send your papers to the Russian embassy. Once you arrive in Russia, if you plan on staying longer than one week in each city, you will need to get your papers registered. Police are allowed to stop you in the middle of the street and ask for your papers so always keep copies of everything in several compartments of your luggage. Luckily, the nights stay light until 9 p.m. in the summer, so three Asian girls felt quite safe, but always make wise choices and don’t go around by yourself. Keep your bags close and beware of weirdos on the train. You know that Liam Neeson movie “Taken”? Yeah, that’s totally a thing. Keep your guard up, ladies.
Moscow is not as awesome as Saint Pete’s. Reasons – no Ritter Espresso, nothing’s in English, no Russian chocolate cereal, Stolle doesn’t have the green onion pierogi, no grapefruit Eve, and there’s a girl from the Fulbright program at your hostel who walks into your room without knocking. This might be interesting if she weren’t checking herself out in your mirror and talking about how fat she is and then corrects the Russian you learned from an actual native Russian. You respond by drinking your beer faster.
In a way, that’s why I like staying in hostels. You rub shoulders with people you’d otherwise never meet – some nice, some weird, some crazy cat lady who’s in a drag show, some awesome people who share their food with you (the best kind imo).
Ah, the White Nights in Saint Petersburg. Unforgettable!
Still never got used to the fact that it was daylight outside at 2 p.m. Amazing. AMAZING.
Someone take me back.
Oh, Russia, you hold a special place in my heart now.
And…. a little bonus picture of us doing the Russian girl rock with the czar bell at the Kremlin.
Still got that travel bug itch.
Where to go next?!