Winters across Europe and the Americas is celebrated for its enormous Christmas trees, adornments, gaiety, but seldom does one strive to discover winters in the world’s largest country. Spread over 11 time zones, one end of this Eurasian country sees Finland whereas the other looks at China and North Korea – that is more than one eighth of the Earth’s inhabited land area. And therefore we had to head there, to discover little of what could take a lifetime.
For the tips, tricks and costs incurred, skip to the end of this article and for the other details, read on. We flew on Russia’s largest airline – Aeroflot, from Delhi to Moscow, a non-stop, non-tiring 6.5 hour flight. Like most international flights, the airline was a 2-4-2 seating and being an almost empty flight, we took the liberty to stretch our legs on the 4 seater. Also, this was the first time we were hearing Russian.
We landed in Sheremetyevo International Airport and checked into Azimut Olympic Hotel soon after. The 3 days in Moscow saw us walking around Red Square for most times and ofcourse, visits to the Kremlin, Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Tverskaya Street, Izmailtovsky, the famous GUM mall etc. The city is decorated with buildings from Stalin’s era – magnificent columns, intricately designed arches, elongated shop galleries, every corner whispers a story.
But the best comes with the Moscow metro via escalators that you cannot see the end of. It’s like walking into an art gallery complete with murals, mosaics and ornate chandeliers. And to live all of this with snow around! Oh btw, ‘Red’ in Russian means ‘beautiful’ – therefore, Red Square.
Next on our list was St. Petersburg. We were told that St. Petersburg was magical during the winters. And what better way to travel than the rails – something you’d do in Switzerland huh? You must must must try the Russian Railways atleast once on your trip. We took the Sapsan high speed train that covers the distance in 4 hours.
St. Petersburg, the largest city in Russia after Moscow, was founded by Peter the Great and over the Neva River. This river flows pretty much across the city giving it more than 300 bridges all across the river. Despite located to the north of Moscow, St. Petersburg surprised us with a variety of weather changes in 3 days – rains, snow fall and a peak of sunlight at times. Peter the Great also established the Academy of Science, Gymnasiums, and Universities, perhaps why we saw a tad bit more English speaking Russians around.
Tourism typically includes Church of the Saviour on blood – a beautiful multi-coloured onion dome cathedral adding some colour to the otherwise grey sky, Peter’s summer and winter palace, Nevsky prospeckt etc. Be warned, while Peter the Great’s summer palace may look like a cottage, his winter palace, now a museum, took us an easy 6 hours and a map to cover (only because some sections were luckily under maintenance!). Visiting the winter palace would mean getting tickets to the Hermitage which also includes various other museums and buildings – these are one of the worlds largest and oldest.
And now, most importantly, the food of Russia. What was on our list was the Borsch – a very popular sour beetroot and beef stock soup. Those cold winds hitting our face demanded this of us at almost every day. Then was the Chicken Kiev – something like a baked chicken with a butter sauce and herb filling. A slice into this gushed out this sauce drowning the base of the Kiev. Also we were recommended the Pelmini, simply put – dumplings wrapped with a generous portion of pork and beef. It must be said that the Russians take their sweets very seriously – be it the Alenka chocolates, Ptichie Moloka (Milk cake) or Vatrushka. Alenka makes for a great souvenier too.
Things you must know:
1. Withdraw your Roubles at ATMs – this saved us a lot of time looking for reasonable conversion counters however, make sure you withdraw in largeramounts as each withdrawal entails a service fee of INR 125 levied by your Indian bank in addition to the conversion markup fee.
If you still wish to carry currency, Euros and USDs will be the only way. You cannot convert your INR to Rouble and vice-versa in India.
2. Learn a little basic Russian – this will help, help, help.
Vee govorish po anglaisky – Do you speak English?
Spasiba – Thankyou
Zravtsvuyte – Hello
Izvinite – Excuse me
3. The city gets dark real quick– You are on a holiday but still waking up early will give you more time to explore
4. What you think looks like cheesecake, isn’t cheesecake, it is Smetannik – Russian sour cream cake!
5. A very well planned holiday with accommodation may be done within INR 90,000 per person. The shopping may get expensive, so keep your resources planned. (P.S. If you do not live in Delhi, it will give you more savings to take a flight to Delhi and then head to Moscow. Any other way will increase the travel cost). Therefore, a ‘good trip’ may come up to 1.5L.
6. A tour of the Kremlin costs 500 Roubles per person and a visit to the Hermitage (Peter the Great’s Winter Palace)will cost 600 Roubles per person. You may also want to buy an Audio kit for an additional 200 Roubles as most of the descriptions in the museums is in Russian.
7. Souvenirs include magnets, Russian winter hats for men and women, make-up for women, scarves and stoles.
8. Where to shop – Moscow: Tverskaya Street and Okotny Ryad Shopping Centre in Moscow; St. Petersburg – Nevsky Prospeckt, Galleria mall
9. If you think you have the time, head to the vodka museum – however, we didn’t.
10. Like all foreign cities, use the metro – take an English version from your hotel. While there are enough buses, absence of English sign boards, translations or people speaking English, it may be quite difficult to get around.
11. Don’t listen to anyone telling you not to travel Russia during the winters, its probably the best!
Read more on www.travellingfatty.com