Russia made it on my travel bucket list a few years ago, although I never googled anything like “travel in Russia” or “Things to do in Moscow”. But in my head, it was a cool destination. Travelling to Russia seemed cool. Probably from stories of friends of friends. Because that’s how we make travel decisions. Based on stories from friends. Or that’s just me.
Now getting my feet back on the ground, I needed to set up my travel in Russia, and I had to deal with the visa application, budgeting my travel, things to visit in Russia, planning my stay, searching accommodation… all that stuff. You’ll say yeah, that’s what travel means. But this is Russian tourism, and it’s not your ordinary travel experience.
I will let you know from the start, it’s a bit more time consuming than making plans to other countries, but it’s worth it.
I don’t know about your country’s politics, but in Romania, there is a third party agency handling the visa application. The Russian Embassy is not receiving any applications anymore, except for urgent matters. Of course, that agency is charging a fee for this service. Convenient, right?
What do you need to apply?
A passport! Will be used for all the below!
An invitation. There are many online agencies, you fill in your info, pay online (I paid 12 Euros) and they email you the invitation (you need to know the dates of your visit and which cities are you visiting)
Travel insurance. Usual travel agencies or normal insurance offices offer this. Again, you need the exact dates.
Fill in an online form from the embassy. Print it.
All these are needed to apply, in my case, to that agency handling the application. It took around 1 week to get the visa. A friend of mine waited 10 days. It’s recommended to go 1 month before your departure.
Tips for travelling to Russia
At the passport control checkpoint, you will get a small piece of paper, which you need to keep in your passport at all times. An immigration form. I was always afraid of losing it. They check that everywhere. And your passport of course.
A thing to keep in mind about Russia. Right now it’s a federal semi-presidential constitutional republic, whatever that means. But the Soviet times can be felt at every corner street. It’s creepy. And unusual. And weird. If you ever read “1984”, you’ll fell like in that book.
I took photos whenever I felt like it and made videos and it was ok. They are used to tourists and will understand we cannot read/speak Russian and will saw the air to explain what you should do. Yeah, communication was a difficult path to cross.
Another useful thing: Have all your papers (reservations, plane tickets) printed. They ask for it at the hotel. I have no idea why. Their English wasn’t good enough to explain it to me. They always need to check where are you coming from and where are you going, and for how long. There is this rule that if you stay more than 10 days in a city, you need to register at the police. Actually, you need to register everywhere, but the hotels do that for you. It gets tricky if you’re staying with a friend.
Otherwise, it’s an authentic Eastern culture. Being a Romanian, I could find many similarities to my culture. From the way people dress to street culture, which is different from Western Europe. Of course, religion plays a huge part in all this.
I advise you to buy a sim card for internet (getting around with Google Maps it will make your stay more pleasant). It’ s ridiculously cheap.
But Russia is a big country ( the biggest) and there are different rates depends on which area you’re in. So I bought a sim card in St. Petersburg, which was not working in Moscow. They couldn’t explain that in English, when I bought it, so they just said: “Yes, it will work.”. It didn’t. It was a lot of stress, especially with the language barrier.
All of that being said, calm is a required skill to have when travelling to Russia. Probably you will end up in many incomprehensible situations, and patience and calm will get you out of them.
Is English travelling to Russia, too?
Most Russians I’ve come across don’t speak English. Almost at all. Sometimes it was a struggle: in the airport, in shops, at the hotels, asking for directions, reading the Russian signs (yeah, you start learning the alphabet by yourself, only by reading street signs and advertisements)
I am still asking myself why they don’t speak English. Because they do study it in school. I think it’s the same with the Americans. Or any native English speaker. Because they speak English, and we all know English, we don’t consider it weird that most of the native English speaker don’t speak a second language.
The same with Russians. Just that they speak Russian. And they are a big nation. And a spread country. Why would they learn a second language?! For some of them, it seemed offensive that I wasn’t able to communicate in Russian. And they do get a lot of tourists. I don’t know.
And it’s cold. It’s very cold. I was there in April, and the water was frozen on the ground. People were opening their luggage in the airport, pulling out their winter clothes. There was snow on the ground. One morning was snowing like Christmas was coming. It is cold! Go there in July or August! (advice from a Russian)
Random facts I’ve noticed
After landing in Russia, the airport seemed like a prison.
People working in the airport don’t speak English.
And LinkedIn doesn’t work there. Apparently, it’s banned. It took me a while to realise it. In case you need it.
Starbucks is more expensive. Actually, international brands are more expensive there.
They say Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world. I dare to differ.
Food is cheap. And vodka. That’s cheap too. And plenty.
Nightlife is expensive. Beer is expensive in supermarkets (~4 euros), so imagine the price in a bar. Imported beer.
Anything else on your mind? Ask me in the comments, and I will get back to you! Otherwise, enjoy Russia!