Things I've learned travelling in Russia

Nov 30, 2014

Disclaimer : Those next few points, are solely based on my own experience while travelling in Russia during the month of October. Don't take my advice/remarks as general facts about Russia or Russians as some would turn out to be completely wrong depending on the time of the year or the places you go to in Russia.

1- Russians don't smile and they stare 

Okay, it's a rather negative point to start with, but that's a fact, it's one of the first thing I have noticed on my arrival in Moscow... People don't smile, and they stare.
Yes, being 2m05/6ft8 and a dark skinned guy in Russia I do stand out from the masses but still, people would keep staring at me even though I would look at them back. So this, plus the fact that they don't smile, at first I was intimidated, then I guess I started getting used to it, and finally, I got quiet annoyed with it and started staring back at them. Not in a provocative way, but since they were staring at me, why couldn't I stare back a them.
And as I went deeper into Siberia it got worse. The staring stayed the same but the smiling part decreased. I'm not saying that people are unhappy, once again, it's just the way they are, and Russians don't seem to smile that much.

Told you Ruissians don't smile :)

2- Russians are friendly people
Given the first point, I was kind of anxious to find out how friendly people would be. And to my surprise, I have to confess, locals that I have met have been very friendly and helpful. My misadventure with my quadcopter in the Moscow river says it all... Check it out here.

Flying my quadcopter above the Ob sea

3- Very few people speak English
That made things interesting. Ending up communicating with more gesture than words or using some translating application and handing out your phone to the other person to type his or her response. Even in Moscow I was surprised to find out that so few people could speak english, and even most of those who could, spoke little english.
Some other travellers that I have encountered during my trip told me that they've met a lot of Russians who spoke English, so I guess it really depends on who you interact with.
During my first train ride between Moscow and Novosibirsk I have met 2 Russian military and one of them spoke a bit of English, making it easier to communicate, although, the activity we were involved with - shots of vodka - did not require a lot of communication to be succesfully completed.
In the second train ride between Novosibirsk and Irkutsk, the 3 other Russian people who shared my compartment did not speak english at all. So if you're planning on going to Russia, a phrasebook could turn out to be very useful.
On the other hand, on Olkhon Island, which is the most remote place I have been while in Russia, I have met a Russian who spoke perfect English... so... I guess you never know.

On Olkhon Island

4- Few tourists
In Russia, the peak tourist season is somewhere between June and September. If you like crowds of tourists then this period is probably a good time for you to go. But if you're like me, October is actually a pretty good month to visit Russia. Weather is that cold yet - compare to the temperature you can get later in the year - and there is few tourists. Hostels are not busy, or just enough to meet other travellers and also Russians. I have noticed and been told that, at least in Moscow, it's not rare to find Russian people living long term in hostels. So this can also count as a good way to meet locals, as surprising and unusual as it sounds.
And the fact that there is fewer people in that period is a good transition for the next point... You actually do  not need to book things in advance.

The perfect snowflake

5- No need to book in advance

I'm going to repeat it once again, I was in Russia in October, and for that particular point, it makes a big difference as if you were visiting in the middle of July. And here I am mostly about train tickets for the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian lines.
I booked my ticket from Moscow to Novosibirsk only 2 days before the departure date, and for the leg between Irkutsk and Ulan Bator, which was the busiest train I took in Russia, I did it 8 days in advance. I took the train 3 times, and not once, was a car full. In 3rd class I shared the section with 3 other people (6 max.) and in 2nd class I shared the compartment with one other person every time.
This gives you a lot flexibility for your trip. Things do not need to be planned from beginning to end. This is another good reason to visit Russia outside of the peak tourist season if you are able to do so.

No comments:

Post a Comment