Guide Through Russia

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The lands of southern Siberia, southwestern Siberia and the southern Urals were involved in the system of economic links with regions through which the Silk Roads ran. Derbent today is the most ancient city in the territory of the Russian Federation, and the only ancient eastern city, a veritable node in the line of the Caspian route and a living complex of functioning monuments from various eras.

In addition to those monuments, the entire Derbent walls system sixth to eighth century forms a frontier between the southern and northern Caucasus. City of Derbent. The fortress complex of Derbent. The northern Caucasian tower structures may be seen as Silk Roads sites. The towers are complex, architectural constructions which started to appear in the late medieval period and have been conserved until now as family dwellings since the early twentieth century, according to family memories , and they are to be found throughout the Greater Caucasus high mountains.

Tower structures. The upper reaches and tributaries of the Kuban River are interesting in terms of the representation of the Silk Roads, with the monuments of western Alania, especially the Zelenchuk, Senty and Shoana churches, and the ancient settlements of Nizhny Arkhyz and Khumara.

Silk fabrics from Moshchevaya Balka, direct proof of the Silk Roads' passage in the upper reaches of the Bolshaya Laba River, are conserved in the Hermitage. Senty Church. Participants of archeological expedition of Museum of Eastern Cultures. Big Zelenchuk Church. The ancient settlement of Nizhny Arkhyz. Moshchevaya Balka. Bolshaya Laba River. North-Western Caucasus. Region of the Upper Kuban. Rock tomb caves Kaykaya of Western Alania. City of Anapa. The Black Sea shore of the Caucasus and the Republic of Adygea together with the territories of Krasnodar Krai , is also the final section of the northern Caucasus branch of the Silk Roads.

In order to appreciate that this territory forms part of the connections between the Caucasus and the Mediterranean, it might be useful to consider dolmens, Bronze Age monuments with equivalents in the countries of the Mediterranean and western Europe, and Christian churches and fortresses testifying to a Byzantine presence. After the fall of the Ulus of Jochi fifteenth century , the route practically ceased to exist.

Ancient settlement Bolgarskoe. Bulgarian State Museum-Reserve. Republic of Tatarstan. Ancient settlement Yelabuzhskoe. City of Yelabuga. In southern Siberia, which is a northern region of the Silk Roads, there was no permanent concentration of the caravan trade or settled trading settlements, caravanserais, and so on as there was in eastern Turkestan and the central oases of Central Asia. Hermitage Museum. VIII Century, 70 years.

11 Epic Road Trips Across Russia

The specific ethno-cultural and ethno-religious features of the region, civilizational signs of cultural provinces, are characterized by ethnographic monuments and events. These include museum collections, reconstructions ethno-parks, open-air museums, and so on , places of worship and local shrines, religious institutions working churches, monasteries, mosques, synagogues, and so on , and ethnic festivals, national holidays and gymkhana.

The civilizational specificities of regions oblasts featuring external cultural influences incorporated into local traditions and ethnographic phenomena demonstrate the scale of the Silk Roads' impact on the development of territories, enabling its significance to be tracked in many components of the material and spiritual culture of the communities living today in the southern areas of the Russian Federation. The Lezgians. Southern Dagestan. The end of XIX Century. The Russian museum of Ethnography. White Mosque in Astrakhan. Aginskij Datsan. Republic of Buryatia. Those very people are part of the heritage themselves, preserving traditions which more or less date back to the time of the Great Silk Roads.

The participants of celebration Naadym. The Tyva Republic. Tourist and homestay visas have a maximum validity of 30 days. Transit visas are typically for one to three days for air travel and up to ten days for overland journeys. Business and other visa categories can be issued for one, two or multiple entries. Any business visa can permit a maximum stay in any one visit of up to 90 days.

However, a business visa generally only permits a total stay of 90 days in Russia in a day period , regardless of how long it is valid for whether it be 3, 6, or 12 months. If you stay in Russia for 90 days, you have to leave and your visa will not permit you to return for another 90 days. This means give or take - a year isn't days that a six month visa permits as long a total time in Russia as a three month visa! Once you have your visa, check all the dates and information as it's much easier to correct mistakes before you travel than after you arrive!

On arriving in Russia, you'll have to fill out a landing card usually filled out automatically by an immigration officer. As in most places, one half is surrendered on entry and the other portion should remain with your passport until you leave Russia. It is usually printed in both Russian and English though other languages may be available. If you lose it, then upon leaving Russia, you will be charged a nominal fine, and your departure may be delayed by an hour or two for the formalities.

Usually, you will be permitted to enter and remain in Russia for the term of your visa but it's up to the immigration officer to decide and they may decide otherwise, though this is unlikely. Those who enter Russia with valuable electronic items or musical instruments especially violins that look antique and expensive , antiques, large amounts of currency, or other such items are required to declare them on the customs entry card and must insist on having the card stamped by a customs officer upon arrival. Even if the customs officer claims that it is not necessary to declare such items, insist on a stamp on your declaration.

Having this stamp may prevent considerable hassle fines, confiscation upon departure from Russia should the customs agent at departure decide that an item should have been declared upon entry. Upon arrival to Russia and then subsequently upon arriving in any new city, you must be registered within 7 business days of arriving. This law is a relic from the Soviet days of controlled internal migration. Today, even Russians are supposed to register if they move cities.

The official line is that these expensive pieces of paper with blue stamps, help control illegal immigration from the poorer countries on Russia's southern borders in Central Asia , the Caucasus , China and even North Korea. Your host in that city not necessarily the one who issued the invitation is responsible for registering you.

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The proof of registration is a separate piece of paper with a big blue stamp on it. Registration can nowadays be done in any post office. You will also have visit a bank to pay the registration fee about RUB All legal hotels will not let you check in without seeing your registration at least if you've been in Russia for more than 7 business days and police who insist that a lack of registration is your fault are more annoying and more expensive than paying the registration fee. However, if you do not intend to stay at the hotels, you may, at your own risk, forego the registration procedure.

Proofs of registration are never demanded by immigration offices at borders. If you overstay, even by a few minutes, you will likely be prohibited from leaving until you obtain a valid exit visa. You may be able to obtain a visa extension from the consular officer at an airport against the payment of a fine if you overstayed for fewer than three days, but this is not guaranteed.

Generally, though, obtaining an extension requires an intervention by your sponsor, a payment of a fine, and a wait of up to three weeks. Be careful if your flight leaves after midnight and be aware of the time at which the train crosses the border. Border guards will not let you depart if you're leaving even 10min after your visa expires! If your overstay was due to reasons such as medical problems, the Federal Migration Service may instead issue a Home Return Certificate rather than an exit visa which is valid to depart Russia within ten days of issue.

While first three have an express rail connection RUB to a main railway station in the city, each of the stations are quite far apart which makes traveling between the airports quite challenging, so allow several hours between flights from different airports. A taxi between any of the airports should cost about RUB be prepared to negotiate hard. The system is very user unfriendly so don't expect an easy, convenient or quick transfer. Sheremetyevo Airport, expanded greatly in , has five terminals in two clusters, and is the main hub of national carrier Aeroflot.

Although Aeroflot had long been notorious for its poor safety record, things have improved greatly since the fall of the Soviet Union and today, it is just as safe as the major Western European airlines. Terminals B the old Sheremetyevo-1 and C constitute the northern cluster and provide mostly domestic and charter services.

New Terminals D and E, along with the older Terminal F the old Sheremetyevo-2, built for the Moscow Olympics , form the southern cluster and serve international flights, mainly the SkyTeam alliance, and Terminal D also serves domestic Aeroflot flights. Domodedovo is a high-class modern airport with a single spacious terminal.

It serves both domestic and international flights by most Russian and international companies, so you'd be better off choosing flights bound for it. It is the main hub for S7 Airlines , which also flies to numerous international destinations. Vnukovo is a smaller airport and is generally operated by low-cost airlines. As of March , it is undergoing a major renovation with a construction of a new spacious terminal building.

There are airports in all large cities in Russia. Some international services can be found in: Novosibirsk , Sochi , Vladivostok , Kaliningrad , Ekaterinburg. International service to other destinations is much more limited. Moscow is also connected to some surprising destinations throughout Western Europe and Asia. Swish new carriages run from Moscow to Nice and Paris , but the international trains otherwise are of the same standard as the domestic trains see Get around: By train. In the s early days of railways, visiting Russian entrepreneurs were impressed by these, which created a destination for railway travel and boost to the local economy.

Similar gardens were established in St Petersburg around the first Russian railway, and elsewhere, and "vokzal" initially meant such a complex before coming to mean a railway station. The London gardens meanwhile became notorious for thievery and prostitution, and went bankrupt so, most unlike any big railway station, especially in Russia. So "voksal" commemorates a 13th C reactionary warrior against the birth of English democracy!

Belarus , Moldova and Ukraine are very well connected to Russia with many trains daily from cities throughout each country. Helsinki in Finland has four high speed trains daily to St Petersburg and one overnight train to Moscow. Most trains from Central Europe to Moscow pass through Belarus, for which westerners need a transit or tourist visa, even if they're visa-exempt for Russia. The Belarus visa needs to be double-entry to return the same way. Although there are often rumours about westerners being blocked and turned off the train at the Belarus-Russia border, this rail route as of summer has for some years been trouble-free, and alternative routes via Ukraine or Scandinavia add more bother than they save.

It's the road route across that border where troubles sometimes occur. Western Europe has a different track gauge from Russia, Finland and the CIS so bogies must be exchanged when the train crosses into the ex-Soviet countries usually Ukraine or Belarus. This adds a couple of hours to the long wait already encountered for immigration.

You can stay on the train as the wheels are being changed so it won't disrupt your sleep too much. Journeys take 4 or 5 days. There is also a service from Moscow via Sochi to Sukhumi in the disputed territory of Abkhazia. There is a service at least twice a month from Moscow to Pyongyang in North Korea , which is nowadays open to westerners with the correct paperwork. It's coaches attached to the Rossiya Moscow-Vladivostock train that are detached at Ussuriysk for the 36 hour onward haul into and across North Korea. You can travel to Russia by car, but the driving experience there does differ from what you'd expect in most western countries; see get around below for details.

Also, crossing the border by car is a peculiar entertainment. A few bus companies, most notably Eurolines, operate international coach services from a number of destinations to Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Ferry services operate in the summer between Sochi and Turkey's Trabzon. In Vladivostok there is a scheduled ro-ro ferry to Busan and numerous lines to the different Japanese ports, however they are mostly oriented to the used Japanese car imports and less to tourism, there is also a weekly service in summer between Korsakov on Sakhalin and Wakkanai on the Japanese island Hokkaido.

Cruise ships are also call to Russian ports frequently. There is a boat connection from Lappeenranta , Finland to Vyborg. There is now daily overnight service between Helsinki and St. Petersburg on St. Peter Line that does not require a visa for stays less than 3 days. The enormous distances hamper all forms of transportation. While the Russian government has tried to make the vast space more accessible since tsarist times much of the country is still hard to reach and even where trains and roads go, travel time is often measured in days not hours.

Consider flying for far-off destinations — domestic flight routes cover the country pretty well. Due to the immense size of the country, and the poor road safety, the best way to get around through the entire country quickly is by train. Russia has an extensive rail network linking nearly every city and town. For intercity travel, the train is generally the most convenient option for trips that can be covered overnight. Although accommodations may not be the best, Russian trains have efficient and courteous staff as well as timely departures and arrivals that would impress even a German.

The train is an option for longer trips many Russians continue to use it for trips of 2 days or more , but mainly if you appreciate the nuances and experience of train travel in Russia. For the complete Russian rail experience, the one-week Trans-Siberian Railway has no equal. Take a look at the Russian long-distance rail timetable. Usually the bike is taken off its wheels and pedals, put into a bag and stored on the upmost shelf in the Platzkart carriage.

The other class carriages have less space or shelves and the bike should be more compact. Almost all long-distance trains are set up for overnight travel. There are several classes of accommodation:. The conductor will usually take your tickets shortly after boarding, they are returned shortly before you arrive at your destination. At the end of each carriage you will find a samovar with free hot water for making tea or soup.

Most long-distance trains have dining cars. There are also discounts sometime for top-bunk berths only usually not in the tourist season and not in popular directions, which are from largest towns on Friday nights, and back on Sunday nights. Generally correspondence between numeration, speed and train types may be somewhat skewed, and trains from 'slower' category may actually be faster than trains from 'faster' category.

Typically this occurs for various categories of rapid and express trains. Service quality usually correspond to the class of train, but besides that, all-year trains usually have better service than seasonal trains, which are usually better than special dates only trains. The most distinguished trains use their special liveries. Since , dozens of local prigorodny trains are canceled each year due to lack of financing, and situation worsens each year.

Cancellations occur everywhere over the country, except commuter zones of largest cities, such as Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Ekaterinburg and Irkutsk. Having latest news on cancellations may be essential for trip planning. Typical cancellation traits: most cancellations occur in the start of the year, sometimes some trains are returned into timetable, if local budgets find funds to sponsor them; some trains are cut at region borders, even when there are no roads over the border to the previous train destination; other local trains got cut to 1 a day or several a week, often with timetable, not convenient for tourists.

Reservations are compulsory on long-distance trains, so you need to plan specifically for each leg of your journey, you can't hop on and off. Remember that Russian timetables use Moscow time , which is fine for Moscow, Saint Petersburg and surrounds, but will put you 3 hours adrift of local time in Novosibirsk, and worse the further you travel east.

Timetables based on these, eg online, may or may not follow the same convention - so check this when scheduling your trip. You can check the ticket price at Nnov-airport. The best way to buy your ticket is online from Russian Railways website. For trains without 3P you'll need to take your receipt to a counter to pick up your ticket, and this can only be done within Russia - so you can't use those trains for journeys that begin outside Russia. Lines vary widely — some stations are much better organized than others, and it also depends on the season.

If you find the lines unbearably long, it's usually not hard to find an agency that sells train tickets. Commission rates are generally not prohibitive. For instance, buying your ticket to Saint Petersburg from Moscow, it is much better to walk a flight of steps from the ordinary ticketing office — there are no queues upstairs and R is a small premium to pay for this service. Travel time can vary from several hours to several days.

There are more types of train between the two capitals than between any other two cities in Russia.

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Some of the overnight trains are quite luxurious — these include the traditional The Red Arrow service and the newer, fake-Czarist-era Nikolaevsky Express , complete with attendants in century uniforms. Sheets, towels and prepacked breakfasts are included in all the better trains. Shared bathroom facilities are located at the end of the train car. There are special hatches that one may use to secure the door of the compartment from the inside during the night.

Moscow-Saint Petersburg Express Train takes 5 hours of travel and costs min. Trains are only slightly air conditioned. No one in the Moscow train station speaks any English, so if you are not familiar enough with Russian to purchase your train ticket in person, it is suggested that you purchase online or through your hotel concierge or travel agent before you depart. Main signages inside the train station is in Russian and English. The dining car of the express train is nicely appointed with real table linens, and an impressive menu and wine list, but is 3 to 4 times more expensive than eating in the city before and after you travel.

Stop duration may be very different, from as quick as one minute barely enough for passengers to leave and board the train to as long as 30 minutes. Check the timetable placed on door at the end of corridor. During stop you can buy various meals and drinks at platform from locals for pretty reasonable prices. Frequently, traders will walk through the cars between stops and sell everything from crockery to clothes to Lay's chips. The commuter trains are mostly hard-seat train cars. You don't get a designated seat number — you just find space on a bench.

These trains have a notorious reputation for being overcrowded, though this has declined somewhat. The trains make very frequent stops and are rather slow. They do! Tickets for commuter trains are sold in a separate room from the long-distance trains, and are sometimes sold from stalls located outside. A few very popular routes, mostly between Moscow and nearby cities such as Vladimir, Yaroslavl, Tula, and others have an express commuter train that is considerably more comfortable.

Your ticket will have a designated seat number and the seats are reasonably comfortable. The trains travel to their destination directly and are thus considerably faster. Which time zone? Until August , all trains in Russia ran on Moscow time, as much as 7 hours off local time in the Far East. This could be surreal, as you stumbled out of a train, platform and station hall all showing 10 am, to emerge into the gloom of a Siberian evening.

But at least it was consistent, a boon for long-distance planning. Nowadays however the timetable uses local time, ever shifting as you journey east. Check tickets and timetables carefully to see which time is being used in a particular city. Most Russian cities have bus links to cities as far as 5—6 hours away or further.

Though generally less comfortable than the train, buses sometimes are a better option time-wise and are worth looking into if the train timetables don't suit you. A small number of cities, notably Suzdal , are not served by train, and thus bus is the only option besides a car.

Most cities have just one for long distance buses and the state buses depart from there. However, in Moscow and in some other Russian cities, a number of commercial buses are available, and they generally don't depart from the bus station. Quite often, you'll see commercial buses near train stations. On these buses payment is usually to the driver. Russian buses have luggage storage, but if it's an old Eastern-bloc bus, you may find your luggage wet at the end of the trip. You normally have to pay a "bagage" ticket for luggage.

These emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union as an alternative to the moribund public transport system. Legally, they may be licensed as either taxis or buses. They have fixed routes, but usually no timetables and no regular stations. The official designation for them is Route Taxi , Russian: marshrutnoye taxi, Ukrainian: marshrutne taxi , hence the colloquial marshrutka. To board one of these, stop at the roadside and wave a hand, if you are lucky and the minibus isn't full, it will stop.

In a city, it will stop anyway and offer you an option to stand in the aisle or even stand in some corner bending over sitting passengers. This is neither legal nor convenient, but very common and acceptable. You can arrange with the driver to stop at your destination. Marshrutka will stop pretty much anywhere, even in the middle of the traffic without moving to the side of the road.

At main stops the driver may wait and collect more passengers. The waiting time is unpredictable and depends on the schedule, number of passengers, competing buses, etc. There are no tickets, you pay the driver directly. He may give you a receipt, but you have to ask for it explicitly. Marshrutkas ride both in the countryside in this case they are more likely to have timetables and as city transport.

Sometimes they look like regular buses, which makes them hardly distinguishable from official buses. Moreover, on long-distance routes you have an option of reserving a place by phone and even buying a ticket in advance. The system is very haphazard and organized in the most odd manner. It is highly advisable to check details about particular route with drivers or at least with locals who should know the current situation in their city. In cities, never rely on the route numbers. Sometimes they match those of the official public transport, but sometimes they don't.

While trains, planes and buses will get you between big Russian cities and many of the smaller places as well, car travel can be a good way for going off the beaten path and travel at your own pace. Nevertheless if you're not used to local road conditions and driving culture and don't understand Russian, independent car travel can be challenging and even dangerous. Roads may be poorly marked, if marked at all, and poorly maintained, especially outside the cities and towns. Road numbers are not well marked, and direction signs are normally in Russian only.

It's very useful to have a detector for radar speed traps and a video recorder. If you're involved in a collision as the driver, the main rule is not to move your car and don't leave the scene of the accident until a GIBDD inspector draws an accident plan and you sign it. Any violation of this rule may cost you 15 days of freedom. All other questions should be directed to your insurance company. Not all highways in Russia are free: on some highways, toll gates block the way, so the traveller may need RUB per toll may be paid by a credit card.

Petrol in some regions may be extremely bad; it's always better to find any branded filling station. Car rental services are expensive. If you don't understand Russian, one option is using a private licensed guide. Guides generally provide their own cars or vans and know the roads, the customs and the countryside, making it possible to see small towns and historic sites. The tremendous distances of Russia make plane travel highly desirable if you plan to travel to some of Russia's more far-flung attractions. It's worth considering for any destination that is farther than an overnight train ride.

Travelling across Russia by train can sound awfully romantic, but it's also time-consuming and rather monotonous. Nearly every major destination of interest has an airport nearby. The Russian domestic airline industry had an abominable reputation in the 90s due to uncertain safety records, unreliable timetables, terrible service, old airplanes, and substandard airports.

Due to substantial improvements the airline market has now mostly caught up to international standards. Aside of a very few exemptions on niche flights, all flights are nowadays operated with state-of-the-art equipment with excellent safety records. The on-time performance is very good as well nowadays with delays usually only happen in case of adverse weather conditions. On the other side, most Russian carriers have also copied carriers around the world regarding additional fees for refreshments, meals, luggage and seat selection. Most Russian airports as well have international standards now.

Lines at security and check-in are usually short but do not expect the staff to speak English. If you have done online or mobile check-in available for almost every airline you need to have a printed boarding pass.

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For those passengers doing mobile check-in, there is a small self-service kiosk at many airports that allows you to print a kind of boarding pass sticker. Given the many different airlines operating domestic services, it is a good idea to use multi-airline flight search pages or online travel agencies. However, sites common in your home country does not know all carriers or do not show the lowest fares available. Therefore, use Russian sites like Biletyplus and Agent.

Many of these airlines apart from Transaero, which started as an independent operation were formed out of the onetime-Aeroflot operation at their home city from Soviet times when the old Aeroflot was broken up. For remote locations, general aviation can be the fastest option. In the summer cruise boats are frequent on the rivers in European Russia.

Most frequent cruise lines is:. These are the main lines, as well as other, more rare routes. Some cruise lines, like Moscow - Saint-Petersburg sold for foreign tourists. Most cruises are roundtrip, but you can use cruise ships to travel between some cities too, if you search for rare one-way routes, like Nizniy Novgorod - Moscow. Russia has a very lively hitchhiking culture, with many hitchhiking clubs, there is even an Academy of Hitchhiking. There are many competitions. Despite horror stories about bad things happening in Russia, it is relatively safe to hitchhike, especially in the countryside.

In some regions Russians expect a little bit of money for a ride. Russian is the main language of Russia.

The language is a member of the East Slavic language family, and closely related to Ukrainian and Belarusian. Other Slavic languages such as Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech are not mutually intelligible, but still share a slight similarity. Russian is considered one of the most difficult European languages for an English speaker to learn, mostly because of a very complicated grammar. You will not learn the language in a short time; concentrate on learning some key "courtesy" phrases , and the Cyrillic alphabet e.

Familiarizing yourself with Cyrillic is immensely helpful, not only for Russia but for a number of other countries as well, and not very difficult. Learning Russian is quite hard going. The script, Cyrillic, uses many letters of the Latin alphabet but assigns many of them different sounds.

The language employs three grammatical genders masculine, feminine and neuter , six grammatical cases, and free-fall stress, all of which conspire to make it a difficult prospect for the native English speaker. English is becoming a requirement in the business world, and many Russians in the cities particularly Moscow or St. Petersburg but also elsewhere know enough English to communicate.

Elsewhere English is generally nonexistent, so take a phrase book and be prepared for slow communication with a lot of interpretive gestures. There used to be a German speaking minority and the German language was long the first foreign language educated Russians learned, but this has largely declined.

Russia has hundreds of languages and claims to support most of them. Some were made local co-official languages. Southern Russia is lined with Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungusic languages; the northern with Finnic and Samoyed tongues. The southwest corner has a variety of Caucasian languages; the northeast has a few Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages.

However, a smattering of Russian will greatly aid travellers no matter where they are. The Russian Orthodox religion is one of the oldest branches of Christianity in the world and continues to have a very large following, despite having been repressed during the communist period. The language spoken in Russian Orthodox church services is Old Church Slavonic , which differs considerably from modern Russian.

Russia is immense, and extraordinarily long on attractions for visitors, although many lie in the hard-to-reach stretches of the planet's most remote lands. The best known sights are in and around the nation's principal cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Russia's history is the number one reason why tourists come to this country, following the draw of its fascinating, sometimes surreal, oftentimes brutal, and always consequential national saga.

Derbent , in the Caucasian Republic of Dagestan , is Russia's most ancient city , dating back 5, years. Home to the legendary Gates of Alexander, the walled fortress-city, alternately controlled by Caucasian Albania, Persian empires, and the Mongols until its eighteenth century conquest by the Russian Empire was for years the key to controlling trade between Western Russia and the Middle East. Other ancient peoples of Russia left less evidence of their civilization, but you can find traces of the Kurgan people of the Urals , in particular the ruined pagan shrines and burial mounds around the old capital of Tobolsk and throughout the Republic of Khakassia.

Of early Russia' s city states, one of the best preserved and most interesting include Staraya Ladoga , regarded as the nation's first capital, established by the Viking Rurik, to whom the first line of Tsars traced their lineage.


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Novgorod , founded in , was the most important city of Kievan Rus in modern Russia with Kiev itself in modern day Ukraine , and home to Russia's first kremlin. Early Medieval Russia saw two major civilizations, that of the independent Novgorod Republic and the Mongol Empire, which dominated the Russian principalities of former Vladimir-Suzdal whose initial capital of Vladimir retains an excellent collection of twelfth century monuments and kremlin and Kievan Rus.

While the Mongols left mostly devastation of historical sites in their wake, the wealthy trading nation to the north developed grand cities at the capital of Novgorod, as well as Staraya Ladoga, Pskov , and Oreshek modern day Shlisselburg , all of which have extant medieval kremlins and a multitude of beautiful early Russian Orthodox churches filled with medieval ecclesiastical frescoes. As Mongol power waned, the Grand Duchy of Moscow rose to power, and particularly under the later reign of Ivan the Terrible, consolidated power in all of Western Russia, including the conquest of the Kazan Khanate and establishing another grand citadel there and concentrated power in Moscow , building its kremlin, St Basil's Cathedral, and several other of Russia's best known historical sites.

The cities of the Golden Ring surrounding Moscow likewise saw significant construction during this period. A really neat off-the-beaten-path destination also rose to prominence in the extreme north of the country—the Solovetsky Monastery -fortress on the islands of the White Sea, which served as a bulwark against Swedish naval incursions. Ivan the Terrible's reign ended in tragedy, the Time of Troubles, which only saw destruction and ruin, and you will find little evidence of civilizational development until the establishment of the Romanov Dynasty in the early seventeenth century.

Peter the Great, after having consolidated power, began the construction of his entirely new city of Saint Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland, the Window to the West. Saint Petersburg from its foundation through the neoclassical period became one of the world's most magically beautiful cities, and the list of must-see attractions is far too long to be discussed here.

The surrounding summer palaces at Peterhof , Pavlovsk , and Pushkin are also unbelievably opulent attractions. The Russian Revolution was one of the twentieth century's defining moments, and history buffs will find much to see in Saint Petersburg. The two best known sites are found at the Winter Palace, which the communists stormed to depose Tsar Nicolas II, and the beautiful Peter and Paul Fortress on the Neva River, which housed numerous revolutionary luminaries in its cold, hopeless prison.

For those interested in the grisly end of the Romanov family of Nicholas II, perhaps inspired by the story of Anastasia, look no further than the Church on the Blood in Yekaterinburg , built on the spot of his family's execution. Moscow , on the other hand, has the most famous monument from the revolutionary period—Lenin's himself, with his embalmed body on display in Red Square against his wishes.

The Soviet Era saw a drastic change in Russian history, and the development of a virtually brand new civilization. Mass industrialization programs came with a new aesthetic ethos which emphasized functionality combined with grandiosity. The enormous constructivist buildings and statues of the twentieth century are often derided as ugly monstrosities, but they are hardly boring whereas the industrial complexes polluting cities from the Belarussian border to the Pacific are genuine eyesores. The bombings involved in the former virtually wiped out anything of historical interest in Russia's extreme west the Chernozemye region and damaged much more throughout European Russia.

It did, however, lead to the construction of monuments to the war throughout the entire country. For military buffs, a visit to Mamaev Kurgan, the museum complex at Volgograd former Stalingrad is an excellent destination. Kursk , for its enormous tank battle, and Saint Petersburg , site of the Siege of Leningrad, make interesting destinations. Maybe the saddest of the Soviet legacies is the network of prison camps known as the Gulag Archipelago. The term Archipelago really does not capture the scope of suffering across 10, kilometers of cold steppe.

Perhaps the most interesting sites for those interested in this legacy are on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea, and the devastatingly bleak Kolyma gulag system of Magadan Oblast. If you were hoping to see where Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned, you'll have to travel beyond the Russian borders to Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan. Russia has several of the world's greatest museums , particularly in the field of the visual arts.

The Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg is the true star, with an enormous collection amassed first by the wealthy tsars particularly by its founder, Catherine the Great and later by the Soviets and the Red Army which seized enormous treasure from the Nazis, who in turn had seized their bounty from their wars around the globe. Equally impressive is the edifice housing the collection on display, the magnificent Winter Palace of the Romanov Dynasty. Saint Petersburg's often overlooked Russian Museum should also be a priority, as it has the country's second best collection of purely Russian art, from icons of the tenth century on through the modern movements, in all of which revolutionary Russia led the charge ahead of the rest of the world.

Moscow 's art museums, only slightly less well known, include the Tretyakov Gallery the premiere collection of Russian art and the Pushkin Museum of Western Art. Other museum exhibitions certainly worth seeking out are the collections of antiquities in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, particularly at the Hermitage Museum, and the Armory in the Moscow Kremlin. The other category in which Russian museums outshine the rest of the world would be within the literary and musical spheres.

Nary a town visited, if only for a day, by Alexander Pushkin is without some small museum dedicated to his life and works. Great adventures await in quieter parts of the country, at Dostoevsky's summer house in Staraya Russa , Tolstoy's "inaccessible literary stronghold" at Yasnaya Polyana , Chekhov's country estate at Melikhovo , Tchaikovsky's house in Klin or remote hometown of Votkinsk in Udmurtia , Rakhmaninov's summer home in Ivanovka , Pushkin's estate at Pushkinskie Gory , or Turgenev's country estate at Spasskoe-Lutovinovo near Mtsensk.

The best museums are in the countryside. For classical music lovers, the apartment museums of various nineteenth and century composers in Saint Petersburg are worth more than just nostalgic wanderings—they often have small performances by incredible musicians. All tourists in Russia find themselves looking at a lot of churches. Ecclesiastical architecture is a significant source of pride among Russians, and the onion dome is without question a preeminent national symbol. The twentieth century, sadly, saw cultural vandalism in the destruction of said architecture on an unprecedented scale. But the immense number of beautiful old monasteries and churches ensured that an enormous collection remains.

Sergius in Sergiev Posad on the Golden Ring circuit lavra is the designation given to the most important monasteries, of which there are only two in the country , although the physical headquarters of the Church is at Danilov Monastery in Moscow. Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery in Vologda Oblast is often considered Russia's second most important and is a neat way to get off the beaten track.

Ecclesiastical architecture does not, however, end with the Russian Orthodox Church—Russia also has a wealth of Islamic and Buddhist architecture. Notably absent from that list is the Moscow Cathedral Mosque, which was formerly considered the principal mosque in the country, but was very controversially demolished in Russia's most prominent Buddhist temples are in both Kalmykia —Europe's lone Buddhist republic, and the areas closer to Mongolia, especially around Ulan Ude in Buryatia and Kyzyl , Tuva. While the distances are great between them, Russia's natural wonders are impressive and worth seeking out for nature lovers.

Most of the country is rich in Eurasian wildlife. The best known destinations are far to the east in Siberia, with Lake Baikal known as its "jewel. Other highlights of the Far East include the idyllic if kind of cold Kuril Islands to the south of Kamchatka, whale watching off the coast of arctic Wrangel Island , the remote Sikhote-Alin mountain range , home to the Amur Tiger, and beautiful Sakhalin. The nature reserves throughout these parts are spectacular as well, but all will require permits in advance and specialized tours.

The northern half of Russia stretching thousands of miles from the Komi Republic through Kamchatka is basically empty wilderness, mostly mountainous, and always beautiful. Getting to these areas is problematic, as most are not served by any roads, infrastructure, or really anything else.


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Russia's great north-south rivers are the main arteries for anyone moving through the area: the Pechora, Ob, Yenisey, Lena, and Kolyma. Beyond that, expect to be in canoes, helicopters, and military issue jeeps will be the only way of getting around, and you'll likely want to go with a guide. Russia's other mountainous territory is in its extreme south, in the Northern Caucasus.

There you will find Europe's tallest mountains, which tower in height over the Alps, including mighty Elbrus. As you go further east in the North Caucasus, the landscapes become ever more dramatic, from the lush forested gorges and snow capped peaks of Chechnya to the stark desert mountains of Dagestan , sloping downwards to the Caspian Sea.

Throughout the entire country, there are over a hundred National Parks and Nature Reserves zapovedniki. The former are open to the public, and considerably more wild and undeveloped than you would find in, say, the United States. The latter are preserved principally for scientific research and are often not possible to visit. Permits are issued for certain reserves, but only through licensed tour operators. If you have the opportunity, though, take it! Some of the most spectacular parks are in the aforementioned Kamchatka, but also in the Urals, particularly in the Altai Mountains Altai Republic and Altai Krai.

The association between Russia and its two biggest metropolises, Moscow and St Petersburg, is strong in the minds of tourists, but given its vast expanses and low population density, Russia is a nature lovers paradise as well. Russia has a network of exceptional natural areas, comprising 35 National Parks and Nature Reserves zapovednik covering a total land mass larger than Germany. List of Russian Nature Reserves in Russian one can find here. Provided your paperwork is in order, you may visit these areas independently. For those wishing to seek guidance, there are travel agencies specializing in ecotourism in Russia such as:.

Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE. All pre currency is obsolete. The 5-ruble note is no longer issued or found in general circulation. The ruble note ceased being printed in and will suffer the same fate, but as of is still found in circulation. Both remain legal tender. Kopeks are generally useless, with most prices given to the nearest ruble.

The 1- and 5-kopek coins are especially useless: even places that quote prices in non -whole rubles will round to the nearest 10 kopeks or ruble. All banknotes have special marks dots and lines in relief to aid the blind in distinguishing values. Travellers cheques are generally inconvenient only some banks, such as Sberbank, will cash even American Express - though they do it without commission.

So bring enough cash to last you for a few days, or rely on ATMs and credit card transactions. Currency exchange offices called bureaus in Saint Petersburg are common throughout Russia in banks and, in the larger cities, small currency exchange bureaus. Banks tend to offer slightly worse rates but are more trustworthy. Hotels generally offer much worse rates but could be useful in an emergency.

You need to show your passport to change money at a bank and fill in copious amounts of time wasting forms. Be sure to take your time to count how much money you got — different ways are sometimes used to trick the customer, including better rates, prominently displayed, for large transactions and worse rates, difficult to find, for small transactions. Branches of large banks can be found in any major city. Sberbank has a presence even in unexpectedly small villages. Dollars and euros are generally better bought outside Russia and then swapped to rubles once in Russia as changing other currencies, while possible, will not attract great rates.

You can check the rates that are being traded in Moscow online. You will have an easier time changing clean, new banknotes. US dollars should be the current issues, although changing older versions shouldn't be impossible. Don't change money on the street. Unlike during Soviet times, there is no advantage to dealing with an unofficial vendor.

There are several advanced street exchange scams — better not to give them a chance. ATMs , called bankomats , are common in large cities and can generally be found in smaller cities and towns. Though some may not accept foreign cards. English language interface is available. Some may also dispense US dollars. Big hotels are good places to find them. In Moscow and Saint Petersburg almost all shops, restaurants, and services take credit cards. Train stations may accept plastic, even outside the big cities, be sure to ask as it won't always be obvious.

Otherwise take plenty of cash. ATM machines at train station are popular and often out of cash, so stock up before going to the train station. Taxis rarely accept credit cards even in large cities. This needs to be checked before boarding. Emphasize that you need a card-accepting cab accepting when ordering it through hotel concierge or a bell-boy.

However in big cities there are a number of taxi services such as Uber, Yandex Taxi or Gett that accept online payments by cards and can be called by iOS or Android applications. Like anywhere in the world, it's better to avoid street ATMs or at least to be very careful , as sometimes swindlers attach spy devices to them, to get your PIN and card details; the safest option is the ATMs in hotels, banks or big shopping centres.

While tipping was traditionally frowned upon in Russia it has been emerging after the fall of socialism. Tipping is not necessary, but expected. Some restaurants may include service into the amount, but that is very rare; if a service charge is included then a tip is not expected. If the service was particularly bad and you don't want to leave a tip, ask for your change. It is impossible to write-in a tip into restaurant credit-card payment. Tipping is not considered customary for taxis, in fact, you should negotiate and settle upon your fare before you get in the taxi.

In general, Russian-made items are cheap, but products imported from the West are often expensive. The foundations of the Russian cuisine was laid by the peasant food in an often harsh climate, with a combination of fish, poultry, game, mushrooms, berries, and honey. Crops of rye, wheat, buckwheat, barley, and millet provided the ingredients for a plethora of breads, pancakes, cereals, kvass, beer, and vodka. Flavourful soups and stews centred on seasonal or storable produce, fish, and meats.

Russia's renowned caviar is easily obtained, however prices can exceed the expenses of your entire trip. Dishes such as beef Stroganov and chicken kiev, from the pre-revolutionary era are available but mainly aimed at tourists as they lost their status and visibility during Soviet times. Russia has for many decades suffered a negative reputation for its food, and Russian cuisine was known for being bland and overly stodgy.

However, the food scene has improved in the past years and Russia has also been known and famous for delicacies like caviar. Both Saint Petersburg and Moscow offer sophisticated, world class dining and a wide variety of cuisines including Japanese , Tibetan and Italian. They are also excellent cities to sample some of the best cuisines of the former Soviet Union e. It is also possible to eat well and cheaply there without resorting to the many western fast food chains that have opened up. Although their menus may not be in English, it is fairly easy to point to what is wanted — or at a picture of it, not unlike at western fast food restaurants.

A small Russian dictionary will be useful at non- touristy restaurants offering table service where staff members will not speak English and the menus will be entirely in Cyrillic, but prices are very reasonable.

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Russian meat soups and meat pies are excellent. It is better not to drink the tap water in Russia and to avoid using ice in drinks, however bottled water, kvass, limonad, and Coca Cola are available everywhere food is served. Stylish cafes serving cappuccino, espresso, toasted sandwiches, rich cakes and pastries are popping up all over Saint Petersburg and Moscow.

Some do double duty as wine bars, others are also internet cafes. Restaurant staff in Russia are not as dependent on tips as in the United States , but tipping is still encouraged, even if it is not common among the locals. Don't tip in cafeteria-like settings, where you travel along the counter with a tray and pay at the cash register. Throw a couple of ruble coins or the older notes into the tip jar for baristas. There is no way to leave a tip on your credit card so keep enough small bills in your wallet to hand to the staff.

Vodka, imported liquors rum, gin, etc. It is found for sale at any street vendor warm or stall varies in the centre of any city and costs costs double and triple the closer you are to the centre from about RUB17 to RUB for a 0. The highest prices especially in the bars and restaurants are traditionally in Moscow; Saint-Petersburg, on the other hand, is known for the cheaper and often better beers.

Smaller cities and towns generally have similar prices if bought in the shop, but significantly lower ones in the bars and street cafes. Locally made mainly except some Czech and possibly some other European beers — you won't miss these, the price of a "local" Czech beer from the same shelf will be quite different international trademarks like Holsten, Carlsberg, etc.

Soft drinks usually start from RUB yes, same or even more expensive than an average local beer in a same shop and can cost up to RUB60 or more in the Moscow center for a 0. Cheap beer less than RUB50 per 0. Street vendors usually operate mainly in tourist- and local-frequented areas, and many of them especially those who walk around without a stall are working without a license, usually paying some kind of a bribe to local police. Their beer, however, is usually okay, as it was just bought in a nearby shop. In the less weekend-oriented locations, large booths "lar'ki" or "palatki", singular: "laryok" "stall" or "palatka" literally, "tent" can be found everywhere, especially near metro stations and bus stops.

They sell soft drinks, beer, and "cocktails" basically a cheap soft drink mixed with alcohol, a bad hangover is guaranteed from the cheaper ones. The chain supermarkets excluding some "elite" ones and malls mostly on bigger cities' outskirts are usually the cheapest option for buying drinks for food, the local markets in the smaller cities, but not in Moscow, are often cheaper.

Staff of all of these maybe except in some supermarkets, if you're lucky do not speak or, at the best, speak very basic English even in Moscow. And furthermore, staff of many markets in Moscow and other large cities speak very basic Russian its mainly migrants from Middle Asia.

Mixed alcoholic beverages as well as beers at nightclubs and bars are extremely expensive and are served without ice, with the mix for example, coke and alcohol charged for separately. Bringing your own is neither encouraged nor allowed, and some usually dance-all-night venues oriented to the young crowd places in Moscow even can take some measures to prevent customers from drinking outside like a face-control who may refuse an entry on return, or the need to pay entry fee again after going out , or even from drinking the tap water instead of overpriced soft drinks by leaving only hot water available in the lavatories.

Any illegal drugs are best avoided by the people not accustomed to the country — the enforcement is, in practice, focused on collecting more bribes from those buying and taking, rather than on busting drug-dealers, the people selling recreational illegal drugs in the clubs are too often linked with or watched by police; plain-clothes policemen know and frequently visit the venues where drugs are popular, and you will likely end up in a lot of problems with notoriously corrupt Russian police and probably paying multi-thousand-dollar if not worse bribe to get out, if you'll get caught.

It really doesn't worth the risk here. In Moscow and Saint Petersburg, most restaurants have a selection of European wines—generally at a high price. Russians prefer sweet wine rather than dry. French Chablis is widely available at restaurants and is of good quality.