Russia (European Russia west of the Urals) is 3 hours ahead of Greenwich Meantime (GMT). From the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October, Russia observes Daylight Saving and is 4 hours ahead of GMT.
Standard voltage is 220 volts, 50Hz AC. Primary sockets generally require Continental or European plugs, of the two round pin variety. We recommend that you pack a universal travel adaptor. You will need a voltage converter, and plug adaptor in order to use U.S. appliances.
The currency in Russia is the Russian Rouble.
Pound Sterling, US Dollars or other major currencies can be exchanged only in Russia, as the Rouble is presently exchangeable only in destination. Bureau de changes and ATM machines exist in Moscow and St Petersburg (to a lesser extent in the provinces), and credit cards are rarely accepted outside the main cities. It's advisable to request bank notes in smaller denominations, as it can sometimes be hard to get change from large notes and smaller notes are handy for smaller purchases and gratuities.
Traveller's Cheques are not recommended as they're often difficult to exchange and incur high fees.
You should seek medical advice before travelling to Russia from your local health practitioner and ensure that you receive all of the appropriate vaccinations. As a guide Diphtheria, Tetanus, Typhoid, Hepatitis A and Polio are strongly recommended. If visiting Yekaterinburg and undertaking outdoor activities between May and August, a vaccination for tick-born Encephalitis is recommended.
As tap water is not safe to drink in Russia, only drink bottled mineral water which is readily available in hotels, shops and restaurants.
Russia produces a very diverse culinary repertoire. Restaurants, cafes and other eating establishments have made vast inroads since the fall of communism. Beyond Moscow, St Petersburg and other big cities, the choice is far more limited, which is why we include meals in provincial Russia on our group tours.
Caviar, smoked sausage, pickles, field mushrooms, cheese and soured cream are the basis of zakuski (hors d'oeuvres or appetisers) - a popular dish. Also try savoury piroshki (a stuffed pastry) and blini (savoury stuffed pancakes). The Russians excel at hearty meat and vegetable-based soups. The tsar of all soups is Borsch, Solyanka is also good.
Well-loved classic mains include - beef Stroganoff (invented in Russia, as was chicken Kiev), pelmeny (Siberian-style dumplings) and spicy Georgian cuisine such as shashlyk. Russian rye bread is flavoursome and most often eaten without butter. Fish varieties include - omul (similar to salmon and from Lake Baikal) and sturgeon - often poached and served with a sauce or mushrooms. The Russian's excel at the art of ice-cream making. St Petersburg is particularly renown for its ices.
A word on garnishes. Dill reigns supreme in Russia and its use is not limited to fish dishes. You'll find dill zealously sprinkled across many dishes. Russia even produces dill-flavoured potato crisps!
The Moscow Metro is the easiest and quickest way to get around and if your tour includes time in Moscow your guide will give you a Metro card for six journeys. A Stalinist gift to the people of Moscow, this is one Stalinist project Muscovites are proud of. Graffiti-free stations offer an air of elegance with granite and marble-clad surrounds. Many of the stations boast chandeliers, huge mosaics depicting the power of good Soviet workers banding together to help the state, and strikingly elaborate sculptures cast in bronze offer a study of people from an age where collectivism was at the forefront of the Communism dream. Art Nouveau style lamps illuminate the long escalator arches.
Riding the Moscow Metro is a sightseeing excursion in itself! Meanwhile, although St Petersburg has an equally fine Metro transportation system, as the city is more walker-friendly you'll be able to get to most inner-city sights often without the need to board the Metro.
SPECIAL NOTE: Mind your purses and bags aboard the Metro. Pickpockets are as prevalent here as elsewhere.
Trains are a pleasant and cost effective mode of transport in Russia and ideal for overnight travel between St Petersburg, Moscow and Yekaterinburg. Many of our group tours include a comfortable overnight train journey. Travelling by train offers an authentic Russian experience plus allows us to venture into the provincial heartland of the region. Russian trains are solid, utilitarian and reliable. On many of our tours we reserve open sleeper cabins. Cabins are semi enclosed (without a door), fitted in a 6 berth sleeping arrangement offering fresh-laundered linen and heating. It is possible to upgrade to a 4 or 2 berth sleeper cabin on most of the train routes we take, on request.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has embraced the free market. Today, shops are positively brimming with consumerism. Souvenirs are authentic, inexpensive and usually well-made. The trademark souvenir is the colourful decorated wooden Matryoshka doll, a set of dolls within dolls. Enamelled wooden boxes known as palekh are also popular. Perhaps the most curious hangover of Communist times is the quantity of surplus Red Army and military souvenirs. Everything from badges to important looking peaked hats, MIG fighter jet dials fashioned into clocks and clothing is available. The ubiquitous 'fluffy brown hat', so common an image of Russia, is a must-buy. Winter clothing such as coats and boots are often less expensive in Russia, as is winter sports equipment. If you ever fancied replicating the on-ice exploits of Torvill and Dean, ice-skates are far cheaper in Russia. Watches previously made for the Russian military are available in myriad designs. Camera and lens brands such as FED, Kiev and Zorki have a respected following amongst enthusiasts, though be sure to do your research before buying.