Carl Cross, the Managing Director of On The Go Tours since July 2015, reminds us why we should never let our misconceptions of a country such as Russia stop us from travelling there…
I try and go undercover on our trips two or three times a year, not only to sign off all the accommodations and experiences but also to hear first-hand what our customers think of the tours and how we can improve them. Of course, I confess on the last day and buy everyone on the tour dinner and a round of drinks. It’s the best part of my job and people are always completely honest with their feedback.
I put myself on our six day Russia Vodka Shot group tour travelling from St Petersburg to Moscow. I consider myself fairly well travelled, but had never been to Russia and was a little bit nervous beforehand. What I learnt from this trip was how ill informed my misconceptions of Russia were. During my trip I certainly changed my mind about this wonderful country.
Misconception #1. It’s very expensive
I had heard many times how expensive Russia is, mostly from those travelling on GBP, however, I was shocked at what great value everything was. I never paid more than £2 for a pint of beer or a glass of wine (although they were a little sweet sometimes).
A good three course meal in most places was less than £10 and subway or metro fares were 32p each. The only exception to this seems to be hotels, which jump up massively in price when you move from the three star to the four star range.
Misconception #2. It’s always cloudy and cold
Now I will add a disclaimer here by saying that apparently I was very lucky with the weather! Almost every day we had perfect blue skies and highs of up to 24 degrees – perfect travel weather in both Moscow and St Petersburg. I would absolutely recommend going late spring, early summer to make the most of these beautiful days.
Misconception #3. There are long nights and short days
Again, not at this time of year. In fact, we run a White Nights and Museums tour in May where the leading museums of St Petersburg stay open all night, allowing visitors to peruse the exhibitions till the early hours. After my amazing experience in Russia, I cannot wait to return to join this tour.
Misconception #4. The people are unfriendly
Another one of my awful misconceptions of Russia. While people don’t smile at strangers in the street and are quite direct, like most European countries the younger adults love practicing their language skills and will often stop for a chat. Russians over thirty don’t have much English skills, as they have no need, but there is an infectious energy and enthusiasm among the younger generations.
Misconception #5. Fashion is old-fashioned
There is an edge to the fashion worn by the under thirties and you can see the cool, cosmopolitan Scandi influence creeping in. Remember St Petersburg is only a five hour drive from Helsinki, one of the design capitals of the world. I’d be lying if I said everyone was dressed like supermodels in the latest trends and a ‘mixed bag’ is the best way to describe the high street fashions of modern Russia. But that said, this is the case everywhere!
Misconception #6. It’s not safe
Not for one moment did I feel nervous or uncertain walking around by myself in the day and night. Of course, normal precautions are still necessary with pick-pockets targeting any major city which attracts visitors. But the uncomfortable atmosphere during Russia’s emergence from communism has vanished and street crime is no worse than anywhere else on the continent.
Misconception #7. Cossack dancing is uncool
I went to a night of Cossack dancing in a three hundred year old palace and I don’t care what anyone says – the dancers were gifted, funny and freakishly flexible! Cossack dancing is cool. There, I’ve said it. The evening was also full of prosecco, which is never a bad thing.
Misconception #8. Any day is good for sightseeing
Every museum, palace, castle and gallery closes for at least one day per week in Russia and it’s rarely Mondays like many other European countries. While all the scheduled sightseeing on the tour takes this into account, I didn’t research or plan well enough for my free time. Learn from my mistakes and plan your own visit accordingly.
Misconception #9. The architecture gets boring after a while
St Petersburg is now top of my list of beautiful cities in Europe. On every corner, down every side ally and along ever major road there are architectural masterpieces which take your breath away. Every building is exceptionally well-preserved and it feels as if the whole city is a massive open air museum, one which would take a lifetime to properly see.
Misconception #10. Russian food is tasteless
Most of the meals I had were not only great value, but they were as tasty as any dish you would get in London with the benefit of being a quarter of the cost. Highlights included falafel wraps, a plate of the best goulash I’ve ever had and a sublime chicken kiev, the previous greasy dishes in England and Australia not even coming close. Our whole group were blown away by the quality and presentation of every meal.