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Monday, August 3, 2015

Things to Know Before Traveling to Russia: Part I

While international tourism arrivals in Russia are down this year, the fact is, politics aside, now it a fine time to visit the country. The ruble's value has plummeted, and fresh artistic attractions in St. Petersburg are among the draws.

  1. At the end of 2012, $1 U.S. bought 30 rubles. In July 2015, $1 buys 57 rubles. In other words, the ruble has nearly halved in value in two and a half years. The dollar's new buying power is especially noticeable in the Moscow hotel market. Hotel rooms that cost $400 a night in 2012 are going for $150 a night today.
    Shopping at GUM, Moscow's
    famous shopping mecca, is much
    less expensive than it was just
    two years ago.
  2. The Cyrillic alphabet was imported into Russia during the 9th century by St. Cyril and St. Methodius (poor St. Methodius. All the work and none of the credit). Back then, the alphabet had 42 letters. Now, there are only 33 to confuse you. Try to learn a few key letters before you go. The skill will greatly help you navigate your way.
    Learn the language by reading the signs.
  3. Good cheese is hard to find. In August, 2014, Vladimir Putin put sanctions on many agricultural imports from the European Union, including cheese. While domestic production has soared this year (the first quarter of 2015 was up nearly 30% from the comparable period in 2014), eating local cheese is making Russians bleu.
    Customers at the upscale Eliseevsky Market
    in Moscow are missing their imported cheese.

Mayokovskaya (Маяковская) Station, built in 1938,
is considered among the most beautiful
in the Moscow Metro system.

4. The Moscow Metro is 80 years old. The first line was launched in 1935, part of Stalin’s vast plan to update the city's transportation system while creating "palaces for the people". Today, the Moscow Metro carries about 2.5 billion passengers a year (versus about 1.5 billion in Paris and 1.7 billion in New York). Many of the system's 200 or so stations are works of art. The earliest stations are filled with scenes depicting the idealized Soviet citizen--the farmer, the factory worker, the athlete, and the soldier.

Soviet solder in bronze at the
Ploschad Revolyutsii ( Площадь Революции)
,Metro Station

Ceiling mosaic at
Маяковская Station

5. Getting a visa for Russia is a giant pain, even if you live in a city with a Russian consulate. If you go through the process, get a three-year visa. It's not that much more expensive, and it will spare you the red tape if you want to travel to Russia again within the time span. Want to go to Russia without seeing red? St. Petersburg has a relatively-new 72-hour visa-free program which I will detail in the next post.      
Tourist poses with Lenin and
Stalin near Red Square

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