Go East, Young Man

Putin on the Ritz!

Photo quality is directly proportional to amount of coffee consumed.

A lot’s going on in Russia these days, as I’ve mentioned recently. The biggest change, at least in my mind, is the birth of the so-called Russian Winter, Moscow’s answer to the Arab Spring. Protesters are gathering in unprecedented numbers – tens of thousands – to make their voices heard.

They have a lot to protest: an election that many observers say was rigged, shady dealings with North Korea, and a tendency for journalists who criticize the regime to turn up “mysteriously” murdered.

My interest in all this, however, is not just academic.

I am planning a trip to Russia later this year.

Russia is an exciting destination for many reasons. It’s a unique nation with a unique place in history: a European power that sits mostly in Asia, site of the most massive and radical social experiment of all time. A democracy born in the ruins of an empire. Homeland of Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, and Ivan the Terrible.

I’ll be taking pictures.

I’m looking to spend a week in Moscow, then a week in St. Petersburg. I’ll see all the usual tourist destinations: the Kremlin, the Red Square, Arbat Street, the Hermitage Museum. (Cool photo of Arbat Street here.)

But I’d like to do more than just the Tourist Top Ten. I’d like a little adventure – not too much, you understand, but a little. I’d like to see the real Russia, or at least as much of it as I can get in two weeks.

That’s where you come in.

I know I’ve got a wildly diverse group of readers here. Has anyone ever been to Russia? Any suggestions on places I should visit? Tips for traveling? Dire warnings?

Post ’em in the comments!

8 responses to “Go East, Young Man

  1. We took the Trans-Mongolian train across, starting in St Petersburg, and visiting Moscow and a town in eastern Russia called Irkutsk on Lake Baikal on the way to Mongolia and China. My experience was that things that seemed like “real Russia” were easy to find, even in the big cities – I’d recommend finding an office block and visiting its workplace canteen, for a bit of cultural fun. We took a side trip in Moscow to try to find a doctor, which took us out to the suburbs, which was a mess of run-down old concrete apartment blocks and little newspaper-covered ice cream stands on every corner. In Irkutsk, we were unfortunately privy to some local domestic issues that pretty quickly escalated into drunken violence. 100m away, we bought delicious, warm potato pirozhki in the snow for 30c each from an old woman’s cooler-box, and skewers of meat cooked over an fire of wood and plastic bottles in an old circular metal drum.

    I’d recommend visiting the Art Muzeon Sculpture Gallery in Moscow, which is where all of the old Communist era sculptures live nowadays. It’s a very cool experience.

  2. I can highly recommend visiting Sochi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sochi

    I lived there for 2 years back in around 1995-1996. It is the #1 vacation spot in all of Russia, and for good reason- located on the Black Sea across from Turkey, the Caucasus Mountains shield the area from the cold northern weather, so it’s actually subtropical- palm trees and citrus can be grown in the area, as well as tea plantations which have awesome cultural tea houses and places to visit. All the factories all across Russia each had their own hostel in Sochi- it’s where you were sent for vacation back under communism.

    Sochi is also going to host the Winter Olympics in 2014, so I’m guessing their are building up their infrastructure and getting ready for that.

    I’d highly recommend visiting a tea plantation / tea house (but I have no idea which ones are still operating 16 years later).

    I’m pretty sure I still have some friends on Facebook that live there, so I could get you in touch with some locals if you wanted a good local experience. Some of the most amazing and friendly people that just loved having visitors.

    • That does sound like a lot of fun, thanks for the recommendation! Unfortunately I think that trying to pack Sochi, Moscow, and St. Petersburg all into a two-week vacation will mean too much running around, and we’re not willing to give up the latter two cities. I’ll keep it in mind for future trips, though.

  3. I haven’t been, but would definitely want to do the Trans-Siberian if I was going.

    • I would really, really love to do that, in large part because of my fascination with remote places (which I’ve mentioned before). Unfortunately, doing the Trans-Siberian right would leave little time for anything else in a two-week vacation, and I want to hit Moscow and St. Petersburg. Thanks for the suggestion, Jo!

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