The 9th-century founding of Novgorod by the Viking Rurik initiated a more than thousand-year history of wealth and war, trial and loss, conquest, Communism, and tyranny. The monarchic splendor and seething peasant ideology of old Russia, coupled with the complex social, economic, and political changes brought about during the Soviet era, survive today in one form or another in what is possibly the most enigmatic yet of this country’s many incarnations.
The Russian people cannot be defined merely by geography, climate, language, ethnicity, or shared history. Despite its comparatively small population (Indonesia, a country roughly nine times smaller, has a population twice as large), the Russians bring with them heritage and cultural diversity tied to Western and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, the Near East and Asian Steppe, the Arctic north, and East Asia. Among Russia’s conquering parties since its inception are the Swedes, the Tatars, and the Mongols, to say nothing of the long-emergent Western culture that has been alternately embraced and rejected by changing governments. If you want to know Russia, you have to know its people: the soul of this country and its dramatic, often jubilant, and sometimes terrifying history is spelled out by their actions and their lives.
Modern Russia, in the post-Gorbachev era, has been plagued by economic instability, political indecision, and corruption both within government and civil organizations outside of them. Crime and drug abuse are at shocking highs, and protectionist politicians and shady industrial leaders are seemingly at odds with each other. Despite this, there remains a great deal of optimism among the Russian people. Theirs is a society bred out of hardship, but also out of great respect for academia, the arts, and sciences.
NOTE: Travelers are advised against travel in Chechnya and Dagestan. It is currently unsafe to travel in these areas, as well as in neighboring Ingushetia. Other areas of concern are North Ossetia, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya, and Kabardino-Balkariya. Consular support in each of these areas can be negligible or nonexistent.
Traveling in Russia
All visitors to Russia require a visa. Meal prices range from US$5-$10 (budget) to to US$15-$25 (higher end). Lodging prices go from US$15-$45 (budget) to US$100+ (high end). Carrying cash (in U.S. dollars) can be risky, especially in larger cities where crime rates have soared; however, the U.S. dollar is the easiest to convert. Traveler’s checks can be frustratingly difficult to change, and credit card advances are generally available in the cities, but not in the rural areas.
High-end hotels and restaurants will typically include a tip in your bill. Porters may expect a tip of roughly US$1 per bag, and while shop prices are often non-negotiable, you’ll be expected to bargain in markets.
Daily flights to Moscow can be taken from New York, most major European cities, as well as Hong Kong and other Asian centers. Many European cities also fly direct to St. Petersburg. Train routes into Russia run mostly through Helsinki, Warsaw, Prague, and Budapest, with some trains originating in Paris and Amsterdam. Also, the Trans-Siberian Railway connects to a Beijing line. There is ferry service from parts of Scandinavia, Germany, Turkey, and Georgia.
Within European Russia, the best methods of travel are train, bus, or–in the summer–passenger boats on the rivers. If you’re going farther afield, take note that deregulation in the domestic airline industry has made flying not just inconvenient, but often unsafe. Try to book a domestic flight with an international teminus, since international flights are required to meet a specific standard.
Health concerns may include Diphtheria, Hepatitis, Rabies, Typhoid.
Weather in Russia
Because of the sprawling size of Russia, no one climatalogical summary would suffice. Moscow and St. Petersburg have similar summer temperatures (averaging roughly 24°C). Moscow is in the thick of winter by the end of November, emerging from the cold around mid-April. Winter temps average around -12°C. St. Petersburg’s average winter temperature is about -8°C. Vladivostok, on the Pacific coast, has somewhat milder weather than elsewhere in the Russian Far East. The northeastern town of Oymyakon, is the coldest inhabited place on earth, with winter temperatures plunging to -65°C.
Russian Federation Information
Area: 17 million sq km
Capitol: Moscow (pop 9 million)
People: 81% Russian, 4% Tatar, 3% Ukrainian and numerous ethnic minorities
Religion: Russian Orthodox, Islam, Animist
Major products/industries: Oil, coal, iron ore, timber, automotive, agricultural and construction equipment