I have always had some stereotypes of Russia and its people. Prior to the trip, I was expecting the trip to be just a tick on the Bucket List. But, I really like Russia. I will come back in a heartbeat. I wish I could take three months in St Petersburg to study Russian and really explore the rich cultural city. Overall, this trip has been an eye opening experience. Some of my ideas have been confirmed to be true and some are just pure myths.
Our friend who is stuck in Moscow waiting for replacement Russian visa (which can take up to 20 days) to leave the country can attest to the bureaucratic system. Mind you that she has gotten temporary passport and she has a photocopy of her visa. And she is leaving to go home for God’s sake!!!
Myth: Unfriendly and Unhelpful People
They are not easily warmed to strangers like the Latin people, but once they know you, they open up. They show their passionate and warm side and you have their friendship. I received many help from strangers from a man who helped me with my luggage without me asking in the Metro to the super cute guy at the supermarket who put his grocery shopping on hold to help me select my vodka and to the kind Babushka (grandma) who showed me the MTS mobile shop is.
Truth: High Costs
It was expensive!!! We spent USD100 per day for meals at Mandrogi Village, but there we also had the best food during the whole trip. The best borsch and pampushki (garlic bread/brioche). And the utka (duck) with apple and prunes. Yum! Moscow and St Petersburg are costly but there were options as well. A couple tips for souvenir shopping: 1. Museums have lower costs than shops outside-shop around. A fairy tale book I bought at Dom Knygy cost me RUB720, a friend bought the same book for RUB500 in the Hermitage. 2. Do not shop in St Petersburg unless you have no other options. Izlaimova souvenir village is much cheaper. If you have the opportunity to shop only in St Petersburg, shop around and bargain up to 50 percent off.
Myth: Excessive Showing Off
We hardly saw few luxury cars and people wearing branded items. These elitists are so few that you hardly notice them, except in a very few areas like near Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. These excessive lifestyles definitely exist, but they are not so obvious as I expected.
Myth: All the women are beautiful and always are well dressed
We are happy to see that Russian women dress normally like us in Russia. We thought there were hardly women as normal as our Russian profs. I suppose our ideas of Russian women styles and “beauty” were reinforced by the fact that until recent past, most Russian/Eastern European women we see were “models” aka working girls.
No one ever says “excuse me” on the street, but they practice other good manners like speaking softly in public.
Untried and Unproven: Safety in Moscow at Night
In St Petersburg, We were there during the summer when the sun sets closed to Midnight and the sky has light until 1-2 am. It is difficult to feel unsafe in a group and when it is bright. We did not go out late in Moscow where the sun sets slightly earlier.