Nick, our chairman, has spent extended time in Russia since 1989 and motor-biked across it in 2005. His wife, Katya Galitzine, runs the Friends of the Hermitage in London. In addition both Paul and Katie have visited on any number of occasions and we have our own subsidiary offices over there. In short there is no one to touch us in expertise.
Why we like Russia
There is still a grittiness and unpredictability to Russia that makes every visit a new adventure. The sheer size and variety of locations ensures that once is not enough. While Moscow and St Petersburg have become a showcase of western opulence, move even a short distance outside of the cities and you enter a world which has, through force of circumstance, retained its traditional ways where idyllic villages sit nestled in forests of silver birch.
What to expect on your Russian holiday
Russia is vast. Lake Baikal which is only two thirds the way across, lies east of Bangkok. The hotels and restaurants in the cities can be truly sensational but at a price. Be warned and choose carefully.
Traffic is hellish, particularly at rush hour, so consider travelling by metro which is efficient and clean and, particularly in Moscow, has the most beautiful art-deco stations.
Right across Russia you can expect a fairly high standard of hotel to be available in the cities, but move outside and standards drop dramatically. Do remember that most Russians, including your guide, will never be able to afford to eat in the expensive restaurants. It remains a very two tiered society of the have and have not.
Some ideas for a Russian holiday
- St Petersburg, arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
- Moscow. A very modern city but look behind the façade to find the treasures of traditional Russian architecture which are still there.
- Lake Baikal, or rather the surrounding area. The cities of Irkutsk and Ulan Ude are fascinating with the remnants of ethnic culture which escaped Sovietisation.
- The Trans Mongolian express from Moscow through to Beijing with breaks at all the interesting places en-route.
- The Golden Ring. The collection of ancient towns lying to the north of Moscow which are neither circular nor golden but steeped in history.
- Along the Mongolian border, in the rich green valleys of the classically beautiful Altai region, 250 varieties of peony grow wild while, in the far east, you will find the last refuge of the Siberian tiger.
Beyond the ordinary
Over the 25 years we have been selling Russia we have:
- Organised a wedding weekend for 300 people.
- Found a particular porcelain soup tureen in the vaults of the Hermitage.
- Organised for a private carriage to be attached to the Trans-Siberian Express.
- Helped find details of relatives in the Moscow archives.
Is Russia safe at the moment particularly given the problems in Ukraine?
While there was generally huge
support for the annexation of Crimea, the current Ukraine situation is less
popular. That aside, the issue rarely surfaces unless you start the
conversation. Travelling around is as safe now as it always was. Like with any
destination we always advise keeping an eye on your belongings, especially when
out in busy, crowded areas and it is sensible to leave any valuables at home.
Should I ask before photographing people?
In any country you visit, we always advise obtaining permission before photographing the locals out of courtesy. Photography of the Metro, train stations, airports, government and Military buildings and instillations is prohibited, and no doubt it is a particularly sensitive subject right now so be aware.
Are there any Russian customs that I should know?
Russia has a rich heritage of
traditions, so it can be hard to remember everything. Russians
love flowers, so if you are going to dinner in a private apartment flowers are
a perfect present - always take an odd number as even numbers are for funerals!Never
give a gift of soap, it implies the person smells. Next best to flowers are
show your back to someone, for example when entering a row of theatre seats, it
is appropriate to enter facing the people already seated.Always
take your shoes off when you enter someone's apartment or house, there are
usually slippers to wear.Don't
jay walk, the police will fine you.
Is there a dress code I should follow?
Russian women particularly take huge
pride in their appearance and visitors should pack something clean and tidy if
visiting the theatre, ballet or high end restaurants. When visiting churches,
women must remember to cover their heads, so pack a scarf. Men should never put
their hands in their pockets in church.
Can I hire a car in Russia?
but driving in Russia is not easy, particularly if you cannot read Cyrillic.
Additionally Russian drivers do not always adhere to rules making driving quite
problematic. It is easier to hire a car and driver.
Can I use credit cards?
the main cities most shops, restaurants and hotels accept credit cards.
Additionally there are ATM machines everywhere. Move out of the cities or main
tourist centres and life is very different and you should ensure you have
Can I pay using Euros?
no. Market traders will probably accept foreign currency, but restaurants,
shops etc. will only accept Roubles.
Will my mobile phone work?
has an excellent mobile network, but be warned, it is very expensive to
use a foreign mobile phone for calls and data. You will however find free Wifi available all over
Do I have to carry my passport with me when I am out and about?
Russians are required to carry official identification at all times. The rules
also apply to foreigners, so you should, technically, carry your passport when
you are out and about.
Are taxis safe and okay to use in Russia?
so but they tend not to bother with a meter and charge extortionate amounts.
Better to get one of the smart phone apps such as "Get Taxi" or "Uber",
which work a treat in both Moscow and St Petersburg and are considerably