Fed up with the usual annual trip to the Costa something or other? Why not plan something a bit more special and take a trip to Russia? Many still think of Russia as being positioned well behind the iron curtain, but hop on a plane in London and you could be stepping off in Moscow in as little as four hours!
Russia, with a population of around 145,000,000 has a long history and a rich and diverse culture. Everyone is familiar with the unique architecture of the Kremlin, and the sense of a bygone era experienced when standing in Red Square gazing at the amazing views is almost palpable. Images of Lenin and Stalin, of Rasputin and revolts inundate the mind like a uniquely original adaptation of Doctor Zhivago or Fiddler on the Roof.
Asked to associate a food with Russia and most will say ‘Borshch’ or ‘Caviar’. However, there is so much more than the famous beetroot soup and the eggs from the sturgeon, even though both are world renowned. Other well-known favourites include chicken Kiev, Pelmeny (pastry covered balls of minced-meat) and beef stroganov. As Russia is a country associated with long, harsh winters, the majority of dishes are meaty, designed to fill the stomach and warm the cockles.
The history of vodka in Russia dates back to the 10th century when, it is believed, Prince Vladimir chose Christianity over Islam in order to drink alcohol. Some historians state that it dates to the 15th century when monks learned the craft of distillation. Like whisky, vodka was used by early doctors as an antiseptic and to help alleviate pain during surgery. Whatever the true origins are, Russians need little excuse to break out a bottle or three, and it remains the favourite tipple drunk at birthdays, weddings and funerals, of which there certainly seems to be a lot of.
Russia is a huge country and this means that visitors have to carefully plan their journey well in advance. It is extremely worthwhile checking out a reliable website for and up-to-date information and advice on what to do and see. Go Russia is such a site and it offers all sorts of helpful hints on where to go and what to do. The national tourist board also gives advice on visas. Remember that winters are exceptionally cold, so only go during that time if lots of snow and ice combined with below freezing temperatures conjures up images of fun.
One place well worth a visit is St. Petersburg. An entire vacation could be spent in this marvellous city without scratching the surface of her hidden attractions. However, any visitor should make an effort to see at least one of the world-famous imperial palaces which have housed the Emperors of Russia since Peter the Great. Tsarskoe Selo and Peterhof are favourites.
Take a train
The Trans-Siberian Railway can be used to get from Moscow to Vladivostok, Beijing, Japan or Korea and tourists can board the train in London. From Moscow, the train to Vladivostok usually takes around seven days, although slower trains take nine. It is possible to take even longer and stay at pre-arranged stops along the way. The distance between Moscow and Vladivostok is 9,258 km or 6,152 miles. Trains comprise of both first and second class berths and costs vary from US$640 to $1,070 during the summer months. It is also possible to board the train in St. Petersburg.
The wise traveller prepares for any eventuality and, although adherence to the well-worn tourist trail should ensure relative safety, there are always gangs on the prowl for unwary tourists. Falling ill or being robbed of your money, passport or other personal belongings is always a major concern for any traveller, so it is of utmost importance that some sort of insurance policy be taken out prior to departure. The needless stress of worrying about what to do in the event of an emergency can easily be averted by taking out a policy with a reputable company. The last thing you ever want to do on vacation is burden yourself with unnecessary worry. Russia is a huge country and the police are not always able to supply help. Especially in rural areas, communication may prove to be a problem. It is therefore essential to take the necessary precautions in order to avert potential problems.