I didn’t know what to expect of Russia. Of Russians. Of Russian food. And out of the 95 countries I’ve been to, I’d have to say that Russia was the biggest surprise of them all. Where I expected ice and snow, I found rolling greens and lakes. When the stereotypes told me to expect Bond villains, I got boisterous, affable friends.
Russia is huge
If you look at a map, this should be quite obvious, but Russia really is huge. It doesn’t sink in fully until you’re planning stops on the train journey. There are so many options, how to choose? I was surprised when I talked with other passengers on the way from Mongolia into Irkutsk
– most were stopping in Irkutsk and then going the long haul to Moscow with no stops in between. While the East and West of the country are quite different, surely there were cities in between worth visiting. At least that’s what I figured … I was right.
I stopped in Irkutsk
, Omsk, Perm
and Saint Petersburg
. Each unique, but with common themes. Tall, beautiful, friendly people, delicious food and interesting architecture.
you are a few quick hours from the stunning Lake Baikal
. I did not give myself enough time there. I wish I had known on the front end that it was so ecologically diverse (known as Russia’s Galapagos) and so massive (it contains 20% of the entire world’s freshwater supply). I also wish I liked fish because everyone seemed to be enjoying it.
On to Novosibirsk
, where I went to the famous opera house to see my first opera, in the first row, for $4, and the next day went to the zoo and saw my first liger. A lot of firsts in Novosibirsk
Next up was Omsk
, where the Soviet architecture stood out. It’s a big city and I just enjoyed walking around, or riding the (very cheap) busses around when my feet got tired.
Novosibirsk Opera House
were great to explore by foot, helped by tourist paths painted on the sidewalk so you don’t miss anything.
is the main event. So big that it’s almost overwhelming, but with such a great transit system, it’s as if the city shrinks – pro-tip, get the multi-day transit pass, it’s unlimited and cheap. Red Square and the surrounding area is beautiful by day, but even more charming by night. St. Basil’s Cathedral is popular for a reason and an absolute must – not just for its beauty, but listening to a chorus sung in the cathedral gave me chills. Oh, yeah, and the city has a Vodka Museum
. So, it’s a winner for me. I could definitely live there.
Inside St.Basil's Cathedral
honestly wasn’t on my radar, but I was going to be going onward to Finland, so it just made sense logistically. I strolled the city, taking in another different, but still clearly Soviet, style of architecture. I ended up on a canal cruise
, which was in Russian, but I didn’t mind. I was less interested in the buildings’ history and more interested in a relaxing time seeing the city from the water. By canal
or by foot
, the city was way more than just a logistical stop. I finished my time in Russia with a local folk show
, and it was a fantastic evening to wrap up the experience.
Savior on the Spilled Blood Church, St. Petersburg
Russia experiences summer
That Russia does experience summer, is another point that might seem quite obvious. But as someone who doesn’t care for snow, all I was worried about was not putting myself in a blizzard. And on the Eastern shores of Lake Baikal I got scared. Snow. And lots of it. Then we rounded the lake and entered into summer. June and July in Russia are delightful. Blue skies, warmth from the sun during the day and enough of a chill at night to cool back off.
This was probably best exemplified walking around the parks of any of the cities, which were filled with families enjoying the weather, eating ice cream and ambling around on rollerblades. Squares across the country had mini-electric cars that kids could take for a spin or animals to pet. Did I mention the ice cream?
Russians are so Russian
Everyone is so ‘Russian’,” I thought to myself as I got to Moscow. Even upon reflection, I can’t come up with a better way to describe the style. It’s as varied as it is bold and confident. Someone decked out in traditional Eastern Orthodox clothing wouldn’t look out of place sitting next to a woman dressed to perfection for a business meeting, or teens with hair from any color on the spectrum.
By this point, I also knew that being so Russian meant that while someone may not be smiling, it didn’t mean that they weren’t friendly. Whether meeting on a train or in a pub, I found the people to be incredibly warm and genuinely curious.
“What do Americans think of Russia?” A question that I would be asked over and over, and which I would learn my answer for was totally incomplete. They were so curious about what we thought, as if I represented the whole of the USA.
I don’t know what Americans think of Russia, but I certainly know what I’ll be reporting back. Must visit, and I’m sure planning to make use of that three-year visa
Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your experience travelling across Russia, the largest, and possible most enigmatic, country in the world. Be sure to check out her other, equally fantastic, blogs.
And don’t forget to follow her inspiring travel adventures on her blog, How Dare She
, her Facebook
and her Instagram jess_ismore
If you want to follow in Jess’s footsteps, Real Russia offer a comprehensive range of tours, taking in the three different ‘Trans-Siberian’ routes, between Moscow and Vladivostok, and Moscow and Beijing.
to take a look and book now!