Real Russia Blog

Meet the Team - Lucinda Martin
12
February
2019

Meet the Team – Lucinda Martin

Meet Marketing Executive Lucinda who is based in our Loughborough office

Where is your favourite place to visit in Russia?

Volgograd! I'm biased though because that's where a lot of our team is based so I went over to visit them haha. There's a lot of interesting history though and I got to try a lot of food; not just Russian food either, I went to an amazing Georgian restaurant and it was my first time trying Georgian cuisine.

I was pretty nervous going because I'm vegan, which everyone kept tellng me was going to be really hard, and I didn't know very much Russian… I'm a nervous traveller at the best of times anyway. I couldn't read Cyrllic but everyone was really patient and appreciated that I was trying, my work mates were total angels with helping me translate menus and letting me double check my order with them before I actually made it with the wait staff.

I remember in a supermarket, I was buying Baikal soda (which is amazing) and a guy walked up to me just to say ‘Welcome to Russia!’ with a big smile. That's one of my favourite moments, it's just dead nice isn't it? I expected to feel welcome in Russia because I was visiting people I knew anyway and they're all so lovely but it was just that extra little bit.

It was also nice to be in a place that takes tea as seriously as me.

Where would you like to go next in Russia?

Everywhere? My Russian has improved and I'm learning more every day so I'd feel confident exploring more independently when I do go. I've been reading The Night Watch Trilogy by Sergei Lukyanenko so I want to see all the places mentioned in the book. Plus, Lewis Caroll, the only time he left England was to go to Moscow & St Petersburg. It inspired Alice Through the Looking Glass so I want to see it.

I'd like to take my partner on the Trans-Sib too, he'd love it… I don't know if we'd go through Mongolia or the more traditional route to Vladivostok.. Both?

What other countries have you visited?

I spent a month in NZ after graduating uni. That was one of the best times of my life, just waking up every day and going exploring. It's the dream life really.

Besides that I've done Czech Republic, France, Netherlands, Croatia, Italy and the Channel Islands… I've been to Aachen and Cologne in Germany too but only for the Christmas markets. I've visited Poland to but it was part of a Holocaust learning program to visit Auschwitz. I'm glad I did that, it was an intense experience but it's something I carry with me.

Next month I'm going to Cyprus.

I'm half Maltese so people think I'm biased when I say Malta is amazing but… It really is.

Lucinda on Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand

What's the most rewarding aspect of working at Real Russia?

Well, I work most closely with the travel team so anything I can do to make their lives easier always makes me happy…

On a selfish level, I like learning about Russia. I love folklore so getting to learn some Russian folklore has been so fun. I've also found a lot of classical Russian music I like, it's not normally my style but it's so pretty. I've also found a lot of good, modern, Russian authors I probably wouldn't have found without being recommended them by people I work with.

I like how vast Russia is … There's so many cultures, so much history, so much diversity. I like being able to show people that. We all have such set ideas of what a country is and once you visit a place, you always realise there's much more to it… That's kind of scaled up with Russia because of its size.

What is your approach to travelling?

Learn hello, goodbye, please, thank you and yes and no. Also ‘no dairy’. Then eat everything and walk everywhere. I'm a rambler, I just want to wander round and see as much as I can.

Travelling in Malta

How did you start your career in Real Russia? What drew you to the company?

November 2017. I was working as a B2B marketer for a company that sold… Less interesting things? I put my CV online just in case something more interesting came up and a few days later I got a phone call about a job at a travel company. I love travelling so I went for it and… Here I am!

Real Russia Blog

How does Real Russia ensure every customer has the best experience possible?
25
October
2018

How does Real Russia ensure every customer has the best experience possible?

By continuously investing in our team!

2018 has been a big year for Russia with the success of the 2018 FIFA World Cup introducing many parts of this beautiful country to tourists who may not have visited Russia otherwise, or known about its diverse cultures and landscapes.

We've been busy as well, being nominated for the sixth year in a row for the World Travel Awards and being awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence once again. We don't rest on our laurels though and our travel team in Volgograd recently spent three days with a communications specialist from EliteTraining to refresh their current skills and learn a few new ones.

Alla Menshikova, travel team supervisor, said of the experience

‘The training was absolutely amazing and so refreshing! Of course, many things were not new for us, but it's so good to see someone else's presentation of such things. That helps to percieve and learn everything in a different way.’

What did the rest of the team think?

Natasha

‘Thank you for the training and I found it useful!’

Olga

‘I would wish to say that the training Mr Jone sperformed was exactly what our team needed. After 3-days course, I have literally felt the excitement in the air – all of the team just wanted to put the knowledge and passion into practice! Sometimes we all need someone, who will say that you are doing a great job, you sell the best product and you are the specialists!

I have got the answer to probably my main question – how to transform my language barrier in front of a native speaker into a benefit to the client. Now I feel much more confidence and even proud of being a Russian who sells Russia.’

Alex

‘The training was really nice, I have to say… All participants left satisfied, to my mind. Undoubtedly it was useful and stimulating.’

Marie

‘I'd like to thank everybody for this training, it was a really nice experience. Course content and the way it was delivered was fresh and helped my interest. Everything I've learnt I will be able to take with me and I will do my best to practice and I'm sure, soon, it becomes a routine.’

Christine

‘I would like to thank Mr Jones and all the members of our team for this training, it was great!’

Tanya

‘Both theoretical and practical parts were very useful. The great thing about this training is that it really inspired people and helped to look at what we are doing from another viewpoint.’

Yuriy

‘It was a great experience, far superior and more progressive to what we've had in the past. The material was presented by Mr Jones in a very skilled and talented manner, so despite the all-day sessions I didn't feel bored a single time. It was extremely interesting to listen and participate and whatever is interesting prints in your memory for a long time. Great job!’

With our travel team more inspired than ever, an updated rail booking system in preparation and new to urs on the way, it's never been a more exciting time to travel with Real Russia.

Real Russia Blog

Meet the team: Tanya Pecheykina

31
January
2018

Meet the team: Tanya Pecheykina

Our Visa Support Supervisor in Volzhsky

Introducing our team

This month, we continue to introduce you to our well-established team of dedicated specialists, who are happy to give independent, expert advice and assistance for all your travel needs. Today we shall be meeting Tanya Pecheykina, who you’ve probably already spoken to if you’ve ever applied for a visa with us! Let’s find out more!

Tanya, Visa Support Supervisor

Tanya started working for Real Russia in 2012, the day after her graduation from Volgograd University of Humanities with a Master’s Degree in logistics. 

Tanya likes to read and loves anything handmade such as embroidery, drawing and painting, even studying at an art school as a child.

Tanya likes to spend her time actively – riding her bike, roller-skating and skateboarding in the summer,  snowboarding and ice-skating in the winter. 

Tanya’s travel favourites

Where have you been in Russia and what is your favourite place in Russia?

I have been to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Dombay, Sochi and towns along the Black Sea coast. Each city has something different that attracts me. Moscow and St. Petersburg, of course, are grand and splendid, but of all the places I have been, the most magnetic for me is a Mountain called Dombay, because of the skiing and natural beauty of the Caucasus Mountains. I love the mountains and nature.
 
Where would you like to go next in Russia? 

The next destination – possibly Kaliningrad. Also on the list – Crimea, the Altai mountains and Lake Baikal.
 
What countries have you visited?

My first trip abroad was to America on a student Work and Travel programme, where I spent three and a half months. My life-long journey since then has continued through Europe – Germany, France, Czech Republic, Latvia, Estonia, Italy, Greece and the UK.  

I remember I had a long-haul journey by train from Volgograd to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. That train journey took us three days, through Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, so I’ve almost completed half of the Trans-Siberian trip! 

​                                                                             Tanya in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Last summer I visited Baku (the capital of Azerbaijan) and Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia) and I loved both of them! The Georgian military road from Tbilisi to Vladikavkaz is simply must-see for all lovers of nature and mountains!

Work at Real Russia

Why do you think people use Real Russia services to apply for a visa rather than do it themselves?

The reasons can be varied, but mainly, I think, it’s to not worry about the whole process and be confident of a positive outcome. Applying for any visa independently requires a lot of time and attention due to many details and requirements. Why become a specialist in visas, if such professionals already exist?
 
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Actually, working at Real Russia, for me, is a bit like a hobby. I love what I do. I like that I’m a part of a great  team, and can provide real help to people and turn their travel plans into reality!
___________________________

We thank Tanya for answering our questions. Keep your eyes open so you don’t miss next month’s interview with another member of our amazing team! Have questions about Russian, Mongolian, Chinese or another visa? We will get them answered!

Real Russia Blog

Meet the team: Dominic Quiney
20
December
2017

Meet the team: Dominic Quiney

An interview with our Marketing Executive Dominic Quiney

Introducing our team

We continue introducing to you the Real Russia team, the enthusiastic people who make our company so special.

Today we spoke to Dominic Quiney, Marketing Executive in the Real Russia team, with his insight into Russia, having lived there while at university studying the Russian language!

An introduction

Dominic joined the Real Russia team in February 2017. He has a First-class Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and Russian Studies from the University of Birmingham. He started learning Russian from scratch at university in September 2012, and speaks some French and German in addition to his native English. His interests include archery (he both shoots his own bow and coaches novices on various aspects of their archery technique), travelling with friends and family, reading, history and other sports apart from archery, including football and tennis.

Dominic, our traditional question, what are the three most interesting countries you’ve visited?

Unsurprisingly, Russia is my favourite. I lived in Moscow for a whole year when I was 20-21 years old and was still becoming fluent in the language, and Moscow is a city that simply took my breath away. There truly is something there for everyone. I also spent some time living in Petrozavodsk in the Summer of 2013, which is very different to Moscow, but no less interesting. St. Petersburg is unique in its architectural splendour and Kazan provides a very interesting mix of Christianity and Islam, side-by-side in the same city.

Next is Iceland. It’s like nowhere else on Earth – arriving there and traversing the landscape makes you feel like you’ve just walked into a mythical land of adventure. It’s not hard to see why the Viking sagas were mainly composed there. A dip in the Blue Lagoon is extremely relaxing, while the country’s glaciers look simply astounding.

It’s difficult for me to pick the third – it would have to be a choice between Italy and Germany. Italy is a truly beautiful country, especially around the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento, whilst the Island of Capri’s popularity is well deserved. On the other hand, Germany offers a fascinating recent history, especially in Berlin, of two extremely different ways of life side-by-side: capitalism and communism. East Germany may have fallen in 1990, but one doesn’t have to go far to see the Fernsehturm, Alexanderplatz and the old Stasi Headquarters on one hand, and the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate on the other.

​ Dominic in Potsdam, Germany.

Which countries are on your bucket list?

It’s difficult to know where to begin! I have yet to properly leave Europe (even when I was in Russia, I never entered Asian Russia), so the Trans-Mongolian Railway from Moscow through Ulan Bator to Beijing certainly features very prominently on my list. I would love to go the various Central Asian countries, such as Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, but I also want to visit the likes of Japan, India and Vietnam.

Living in Russia

Where have you been in Russia? What city is your favourite?

As I mentioned above, I’ve been to Petrozavodsk, St. Petersburg, Moscow and Kazan, but also to Kizhi Island and Russkeala Rock Park, which is near the border with Finland.

My favourite city is, without a shadow of a doubt, Moscow. It is twice the size of London and it has something for everyone; renowned theatres and opera houses, the uniquely striking Moscow Kremlin (undoubtedly one of the world’s most iconic buildings), St. Basil’s Cathedral and other such sites for tourists. It is also an entertaining city to live in: Gorky Park was one of my favourite hangouts, where you can play beach sports on artificial sand courts and watch films at an open-air cinema in the summer, and then ice skate around a large part of it in the winter; and that is just the tip of the iceberg, I could go on!

Describe your experience living in Russia in three words.

Captivating, exhilarating, character-building.

What was the most surprising for you when you visited Russia for the first time?

You often have to enter through at least two or three heavy steel doors just to get into your flat!

Which stereotypes about Russia did you have to leave behind after living there?

There are a few, but the most notable one was, “Russians don’t smile and are unfriendly”. Russians don’t smile at strangers, or at people they’re selling a ticket to in a metro station, for example, but once you get to know them, becoming friends with them is pretty easy, and they are often some of the most hospitable, generous and loyal friends you can have.

What is the most unusual custom in Russia in your opinion?

The superstition held by many Russians that if you whistle indoors, you will lose all your money. I still don’t know where that superstition came from, and, as somebody who used to whistle quite a lot before going to Russia for the first time, I had to get myself out of the habit of whistling indoors while I was over there!

Why do you think trains are so popular in Russia as a long-journey public transport? What was your first impression when you boarded a Russian train?

Of course, there’s the widely-held view that train travel is much safer than air travel in Russia, although the safety of Russian air travel is OK. Rail travel, however, can be relatively cheap in Russia and it allows you to truly appreciate the landscape of Earth’s largest country as you roll through it. Russian trains are also highly communal, with a many people in the same train carriage for hours, or even days, at a time, so it’s a fantastic opportunity to meet people from all walks of life.

My first impression when I boarded my first Russian train (from St. Petersburg to Petrozavodsk) was, “Wow, this is an efficient use of space – the bottom bunks triple up as benches during the day, bunk-beds during the night, and storage spaces for your luggage!

What are your favourite books in Russian?

Russian literature is almost unique in how profound it is. At the moment I’m reading ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. It draws on Solzhenitsyn’s own experience of being imprisoned in a Stalinist-era Gulag, to tell the story of aprotagonist who also finds himself in one of these gruelling camps.

There are so many others to choose from as well. I’ve almost finished reading the comedy “Chemodan” (“Suitcase”) by Sergei Dovlatov, and I still want to read War and Peace in Russian before I read it in English. Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man is also a very thoughtful read.

The 2018 World Cup in Russia

This month we launched the World Cup 2018 Information Hub on the Real Russia website, with Dominic playing an active role.

Being a football fan yourself and preparing the WorldCup 2018 Information Hub, what do you think about the most anticipated event of the year? Which matches would you visit if you had a chance?

It has been my pleasure to prepare Real Russia’s 2018 World Cup Information Hub, which reveals all budding spectators need to know about getting to, and enjoying, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; a football World Cup in Russia!

I can’t wait for the World Cup. In fact, I plan on going myself. I’m going to try and see two out of England’s three group games: the first, in Volgograd, and England’s last group game, in Kaliningrad (the Russian exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania). I would also like to go and see the World Cup Final at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Whilst there, I also might go and see some of the locations which aren’t hosting World Cup matches, such as Lake Baikal, Perm, and possibly even Vladivostok!

I think the World Cup is going to be an excellent chance for Russia to showcase its hospitality, excellent cuisine, and the warmth of its people, along with its fascinating culture and unique architecture.

____________________


We thank Dominic for answering our questions and look forward to sharing an interview with another member of the Real Russia team …in the next year! As it is our final blog in 2017 we shall take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!

Real Russia Blog

Meet the team: Andrew Glenister
29
November
2017

Meet the team: Andrew Glenister

Our Marketing Manager gives his insight into Russia, Kazakstan and Mongolia.

Introducing our team

We continue introducing to you the Real Russia team, enthusiastic people who make our company so special.

Today we spoke to Andrew Glenister, Marketing Manager in the Real Russia team, who is always seeking new ways to help the team to build new bonds with current and future customers and ensure the company continues to grow.

One of the most experienced and helpful members of our staff, Andrew was the one who attended the World Travel Awards ceremony in Sardinia in 2015. He knows all about Real Russia, and knows how to link everything within to make the company succeed. And what’s more, he is incredibly passionate about Russia, its history, culture and people; last year he and some other team members hopped on the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Beijing, to experience Russia the way our customers do, and we asked him to share the highlights from that amazing trip with us.

Andrew, Real Russia Marketing Manager

Andrew joined Real Russia in 2014. Before embarking on a career in travel, Andrew received a degree in Law. Though, being a passionate traveller himself, he decided to be involved in the thriving travel business.

In his free time, he likes to travel, play rugby for his local club, read and watch movies.

​ Andrew in Ulan-Ude


What are three the most interesting countries you’ve visited?

1.Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is a little off the beaten path, but it is an incredibly diverse place to visit; I visited around April/May, and within the space of a few hours I went from standing atop a snowy mountain in the Trans-Ili Alatau mountain range (part of the Tian Shan mountain system), to standing under a burning sun near Kzylorda – one of the flattest areas I have ever visited!

2.Russia (of course!)

This choice isn’t just bias, or cheeky marketing, it is the genuine truth. I have visited Russia a few times now and it is always different. I think my favourite example of this is visiting the Old Believers in Ulan-Ude last year. As an offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church, I thought the visit would be quite sombre, but in fact they plied us with local homemade vodka, alongside song and dance in, very colourful, traditional local outfits.

​ Visiting the Old Believers in Ulan-Ude

3. Canada

Somewhere I have not visited for nearly 15 years, but that continues to hold my interest having only scratched the surface.

What is your approach to travelling to foreign countries?

I tend to do a lot of research, and work hard to choose just the right destination. There is so little free time in which to travel, I don’t want to waste it. I will check out blogs and travel articles, as well as ask friends for their recommendations.

Once I have decided where I want to go, I will start to look at things like travel, accommodation, etc. I usually make a spreadsheet for myself, so I can create an itinerary with costs. I am very nerdy about it, but it helps me to plan what I want to see, and make sure I can fit everything in!

Once I arrive I try to stick to the mantra, ‘when in Rome’. I use local transport, eat in local restaurants, and try to wander around the less ‘touristy’ areas of a place – in fact, the less tourists there are where I am the better!

Do you focus on learning the cultural and historical aspects of the country, or understanding the people and their mentality?

I tend towards getting a feel for the ‘feel’ of a place, and its people. Historical context of course plays a part in this, but how people live, and interact, and being a part of that, teaches much more. In my opinion, anyway. In any case, the historical context can be gained before traveling, when researching a destination.​

Boarding the Circum-Baikal train

The Trans-Siberian railway…

Last year you embarked on the Trans-Siberian journey for the first time ever. What advice would you give to customers that are planning on travelling to Russia, China or Mongolia for the first time?

I come back to research again. For instance, travelling by train for days on end is a unique experience, and one that I think is brilliant (I can’t wait to do again!) but without preparation I can see how some people may not enjoy it so much. I won’t go on at length about it, as we have some great guides elsewhere on the website by Matthew Woodward and Jessica from How Dare She that go into preparation in more detail.

Other than this, I would recommend that people go in with an open mind. Russia, Mongolia and China are all massively different from one another, let alone from the countries that most of our customers travel from, so being open to new people, ideas, customs, etc., if the best advice that can be given.

When is the best time to travel on the Trans-Siberian in your opinion?

I travelled towards the end of August, and this seemed to work out pretty much perfectly. The weather was still nice (other than a little rain in Irkutsk) and the bulk of the holiday season has passed (so fewer tourists).

It does depend on what any given person wants to see or do. Lake Baikal is a great example of this; in the summer it is possible to hike and sail, in the winter it is possible to go ice fishing and dog sledding.

Why do you think the Trans-Siberian route is so popular?

It speaks to the imagination. It speaks to the history of Russia. Few, if any, other journeys, anywhere in the world, take in so many different cultures, or such a diverse mix of geography. I remember going to sleep in the Gobi Desert, nothing but sand in all directions, only to wake up in the hills and valleys of northern China to stunning blue rivers, and vibrant green hills; the contrast could not have been more complete.

Sitting proud in a recreation of Genghis Khans ger

What surprised you the most on your Trans-Siberian journey?

How quickly the time passes while on-board the train. I will admit to being a little concerned that a 34 hour train journey might become a little tedious, but I needn’t have worried. In the end the time flew by, and I actually wished I had had more time! And I am not alone, I spoke to numerous Real Russia customers while travelling, and they all said the same thing. I think it comes down to the incredible scenery. Once you start looking out the window you turn off to the passing of time, and before you know it, hours have passed!

What food did you like the most in Russia, Mongolia and China during your Trans-Siberian trip?

I think the best thing I ate along the way was in Novosibirsk. We were served a Siberian stag (maral) steak. It has to count as one of the nicest steaks I have ever had. What wasn’t so nice was what I suppose was meant to be a Russian ‘digestif’ – a liqueur of some sort, made from horseradish, it was revolting.

What city along the Trans-Siberian route you would visit again?

I would like to visit them all again! We were only able to spend a couple of days in each city, so we barely scratched the surface of what there is to see. In Novosibirsk, for instance, we visited the opera hall to watch a rehearsal, and visit the backstage area, but did not have the time to see a full performance, which was a great shame.

What was one of the funniest thing that happened to you during the trip?

While visiting Lake Baikal, we were convinced by our guide to have a quick swim. The weather that day was damp, grey, and miserable, so the water could charitably be called quite cold. The reactions of the group as we entered the water, paddled for a few seconds, then ran back to dry land, were priceless. Luckily this was followed up by a trip to a local banya (Russian sauna), where we quickly warmed back up again!

…and beyond

You went to Kazakhstan in 2015, and were so much impressed with the country that you wrote a series of blogs about the trip. Was your trip to Kazakhstan in some small way life changing?

I probably wouldn’t say life changing, but it certainly changed how I look at travel, for better and perhaps worse! Kazakhstan is rarely visited by tourists, and so almost everywhere we went, we were alone. On one day, we visited the ruins of Sauran, an ancient Silk Road city; there can’t have been another soul for 50 miles in any direction – it was just us, the ruins and a herd of wild horses. The experience would not have been the same had their been even one other person, or group. It really brought home to me how good it is to visit unkown destinations like this, to experience something different without the hubbub of tourists. The ‘worse’ of this is that my patience for tourist packed destinations has decreased, don’t even mention the Coliseum in Rome to me!

Otrar, Kazakhstan

How did you start your career in Real Russia? What drew you to the company?

I started as Rail Product Manager, before slowly spreading myself into other areas. Both helpfully, and probably unhelpfully!

What drew me to the company? The chance to do something a little bit different. Russia is a bit on an unknown quantity to most, and it certainly was to me. So joining Real Russia was an opportunity (from a selfish perspective), to learn about something that I was lacking in knowledge about, and get paid for it!

What keeps me hear is different? What keeps me here, is the chance to share Russia with the world. As I mentioned, Russia is an unknown quantity to many people, so the chance to introduce the country to people, to highlight its best qualities, is something that makes coming to work every day worthwhile.

After recently being crowned Russia’s Leading Travel Agency for the fifth time in a row, what do you think Real Russia owes its success to?

The people. The team. The effort they put in every day, partnering with travellers from around the world, helping them to realise their dream adventure. No request is too big, or too small, and I think that dedication is appreciated.

I like to think that the key is that our team will say, ‘yes’, where others may not. Any request, for any destination, if it is remotely possible, our team will try and make it a reality.

What do you find the most challenging in travel business?

The media and the politics, from any and all sides. Politicians, newspapers and television news programmes always have an agenda, and this agenda is nearly always negative, because that is what makes money. Rarely do they show the best of a place, or people. If we made decisions about where to travel based purely on politicians and the media, we would never travel anywhere!

Let’s end on a good note

Where in Russia would you like to go next?

There are two main destinations on my Russia ‘to-do’ list. In no particular order, Murmansk and Kamchatka. Both places are incredibly remote, and offer a view of the Russian people, and soul, that is unlike what can be found anywhere else. And the scenery, the stunning, untouched, beauty of it. Did you know that Kamchatka has no land connections to the rest of Russia at all? It is only possible to get there by water or by air, and they are very dependent on the weather!

At the end of the day, Russia and the Trans-Siberian are incredible places to visit. I have incredibly fond memories of both, and have made some great friends working at Real Russia, sharing it all with the world.

If you enjoy good food, good people, incredible scenery, and want variety in your travels, then nothing beats the Trans-Siberian.

__________________________
Thank you, Andrew, for answering our questions and giving us this amazing and thought-provoking insight.

We look forward to introducing you to another member of our amazing team next month!

If you feel inspired and would like a helping hand in designing your perfect travel itinerary, or anything from train booking to applying for a visa, please contact our travel specialists.

Real Russia Blog

Meet the team: Natasha Zhukova
26
October
2017

Meet the team: Natasha Zhukova

An interview with our Account Manager from the Real Russia office in Volzhsky

Today, we continue to introduce you to our well-established team of highly experienced specialists, who are happy to give independent, expert advice and assistance, for all your Russian and Trans-Siberian travel needs. Today we shall be meeting Natasha Zhukova, the Real Russia Account Manager, so let’s go!

Introducing Natasha!

Natasha joined Real Russia in 2006. She graduated from the Volzhsky Humanitarian Institute as a specialist in philology and foreign languages (English and German). Later Natasha received a second degree in tourism, graduating from the Moscow Institute of Tourism and Show Business. One of the most experienced members of the Real Russia team, she, along with Eugene and Alla, represented Real Russia at the World Travel Awards Gala Ceremony in St Petersburg. That trip in September 2017 became her first encounter with the ‘Venice of the North’, and left a deep impact on her – for her, St Petersburg was love at first sight!

Outside of work, Natasha raises her 13 years old daughter, and likes to spend her spare time with family and friends. She is a keen driver, and finds driving the best way of travelling within Russia.

As a travel professional, helping others to create unforgettable travel experiences, Natasha shared a few of her own with us.


Where were your last trips by car?

I travel by car quite a lot, sometimes covering over 3000 km during one trip. My recent trip was to the Black Sea, to Georgia, and to several Russian cities, like Elista, Rostov, Moscow and Yaroslavl.

How else do you like to spend your spare time?

I am keen on interior design, and love finding new decorations and inspirations for my home. We are in the middle of renewing our little summer house (dacha), doing the construction and painting ourselves – that is a great pleasure for us. I love loud music in the car. My favourite TV program is the news, of all sorts and various sources.

I’m a very social person, and love talking and meeting new people. I appreciate when people can listen and respect what you do. My life motto is, Always rely on yourself to feel stronger.

What is your favourite book?

Hard to say, I read a lot. I can name some of them, e.g. adventure historical stories by A. Duma and J. Verne, ‘Notre-Dame De Paris’ by Victor Hugo, and classics by A. Pushkin and L. Tolstoy.

What is your ideal holiday like?

I am not a beach person and would prefer sightseeing and feeling the heart of the city, or the country, that I am visiting. My ideal holiday was in Scotland a few years ago. I hope this says a lot about my preferences.

What countries would you like to see?

I would love to go back to Scotland and to London with my daughter one day, as she is a fan of Harry Porter and Sherlock Holmes! I would be also interested in seeing Western Europe.

St. Petersburg through Natasha’s eyes

It was the first time when you travelled to St. Petersburg a month ago, what was it like?

It was my first time there, indeed. St. Petersburg has a special place on the map of Russia due to its dramatic history and rich cultural heritage.

I studied at an art school when I was a school girl, and we learnt about culture, art and history, and, of course, we spoke about St. Petersburg. Thanks to my job, I knew a lot about St. Petersburg, as I say about this ‘Northern capital’ to people when offering them tours. And my recent trip finally embodied all my theoretical knowledge in to something live! This was an excitement for my nature to feel in real life, and touch all I had known and read about before.

In St. Petersburg I visited many places and felt proud to see all the work and efforts people had done to renovate, maintain and preserve the historical ancient palaces, institutional buildings and museums, paintings and all the treasures gifted to our generation by history. When you know what the Nazis did during World War II to this magnificent city, and see how the city looks now, this makes your heart beat faster. I feel this place became as close to me as Scotland, it’s in my heart. I might have lived in one of the places in one of my previous lives.

Describe St. Petersburg in three words.

Here is a short quiz. He was born in the swamp, baptized three times, did not surrender in battle, he remained a hero. Its Petersburg – Petrograd – Leningrad! The city of unique history – the pride of Russia – the destination of a life time!

What did you like most about St. Petersburg?

I enjoyed the long city walks, stirring strolls down Nevsky Prospect, Vasilievskiy Island, the Summer Garden, trips to Tsarskoe Selo, Peterhof and many other places that stand at the origins of all we hold dear, of Russian classic literature, painting, architecture, etc.

I liked how cosy the city felt to me. I was mesmerised when I saw the Dvortsovaya Square with the Hermitage. I loved all the little streets, canals and bridges in the city centre and all the embankments on both sides of the Neva river. The area was so large-scale, all the buildings around seemed so strong; it was like a time machine. Stunning views of the city immediately raised all sorts of pictures of the past tsar’s epoch, of how people lived, fought, entertained at that time and how Peter the Great built this city. He wanted all people to admire and love it and he has definitely achieved it.

Where did you visit in St. Petersburg?

We visited The Peter and Paul Fortress, The Kazansky Cathedral, The Hermitage main building as well as its second part called the Headquarters, The Ethnographic Museum (this is where I was given that great chance to attend the ceremony of the World Travel Awards 2017), The St. Isaac Cathedral, The Russian Museum, The Peterhof Palace and gardens with the fountains, The Catherine’s Palace in Tsarskoe Selo and the Summer Garden right in the centre of Petersburg.
We took an open boat trip too on the Neva river to see the Aurora warship (the symbol of the 1917 revolution). We visited the famous Zinger House, currently a home to one of the biggest book shops, and The Eliseev – a legendary shop with one of the biggest collection of handmade chocolate and marzipan.

What place in St. Petersburg appeals to you most?

The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. I could not stop photographing it. So beautiful, so unique, so charming, so thrilling! Every piece, every mosaic is a masterpiece there. I felt like I was in the middle of a magic world.

Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood. Photo: Jessica Elliott

Natasha was one of the first staff employed by Real Russia and is still as enthusiastic about her job as she was 11 years ago.

What do you love the most about Real Russia?

I love the people I talk to, I work with, I become friends with. And they are from all over the world with their own culture and way of life and things. I like to observe and appreciate the fact that we are all different and unique. And they all share with me their stories, photos and experiences. This is what keeps me wanting to come back to work – to get in touch with them every day. And here are also the travel agents and partners who we have a common goal with – to make our tourists happy and help them enjoy Russia and Russian people. The communication and links we do, outside the politics and all the weird things happening in the world, makes me happy and satisfied at my work! I feel needed here where I am now!
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We thank Natasha for this emotional interview and incredible insight into St. Petersburg, and look forward to sharing with you another Real Russia ‘meet the team’ interview at the end of next month. See you soon!

Real Russia Blog

Meet the team: Inna Pluzhnyk
28
September
2017

Meet the team: Inna Pluzhnyk

A Visa Administrator in our London office!

Introducing our team

Today we will continue to introduce you to the Real Russia team, our main asset and pride. Meet our team and find out more about their interests, favorite destinations and their work.

Today we spoke to Inna Pluzhnyk, Visa Administrator in the Real Russia team in London.

Inna Pluzhnyk, Real Russia Visa Specialist

Are you passionate about travel?

I like travelling very much and love to experience traditions in different countries. I have been to the Dominican Republic, Spain, France, Egypt, Turkey and many more Eastern European countries, but not to Russia yet. I speak four languages – English, Ukrainian, Russian and Polish – and so enjoy travelling to learn new ones.

What are your hobbies?

I enjoy swimming, reading books & travelling.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?


I like that every day I communicate with interesting people who are going on their journey. I learn a lot of new things from them, and discover interesting places for myself. I am also very grateful that I have such a nice visa team, I know that they will always come to the rescue, support me and give professional advice. So, I'm happy to be part of this team and grow with them.

Visa tips

Next, we asked Inna to answer the burning questions related to visas.

What is the optimal time to apply for a visa to Russia?

The optimal time is two to three months before you travel. There are two types of service available at the moment: express and standard. Express service takes two working days, standard service takes six working days. Same day service is not available anymore.

Why do people use Real Russia services to apply for a visa, rather than do it themselves?

The majority of our customers decide to apply with us because it saves time and they can rely on our vast knowledge, making the experience stress free. We have a lot of returning clients who recommend us to their relatives and friends.

What is the hardest thing about filling in a visa application form?

For sure, everyone can answer all the questions.
Sometimes, though, there are some weird questions. For example, on the Russian application form you should provide the details of your overall income and names of any social networks you use, sometimes this shocks people.

What is the most difficult part in applying for Russian visa?

The most difficult thing about applying for a Russian visa is gathering the required documents and making sure they are acceptable to meet the Consulate's rules. Here at Real Russia, after years of experience of checking applications, we are renowned for our expertise in ensuring applications are not returned for being incomplete.

Can the visa clients be the nationals of foreign countries?

Our clients can be nationals of foreign countries, but they must be UK residents and be able to prove they have been for at least 3 months or 6 months, depending on the visa they’re applying for. However, we provide help with obtaining visa support documents for nationals of most countries.

Are Mongolian and Chinese visas easy to apply for and get?

The process of applying for a Mongolian or Chinese visa is quite simple – provide all that is necessary and there shouldn't be an issue. Of course, each Embassy looks at applications individually, and inevitably it is up to them, whether to issue a visa or not, even if you supply all requirements.

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We thank Inna for answering our question and look forward to introducing you to another member of our team next month.

If you would like to know more about obtaining a visa, visit our Visa FAQ page or get in touch with our specialists.

Real Russia Blog

Meet the team: Yuriy Legepekov
31
August
2017

Meet the team: Yuriy Legepekov

Our Travel Specialist in Volzhsky, Russia

Here at Real Russia we have a well-established team of highly experienced specialists, who are happy to give independent, expert advice and assistance with your travel needs; finding your perfect destination within Russia and the surrounding countries, as well as along the Trans-Siberian railway. In our continuing blog series we have been introducing you to the people that make Real Russia special, the Real Russia team.

Today we shall be meeting Yuriy, so let’s go!

Yuriy Legepekov, Real Russia Travel Specialist

Yuriy has been working at Real Russia for more than nine years. He graduated from Volgograd University of Humanities in 2007 with a Master’s Degree in Linguistics. He is married and has a three years old son, Ivan. This year, Yuriy embarked on a trip to discover Moscow and towns of the Russian Golden Ring.

What is your favourite place in Moscow?

The place I enjoyed the most was the area in the centre of Moscow, with the narrow old streets behind the Kremlin, with richly decorated historic houses, stone-block pavement, street artists and musicians, cosy coffee-shops and eateries.

There's a stereotype that you can't have a relaxing quiet evening in roaring and vibrant Moscow … well, I would totally disagree to that! The area around the Kremlin offers tens of atmospheric pedestrian streets and lanes to explore and enjoy – Kamergersky Lane, Varvarka Street, Lavrushensky Lane, Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street, and many more just waiting to be discovered!

Which excursions in Moscow from Real Russia’s range would you suggest to a tourist visiting Moscow for the first time?

Moscow for me is a huge multi-layer canvas with many scenes, neat lines and patterns. If you try to see all what's worth to see there, it will take weeks. And since most of the foreign tourists have only two to three days, I'd recommend the following ‘Crash Course in Moscow’, which includes:


City Tour and visit inside St. Basils Cathedral

The magnificent Red Square with Mausoleum and St. Basil's Cathedral (I bet you'll make at least a hundred pictures of it!), are your first ‘must-see’ places. The changing of the guard at the Eternal Flame is a procession which will make you hold your breath with excitement, stretching your arms and camera up over the crowd. Panoramic views of the Moskva River and monumental Cathedral of Christ the Saviour will pop up before your eyes every time you think of Moscow again. Of course, a visit to the famous GUM on Red Square, a department store, where Soviet-era style goes hand in hand with capitalist glamour, and both shine with happiness. Don't miss the pleasure of tasting the legendary Soviet ice-cream, produced exclusively at this place.


The Kremlin and Cathedrals

No Moscow experience will be complete without seeing the inside of the Kremlin (which, in Russian, means ‘fortress’) in the heart of Moscow. It's time to see the star-topped towers and find out through which gate Vladimir Putin drives in to work, and see the place where he sits – the President’s Palace. You won't be able to resist the beauty of the architecture and rich history it hides. The Tsar Cannon, Tsar Bell and Cathedral Square – with glittering golden domes under the blue sky – will reveal hidden El Dorado behind the Kremlin walls on the Red Square. I didn't even mention the diamonds at the Kremlin's Diamond Fund. Not to be missed!


Arbat Street and Moscow Metro

After seeing the head of Moscow, it wouldn't be fair to go without seeing its heart, Arbat Street – the famous Moscow promenade, and subway, one of the most beautiful in the world. Arbat is a wonderful place to feel Moscow's informal life, and buy Russian souvenirs.

The Moscow Metro tour will take you through the most notable metro stations, the inner beauty of which can be compared to a palace or cathedral halls with mosaics, sculptures, stained glass artworks, moulding and chandeliers. Every metro station is unique and themed.

What museum in Moscow would you especially recommend?

Every person to their own taste here! Since I know it, I'll recommend a few to hit yours.

For history amateurs:
The Armoury Chamber. You can do it in one shot with a visit inside the Kremlin. A magnificent collection of artefacts of Russian history, including royal regalia of the Russian Empire, thrones, jewellery and Fabergé eggs.
For lovers of fine art:
The Tretyakov Gallery, one of the most famous in the world, housing an epic collection of the Russian art. If you enjoyed the Louvre and Tate Galleries, it would be a crime for you to miss it!
For tech-geeks:
Bunker 42. The only underground nuclear vault in the world which can be visited as a museum. The exhibition is devoted to the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, and includes a mock-nuclear attack. To say it's impressive, is to say nothing.

Which city in Russia is your favourite?

As a lover of history and fine architecture, I'll give my preference to the two most notable cities in Russia – Moscow and St. Petersburg. ‘Too predictable’, you might say. And I will answer, “For a reason!’ So different they are – a big-bellied jolly merchant Moscow, and a tall, mannered aristocrat St. Petersburg, yet so Russian! In our country many people seem to dislike Moscow for being overcrowded and noisy, and tend to think much warmer about St. Petersburg – the ‘cultural capital’.
As for me, I wouldn't prefer one over the other, as visiting each of them is a unique experience, which will make you wonder how different Russia can be.

Also, an honourable mention will go to Suzdal – the essence of the Golden Ring region of Russia. As tranquil and peaceful as a natural reserve, with its roots going deep into ancient Russian times, Suzdal has the atmosphere and charm of a small ancient town. Taste Russian cuisine with vodka at a traditional tavern, and think of the past ages, meditating at twilight on the hill over green fields, patched with old churches and monasteries.

What are your favourite destinations abroad?

So far, I have been to Prague, Turkey and Tunisia. The latter was especially exciting to me, reminding me of the Indiana Jones movies, and raising my interest in adventuring to other exotic places, like India, Tibet and Vietnam.
All lands of Eastern Europe, in the past populated by Slavonic tribes, including Poland, Belarus and Ukraine, appeal to me as well. These cultures have a lot in common with Russia, and I'm always happy to discover the similarities.

Among western European countries, I'm mostly attracted by Scotland, France and Italy. I love travelling and believe that spending money on travelling around the world is the best reason for getting rich!

We asked Yuriy to tell us a little about his hobbies and pursuits, and received a very emotional answer!

I enjoy listening to music, tons of it! Mostly classic and alternative rock (1960’s to the 1990’s), ambient and electronic. In tune with my hobby, I wear headphones most of the time and because of it many people think I am dreamy and withdrawn, which is partially true due to my introvert type. Nevertheless, many friends call me a ‘music guru’, which sounds more appealing to me! Sometimes I listen to styles I don't really like, just to keep myself up-to-date. My second passion after music is playing videogames on PS4.

Besides these two, I love cross-country biking and travelling. I read quite lot too, preferring historical books and biographies.

Reaching 10 years of working in travel, Yuriy thinks that he has found his dream-job.

What does it mean for you to work at Real Russia?

Many people would get bored working in the same job for that many years. As for me, I think that I'm doing more than a job. Many customers come to me saying that travelling to Russia was their dream. So, what I am doing is helping them to fulfil their dreams. And if making dreams come true is not a ‘dream job’ itself, than I don't know what is! Honestly, it's been (and still is) a fantastic time for me, with a great opportunity to communicate with people from around the world. And for me it is job to boast of!

I always believed that Real Russia is a ‘magic’ company. Don't ask me why, I don't want to spoil your surprise! Just try us and see for yourself.
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We are grateful to Yuriy for his fantastic interview, and for sharing his Moscow insights. We hope that you have found some of the answers to question about Russia that you had; if not, ask your questions in the comments, or on our Facebook and Twitter pages. To read other interviews with our team members, click here.

If you wold like a helping hand in designing your perfect travel itinerary, or anything from train booking to applying for a visa, please contact our travel specialists.