I'm Dominic Quiney and I joined Real Russia in February 2017 and my role at the company is Marketing Executive. I studied History and Russian Studies at the University of Birmingham and lived in Russia twice (once in Petrozavodsk, in summer 2013 and once in Moscow, from 2014-2015).
Why did you decide to go to the World Cup in Russia?
I decided I simply had to go to Russia for this unique experience, because, even though I've hugely enjoyed living in Russia before, I wanted to see the festival of football that this country with its unique culture and highly hospitable people could put on. I told my friends and family beforehand that Russia wouldn't disappoint for this, and I was certainly proven right!
Tell us about your experiences at the tournament
It was spectacular! The tournament was hosted across 11 Russian cities in total, and even though I only managed to visit two cities (Moscow and Volgograd), I could tell that the foreign fans were fascinated by Russia, its culture and its people, while the locals were fascinated by the foreign fans and were very happy to make new international friends.
As soon as I landed in Moscow, I got the train down to Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) and, after making new Russian friends on that train (Russian train journeys are always an excellent way of meeting the locals), I arrived in Volgograd. I spent my days there visiting the FIFA Fan Fest, the awe-inspiring Mamaev Kurgan (the highest point in Volgograd and which saw some of the fiercest fighting of the battle for the city), taking a brief cruise on the Volga river and visiting numerous museums. Oh, there was the small matter of visiting the Volgograd Arena to watch England play against Tunisia too! England won 2-1, courtesy of a very late goal from Harry Kane!
The day after the match, I got back on the train from Volgograd to Moscow. There were supporters from the UK, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the USA and, of course, Russia, in my carriage of the train, so it had a very international flavour to it! I spent a few days in Moscow and met up with some friends, visited Red Square and Nikolskaya Street during the World Cup festivities (they were extremely busy with fans from all over the world singing, playing musical instruments and celebrating), VDNKH (the huge, Soviet-era exhibition park near the Cosmonautics Museum) and, amongst other sights, the Moscow FIFA Fan Fest. This was held at Sparrow Heights (Vorobyoviye Gory), in the courtyard of the stunning Moscow State University.
Do you intend to go back to Russia this year using your World Cup Fan ID?
This is how one of our staff members used his Fan ID to explore Russia. How will you use yours?
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 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.
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!
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!
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 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?
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
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
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
We thank Inna for answering our question and look forward to introducing you to another member of our team next month.
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 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:
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
We have a well-established team of highly experienced travel specialists, who are happy to assist with your travel needs, or find your perfect destination within Russia and the surrounding countries. These are the people who make our company so special. Today let us introduce Igor, a Tour Operations Supervisor.
Igor Skorodumov joined Real Russia team in 2007. Igor has a Specialist’s Degree in Economics and, in addition to his native Russian, speaks three foreign languages, English, French and German. Whenever he has free time, he reads books, works in his country house (dacha), makes crafts at home, practices sports, takes photos etc.
He likes to travel and often travels with his family within Volgograd and Astrakhan regions of Russia, as well as further afield.
As Igor is a well-known enthusiast of travel within Russia, a fan of history and simply a ‘human encyclopaedia’, we decided to get straight to the point.
Which city in Russia is the most appealing for you ?
It’s a difficult question, because each city has its own authentic beauty, history, population, dialect etc. The further one goes away from Moscow, the more vivid the local character of the city becomes.
Apart from well-loved Moscow and St.-Petersburg, I would like to accent here four cities along the Trans-Siberian railways: Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Ulan-Ude.
Kazan is a mixture of past and present, Muslim and Christianity, with many stunning monuments on the Volga River. It is surprising to see how the different cultures, religions can coexist peacefully for several centuries. I think this is one of the “must-see” cities in Russia for those who want to dig deeper and see the 'real' Russia.
Against the Kazan Kremlin wall
Yekaterinburg is one of the cities that played the most important role in the history of the country. It is the city where the last tsar’s family was executed putting an end to Imperial Russia; it is the city where the first President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin was born; he was the one who put an end to the Soviet Union; there is a border line between Europe and Asia; it is the city that culturally can challenge St. Petersburg in the number of rock bands, musicians, composers and actors it has produced. The city is beautifully located South of the Ural Mountains. If you are making a stopover in this city, don’t miss a chance to taste Ural dumplings and walk along the streets that have preserved the style of the former Soviet Union.
Nestled along the Ob river, Novosibirsk depicts the grandeur of the Russian Empire: the biggest buildings being the railway station and the Opera House. Nowadays it is the scientific and intellectual centre of Russia. Siberian culture shows itself through the authentic meals, the way they are served and the way people communicate. There are lots of places to visit, for example, the Trans-Siberian railway museum, an Open-air Museum of locomotives and carriages, and the beautiful embankment of the Tsar Alexander III.
Ulan-Ude is the capital of Buryatia, and is striking to its visitors, with its colourful Buddhist buildings and traditional clothes. People here are very hospitable and friendly. The city has lots of featured buildings that absorbed both the local, and the Russian, cultures.
Where did you spend your last holiday?
My family and I went to the Russian analogue of the Dead Sea, the lake Baskunchak. We had a tour at Bogdo Mountain, a sacred mountain for people who believe in Buddhism (Kalmyks, Buryats, Mongols etc.).
Last year you embarked on the Trans-Siberian railway with other members of the Real Russia team. How could you describe your experience on the Trans-Siberian in three words?
Contrasts, knowledge and history.
What was the most impressive in your trip?
We had a chance to witness the contrasts between two continents- Europe and Asia, between three countries along the Trans-Siberian – Russia, Mongolia and China, and observe a variety of cultures and lifestyles, as every place we visited has its own character and story to tell. After an intense and history laden two weeks in Russia, Mongolia was very quiet and sparsely-inhabited. And then, just one night away by train, we were in heavily-populated China; another incredible change again.
Why do you think Mongolia captured you?
I expected it to be a totally new experience for me, however, it is there, in Mongolia, where I felt more like at home than anywhere in Russia. This feeling was intensified when we came to Terelj National Park. I enjoyed this authentic atmosphere of simplicity, hospitability and friendliness. This country has the authentic values and is developing at its own pace, thoroughly keeping its character.
Igor in Terelj National Park, Mongolia
What advice would you give to customers that are planning on travelling to Mongolia for the first time?
Well, I would suggest they be prepared for lots of walking (take comfortable sport clothes, sneakers etc.), exchange their currency for the local one to be able to give tips or buy some sweets to share (for example, when visiting Nomads).
For vegetarians, I suggest searching in advance for the restaurants or check with Real Russia travel specialists about places serving vegetarian food or, if tour is booked, then it should be noted beforehand, because meat is the main food in the country.
Why do you think the Trans-Siberian route is so popular among foreign travellers?
It is the longest railway in the world stretching through two continents, several time zones and different landscapes. It is the best way one can experience Russia, Mongolia and China, admiring through the window, sitting in a comfortable compartment on a train.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I like to listen to Rock music at a high volume when I am alone at home.
What are your favourite books?
Les Misérables’ by Victor Hugo, ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky, ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens, and ‘The Adventures of Werner Holtv’ Dieter Noll.
What do you love the most about Real Russia?
I love the most about Real Russia that it is a real team. Many of team members are from different backgrounds, cultures, and countries, and, nevertheless, we have the mutual supportiveness and dedication that make every day at work great. For me, we have a team of professionals that have been awarded the World Travel Award for being Russian’s Leading Travel Agent for last four years not by chance, but by hard work.
We thank Igor for squeezing us in, and look forward to introducing you to another member of our amazing team soon. Click here to find more series of our interviews!
Let us help you with your next adventure, contact our travel specialists.
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, or find your perfect destination within Russia and the surrounding countries. Over the next months we will be introducing you to the people that make Real Russia special, the Real Russia team. You may know them from email or by telephone conversations, you might not, but these are the people who ensure that you have an unforgettable journey.
Meet our team and find out more about their interests, favorite destinations and their work.
Today let us introduce Doina, a Travel Specialist and sometime marketer in the Real Russia team.
One of our expert Travel Specialists based in Romania, Doina joined our team in 2013. Doina was born and raised in Moldova, moving to Romania in 2010. Doina has a Master’s Degree in Educational Psychology, and in her free time she likes to volunteer for causes that involve education and children rights.
Doina loves all forms of travel and tourism, and shares these adventures via her very own travel blog https://trip-seat.blogspot.co.uk as she goes. She is keen on biking, healthy food and living a healthy lifestyle.
How many countries have you visited so far, and what were your favourites?
I have visited 13 countries and counting. The first country I visited was the USA. When I was 17, I got a scholarship to America and had a chance to discover that country for myself, and the passion fortravel came with it. This was the ticking that woke up my passion to travel, to experience, to get to know other cultures other than mine.
Among the countries that I have visited, I mostly enjoyed Hungary, Montenegro and Germany. Of course, Romania is an amazing country as well.
How have your travel experiences shaped you?
I learnt not to judge a book by its cover. I always try to know others from a different perspective, not only from the one your culture is providing. I enjoy travelling, never mind if my travel plans sometimes go wrong. Take the experiences as they come, do not have high or low expectations, just go with the flow and you will see how amazing it is to see that people are different. It is so great to share the cultural differences; any different beliefs and life experiences. And, happily, you do not need a lot of money to travel! Most of the experiences are costless, it implies only your will, time and how open you are to adventures. Get ready to get lost.
What is your most memorable trip?
I have been to the USA a few times, and this country never fails to surprise me. The most memorable experience was sipping my favourite tea in a local restaurant, with the amazing view of the Grand Canyon.
What places are on your bucket list?
South America and Russia. And in this year – a road trip in California. I will go from South to North through the national parks.
South America has been on my bucket list since I was in school, learning about it in geography class. As I am passionate about history and culture, I have always wanted to visit the City of the Incas, spend time with the indigenous people. I want a glimpse of the Latin life, a day to day life. Their music, food and places seem unique to me, full of positive vibes and colours. And another thing on my list in South America is Lake Titicaca in Peru. You can see the Milky way from there! And I need to get to the Carnival in Brazil, for sure! It describes in full the Brazilian culture: happy and entertaining.
I would like to visit Russia, mainly St. Petersburg due to the historical reasons, splendid architecture and arts. My mother did her studies in St. Petersburg, when Moldova was a part of the USSR. She was always fascinated by that city and told me how beautiful and charming it is.
Describe what your dream holiday would be in three words.
Hiking, biking and seaside!
Grand Canyon, USA
What do Real Russia customers look for from their trips?
Most customers want to experience the Russian lifestyle, traditions and customs. We have a very interesting excursion we recommend in this case, it is called ‘Dinner with a Local Family’. I have had a few customers say that it was so much fun, and the cultural exchange was marvellous.
People are enthusiastic about train journeys, including the Trans-Siberian railway. They are taking a once in a lifetime trip and they are looking for authenticity, traditions, roots. For example, I had a customer from New York, who saw a cow for the first time in his life, and that was in Russia. People are curious about the lifestyle of small communities in Siberia. We have a lot of customers that travel further than Listvyanka, near lake Baikal, for example. They get to Olkhon Island. They visit the Old Believers in Ulan-Ude, where they are excited about the traditional clothes and rituals, like greeting guests with wine, salt and bread. These are some traditions that the globalized countries do not have nowadays.
You speak very passionately about the customers’ experience. What is most rewarding about your job?
When customers are writing back to me to provide me feedback about their experience, and to hear they had an amazing journey. People are charmed in Mongolia. Sleeping in a ger, horse riding, camel riding; some even have the chance to hug the goats. In China, most customers are fascinated by the Great Wall, the Summer palace, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen square. It is a pleasure to read their feedback and feel that you, in a way, have helped them to create wonderful memories.
Eventually, many customers become your friends because, when they book a tour, you are in a close dialog with them that can last for several months, even up to one year; so it is a lot of communication back and forth.
Helping people travel is opening the gates of adventure, where booking it is like my own booking. Making a future traveller happy, and ensuring that their experience will be marvellous, and they will get the best from their trip, acknowledgment from the delighted customers – it all makes my work rewarding and enjoyable.
We look forward to introducing you to another member of our amazing team soon. Click here to know more about our team.
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.
A seamless and efficient service, we thought you might be interested to know exactly what happens after applying for your visa by spending a day in the life of our visa team..
Opening promptly at 9am the team are ready with their computers on, phones manned and an all important cup of tea or coffee to hand. Based in Islington, London, the team are truly multicultural with an impressive nine different languages (including Russian) spoken between them!
Each member of the team has their individual tasks and they swing into action like a well oiled machine. The first thing is to check all emails for information regarding existing applications, also to capture any new requests. The courier also arrives as soon as the office doors open, delivering all posted applications straight from the post office. Each received application is then logged on our system with an automatic email sent to customers informing them that everything has arrived safely. If there are any issues, such as required documents that have not been included, the team will then specifically contact the customer to let them know (firstly by phone or email if they cannot be reached by phone). Received passports, photos and visa support documents are then collated and separated by either Express or Standard return service level, then by the country the visa is required for, before being sent to the relevant consulate by our in-house courier.
Around midday, standard service visa applications prepared and submitted by the team the previous day are returned by the courier from the Russian consulate, conveniently located just around the corner. Each passport with a visa is then individually checked to make sure there are no errors (checking names, entry and exit dates, if it should be a multiple entry visa, or if there are more than one country to be visited). By approximately 1pm, all other applications from different consulates (Mongolian and Chinese for example) are returned and go through the same checking process.
In the afternoon the Express service applications are returned from the Russian consulate, checked by the team and then returned to the customer by recorded delivery.
The final tasks of the day are to finalise any paperwork for new applications ensuring that all information matches that found on our system. Based on the number of applications, the in-house courier service is then planned for the following day – when the process starts all over again!
Real Russia supports thousands of people travelling to the region with all aspects of travel services including planning unique Trans-Siberian rail tours, booking hotels or other accommodation, transfers from the airport to your hotel, Russian train tickets and Moscow and St Petersburg short tours. All supported by our visa team providing the relevant services to help you gain the visas you need when travelling to Russia.
If you are planning a visit to Russia, China, Mongolia or beyond and would like additional guidance or information, then do not hesitate to contact a member of our travel team who will be pleased to help.