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.
Time for a bad news/good news story!
Due to its long-term stability, the fact that it was capped against the Euro and because it is considered a ‘neutral currency’, many international Railway companies, including the Russian, Chinese and Mongolian railways, cost their international tickets in Swiss Francs, which are then paid for in local currency at the prevailing rate on the day of purchase. In particular, this process is used for booking tickets on international trains travelling along the iconic Trans-Siberian railway and it's off-shoots, the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian.
On the 15th January 2015 the Swiss Central Bank shocked the international money markets and unexpectedly removed the Swiss Franc cap against the Euro.
When the cap was removed, the Swiss Franc rapidly strengthened in relation to many other currencies and, in particular, strengthened against the Russian rouble by more than 20% in a matter of hours.
This, in turn, had the immediate effect of pushing up the cost of international train tickets, such as those on the Trans-Siberian route, as more Roubles are now required to buy the same number of Swiss Francs.
To put this into context, assuming international tickets from Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia were priced at 500 Swiss Francs on the 15th January 2015, and the starting Rouble rate for that day was 63.9, then the cost of the ticket would be 31,950 Roubles (€425). Less than one hour after the cap was removed, due to the Swiss Franc strengthening to 76 against the Rouble, the exact same ticket would cost 38,000 Roubles (€510).
That is the bad news.
There is, however, some good news.
Recently many other currencies have also strengthened relative to the Rouble, absorbing this cost increase, and then some. For example since January last year the Russian rouble has fallen against the US Dollar and other ‘hard currencies’, such as the British Pound, by over 45%.
This means that, on average, even though the Rouble cost of Trans-Siberian tickets shot up on the 15th January, today they are still up to 20% cheaper if you are buying in British Pounds, Euros or US Dollars than for many years.
When combined with Real Russia’s long standing relationship with Russian Railways, our experience in booking Trans-Siberian adventures and our policy to provide you with the best prices possible, it means there has never been a better time to travel along the world-famous Trans-Siberian railway.