|Currency||Russian ruble (RUR)|
|Area||total: 17,075,200 sq km |
water: 79,400 sq km
land: 16,995,800 sq km
|Population||143,420,309 (2005 est.)|
|Religion||Russian Orthodox, Muslim, other|
|Time Zone||UTC +2 to +12|
Russia (Russian Росси́я, transliteration Rossiya or Rossija) - more fully known as the Russian Federation (Russian Росси́йская Федера́ция, transliteration Rossiyskaya Federatsiya or Rossijskaja Federacija) - is a vast country in Eastern Europe and northern Asia. Russia has both extensive Arctic Ocean and North Pacific Ocean coastlines, as well as smaller coastlines on the Baltic, Black and Caspian Seas. Russia is bordered by Norway and Finland to the northwest, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus and Ukraine to the west, Georgia and Azerbaijan to the southwest, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia to the south, and China and North Korea to the southeast. The American state of Alaska lies opposite the easternmost point of Russia across the Bering Strait.
Russia also administers the exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast on the Baltic coast between Poland and Lithuania.
Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of area. Despite its size, much of the country lacks proper soils and climates (either too cold or too dry) for agriculture. Mount Elbrus (Gora El'brus), at 5,633 m, is Europe's tallest peak.
- St. Petersburg
- Nizhni Novgorod
- Plesetsk Cosmodrome
- Kapustin Yar
The defeat of the Russian Empire in World War I led to the seizure of power by the Communists and the formation of the USSR. The brutal rule of Josef STALIN (1924-53) strengthened Russian dominance of the Soviet Union. The Soviet economy continued to grow at high rates under Malenkov and Khrushchev, and political and social controls were lossened. The Soviet Union eventually reached its peak and became stagnant under Leonid Brezhnev, and the crisis would continue until General Secretary Mikhail GORBACHEV (1985-91) introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize Communism, but his initiatives inadvertently released forces that by December 1991 splintered the USSR into 15 independent republics. Since then, Russia has struggled in its efforts to build a democratic political system and market economy to replace the strict social, political, and economic controls of the Communist period. A determined guerrilla conflict still plagues Russia in Chechnya.
Climate ranges from steppes in the south through humid continental in much of European Russia; subarctic in Siberia to tundra climate in the polar north; winters vary from cool along Black Sea coast to frigid in Siberia; summers vary from warm in the steppes to cool along Arctic coast
Broad plain with low hills west of Urals; vast coniferous forest and tundra in Siberia; uplands and mountains along southern border regions
Passports, Visas, and other documents
Citizens of most non-Russia or CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries must obtain a visa prior to arriving to Russia. Obtaining a Russian visa is a costly, time-consuming, and sometimes frustrating process. Most visitors should start the process at least two months in advance.
There are two terms, invitation (or voucher for tourist visa) and the visa itself. Invitation is the paper in exchange of which one gets the actual visa. Visa is a sticker to one's passport. There are several types of invitations and visas.
The tourist invitation is a letter of confirmation of booking and pre-payment of your accommodation and travel arrangements in Russia. Can be obtained from a government approved hotel in Russia or Russian travel agency. The sign of government approval is so called "consular reference" the number of government registration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. Only hotels and travel agencies that have consular reference can issue the confirmations valid for visa purposes.
It should be noted that tricks like booking one night of a hotel and getting a visa for 30 days with the paper received from the hotel for one night booking won't work, as the visa will be granted for one day only in such a case.
However, some travel agencies will issue a confirmation for a fee, without actually collecting the accommodation pre-payment. The legality of such actions are in question and there is a bit of controversy about this.
Tourist confirmation and the accommodation voucher are normally accepted as a faxed/e-mailed copy, though the consular officail have a right to ask for the original if fraud is suspected.
Another type of invitation is required to obtain a business visa. Business invitations are issued by the government and for many Russian consulates the original hard copy is required (though some will accept a faxed copy, always check this before applying) Obtaining the business invitation is time consuming and costly. Any registered company in Russia can apply for the business invitation for a foreign nationalin visa and passport office in Russia. It normally takes 4 to 6 weeks to get one. Business visa is granted in exchange of business invitation by the Russian consulate and it is a lot more flexible than a tourist one. Can be multiple entry and valid for travel and stay in Russia for up to 12 months. Some travel agencleis in Russia can help obtaining business invitation.
Some Russian local governments have a right to invite foreigners for business and cultural activities by sending a TELEX to the Embassy or Consulate of Russia overseas, requesting the visa issue to a particular foreigner or group of foreigners. Such telex messages are used instead of invitation. Normally is the way to go if you are invited by the government.
Personal invitation. Any Russian citizen can apply to invite foreign national for a visit at the passport and visa office. The process is much the same as for business invitation. Take 4 to 6 weeks. Looks exactly the same as business one, but the purpose of travel and the visa type will be stated as personal. The inviting individual is solely responsible for all your activities while in Russia and can be penalised heavily if something goes wrong. So personal invitations are usually not available for a fee through the net.
It should be noted that you will need to pay for the cost of the invitation and the visa itself, each of which can cost from $40-100 or more, usually depending on how fast you want it issued. To save money, start the process as early as possible.
When you go through passport control into Russia, you will give the border official a filled-in migration card. You should be given the card back, and it should be stamped. You must carry this card with you at all times in Russia, and you may be asked for it when you leave. You receive the migration card while you're en-route to Russia, either on the train on in the plane. It is a small white piece of paper nearly the size of two index cards. There are two parts: one for exit and one for entry. When you cross the border the 'entry' portion is taken and you keep 'exit' part.
Moscow and St. Petersburg are served by direct flights to most European capitals, and Moscow also has direct flights many cities in East Asia, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and North America.
Aeroflot (Russian Airlines)  (http://www.aeroflot.com/) constitutes Russia's national airline.
Airports are in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and most other cities.
Sibiria (S7)  (http://www.s7.ru/) Sibirian airline company.
There are airports in all large cities in Russia. However, international service to destinations other than Moscow and St. Petersburg is still very limited.
Train service is usually reliable. You can get a direct train from many cities in Eastern and Central Europe to Moscow and sometimes St. Petersburg. Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, Berlin, and Warsaw are all possible departure points with daily services to Russia. Most long distance trains have 2 to 6 passengers per room, 4 being the most common. The Trans-Siberian Railway spans the entire country and connects European Russia with Russian Far East provinces.
For details on Russian trains, see below in the Get Around: By Train section.
Travelling in Russia by car is difficult, and the roads are often intentionally unmarked.
Car rental services are only starting to develop in major cities such as Moscow or St.Petersburg, and are expensive. Crossing the border by car is also a peculiar entertainment.
There is no doubt that car travel is the best way to see the country, but it is a risky enterprise which is recommended only for the brave and capable.
Russian highways have highway patrol police (GAI) roadblock every 20 km or so. If you have an international license plate, prepare to pay a bribe ($5 -$20). Russian traffic rules are very numerous and you will be found violating some of them. If you decide not to pay, at best you should expect to spend several hours at every road block.
Service is scarce and poor, and the countryside can be quite dangerous without experience and fluency in the Russian language.
This country is simply too large and too underdeveloped for car travel.
A few bus companies, notably Eurolines, operate international coach services from a number of distinations to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Tallinn, Helsinki and Berlin all have regular services to Russia.
Russia has an extensive rail network linking nearly every city and town. For intercity travel, the train is generally the most convenient option for trips that can be covered overnight. The train is an option for longer trips (many Russians continue to use it for trips of 2 days or more), but mainly if you appreciate the nuances and experience of train travel in Russia. For the complete Russian rail experience, the one-week Trans-Siberian Railway has no equal.
Russian trains are divded into types: Long-distance (DAL'nevo SLEdovaniya) trains generally cover trips more than about 4 hours or 200 kilometers (120 miles). Shorter distances are covered by the 'commuter trains (PRIgorodniye), which are popularly called ElekTRICHkii. Most train stations (zheleznodoROZHni VokSAL) have separate areas for selling tickets for these types.
Most long-distance trains are set up for overnight travel. In these trains, three main kinds of cars are available. The third class car is called platzcart (???????????? ?????) and is set up with unwalled compartments of four fold out beds opposite two beds on the window wall. These compartments are generally less safe than other classes, but provide for a much more immersive experience. Also, woman travellers sometimes prefer the platzcart to other classes where they might end up in a closed compartment with other male strangers (Russian trains do not have separate cars or compartments for males and females).
The second class is called coupe (???????? ?????) and consists of private compartments of four each. The first class is called SV, and consists of compartments for two persons.
Note that several Russian trains, including many international routes, have only 1st and 2nd class available.
The prices of these trains vary widely by class obviously, but also by train. Many trains are considerably more comfortable than others, and as a result are more expensive. Some trains provide pre-packed meals, free tea/coffee, and complementary sheets (otherwise, you'll have to pay 100-150 for your own). The more expensive trains are generally cleaner and might even have air-conditioning. It's a good idea to ask when you buy the the ticket exactly what is provided.
Conductors always provide free water in samovars in every car and will usually sell you tea and lend you a mug and spoon for about 10 rubles, or 35 cents. Most long distant trains also have dining cars.
When going through the countryside locals will sell food and liquor at pretty reasonable prices. Often babushkas will even be selling pre-made meals! Frequently, traders will walk through the traincars between stops and sell everything from crockery to clothes to Lay's chips.
Tickets can be bought at the train station. Most stations have a large room called a Kassovi Zal where tickets are sold. Lines at the stations vary widely--some stations are much better organized than others nowadays, and it also depends on the season. If you find the lines unbearably long, it's usually not hard to find an agency that sells train tickets. Commission rates are generally not prohibitive.
The commuter trains are mostly hard-seat train cars. You don't get a designated seat number--you just find space on a bench. These trains have a notorious reputation for being overcroweded, though this has declined somewhat. The trains make very frequent stops and are rather slow. For example, a 200 KM trip to Vladimir takes about 3 1/2 hours. Also, there don't have toilets.
Tickets for commuter trains are sold in a separate room from the long-distance trains, and are sometimes sold from stalls located outside.
A few very popular routes, mostly between Moscow and nearby cities such as Vladimir, Yaroslavl, Tula, and others have an express commuter train that is considerably more comfortable. Your ticket will have a designated seat number and the seats are reasonably comfortable. The trains travel to their distination directly and are thus considerably faster.
Most Russian cities have bus links to cities as far as 5-6 hours away or further. Though generally less comfortable than the train, busses sometimes are a better option timewise and are worth looking into if the train timetables don't suit you. A small number of cities, notably Suzdal, are not served by train, and thus bus is the only option besides a car.
The Russian word for bus station is AvtovokSAL. Most cities have just one for long distance busses. These are were the state busses depart from. However, in Moscow and in some other Russian cities, a number of commercial busses are available, and they generally don't depart from the bus station. Quite often, you'll see commercial busses near train stations. Sometimes they run on schedules, though for popular routes (such as Moscow-Vladimir, Moscow/Yaraslavl, etc.) the busses simply wait to fill up. On these busses payment is usually to the driver.
Russian busses have luggage storage, but if it's an old Eastern-bloc bus, you may find your luggage wet at the end of the trip.
The tremendous distances of Russia make plane travel highly desirable if you plan to travel to some of Russia's more far-flung attractions. It's worth considering for any destination that is farther than an overnight train ride. Travelling across Russia by train can sound awefully romantic, but it's also time-consuming and rather monotonous. Nearly every major destination of interest has an airport nearby. The great majority of domestic flights are to/from Moscow, but other services exist.
The Russian domestic airline industry had an abominal reputation in the 90s due to uncertain safety records, unreliable timetables, terrible service, uncomfortable airplanes, and substandard airports. Substantial improvements have been made, however. Plane travel in Russia is unlikely to be the highlight of your trip but it has become tolerable.
- Aeroflot is the main Russian airline for local Russian and CIS flights and international flights to some major cities (Germany, South Korea, US, etc.)
Russia has a very lively hitchhiking culture, with many hitchhiking clubs, there is even an Acadamy of Hitchhiking. There are many competitions. Despite horror stories about bad things happening in Russia, it is relatively safe to hitchhike, especially in the countryside. In some regions Russians expect a little bit of money for a ride.
Russia has a hundred languages and supports many of them, sending linguists to document them and invent writing systems for them (all Cyrillic, of course) and making them local official languages. The south border is lined with Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungusic; the north with Finnic and Samoyed. The southwest corner has a variety of Caucasian languages; the northeast has the few Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages. Russian is the native language of Russians; it is the official language, so wherever you go in Russia, you'll find someone who speaks Russian.
Matryoshka - a kind of wood doll, Ushanka - a warm hat, Samovar - an indigenous design for brewing tea. Note that when purchasing samovars of value (historical, precious gems or metal, etc.), it is wise to check with customs before attempting to take it out of the country.
- Pelmeni (ravioli)
- Blini (cr�pes)
- Borshtsh (red soup/beetroot soup)
- Shtshi (cabbage soup)
- Manti (meat stuffed pasta)
- Vareniki (dumplings)
- Russian salads
Vodka, imported liquors (rum, gin, etc), international soft-drinks (Pepsi, Cola, etc), local soft drinks (Tarhun, Buratino, Baikal, etc.), distilled water, kvas (like beer, but without alcohol and made from dark bread). Beer in Russia is cheap and the varieties are endless of both Russian and international brands. Popular local brands are Baltika, Stary Melnik, Bochkareff, Zolotaya Bochka, Tinkoff and many others.
Russia has a long-standing tradition in high-quality education for all citizens. It probably has also one of the best mass-eduction systems in the world producing a literacy rate (98%) exceeding most Western European countries.
Basic general education lasts for nine years. Graduates of this level may continue their education at senior high school to receive secondary general education. They may also enter an initial vocational school or non-university level higher education institutions.
Higher education is provided by public and non-public (non-State) accredited higher education institutions, of which Russian language courses (individual and group tuition).
- Liden & Denz (http://www.lidenz.ru/) - Private school in Moscow and St.Petersburg
- SRAS (http://www.sras.org/) School of Russian and Asian Studies (all major Russian cities)
- Ziegler & Partner (http://www.studyrussian.com/) Russian language courses at Moscow State University
- Moscow Times (http://www.themoscowtimes.com/travel/whilehere/study.html/) Study Guide from Moscow Times Magazine
Juvenile delinquency, organized crime and corruption may occur in Russia. Murder rate per 100 000 is one of the World highest (21). The Russian Mafia is infamous, and has a business of smuggling drugs from and in the country. The police are widely regarded as corrupt, and (may) take bribes. The conflict in Chechnya is also a major problem.
When buying items, make sure money is folded backwards with small bills on the outside and larger on the inside. Try to get bills in 50-500 ruble amounts to keep the numbers on the bills small.
Also, don't take your money out to pay before the total is told to you. This is considered stupid or odd. It also helps to keep your money from being snatched from you.
The further you get from Moscow or St. Petersburg, the worse the water condition gets. Usually it's okay to drink in the European part of Russia, but try to stick with bottled water in Siberia and the Far East. If you can't afford to buy bottled water boil water before drinking even in Moscow and St. Petersburg. You should have no problem with affording it, though - it costs only about 7-15 rubles ($0.25-$0.50 USD) for 2 liters.
Be careful not to buy fake vodka (could be very dangerous). Buy only vodka with the sticker over the cap and/or the region's barcode on the side (Sakhalin, Kamchatka, etc).
Some kiosks could sell meals of bad quality. If you are not confident, just throw it away. Although most of them are quite good, take note of who buys and what they buy. That could help to make a good choice.
It should be noted that paying the bills at restaurants may often be very frustrating. You will sometimes not be given a proper receipt, and if you leave more money than the exact total, it is automatically interpreted as a tip, and you have to be very persistent in order to get your change back. While tipping traditionally is frowned upon in Russia (many will probably tell you otherwise), it is a recent phenomena, emerging after the fall of communism, and very few understand that it's up to the guest to decide how much he or she wants to tip, which is what is left behind when the guest has received the change. Be persistent in your demands, and look out for attempts of fraud. What most tourists do is to give up, because they are tired, and they can easily spare a few roubles. Remember, if they are successful in taking money from one tourist, they will keep harassing the next.
On the other hand, many Russians and Russian families are very welcoming and kind. The general rule in all countries is to treat people with the same respect as what you get in return.