January 21, 2017
If you asked me a year ago if I would be traveling to Russia, the country was not one that I thought of exploring. However, I’m glad the people I’ve met and photographers I follow on social media led me to visiting this beautiful country.
Although our story was brief, I met a guy born in Eastern Europe last year. I was intrigued about learning about his culture when things ended. Part of moving on and making sense of the situation, I decided to travel to a country that I felt embodied a portion of his culture. I was also inspired by Murad Osmann’s Follow Me To series of photographs, especially ones of his wife that were based in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
After landing in St. Petersburg, I encountered obstacle after obstacle. In a way, I felt like I was getting to know the “real” Russia. The language itself sounded strong, stern, and unwelcoming, but part of my naivety when it comes to solo traveling, is that everyone will help others in times of need even if we speak different languages. However, this was not the case for me at least during certain parts of my trip.
One of the things I’ve noticed that is most common when exiting an airport in Russia is that there will be masses of people with signs saying “taxi” or men coming up to you saying “taxi.” For some reason, I did not think of ordering an Uber (maybe Wifi was slow at the time) so when someone came up to me saying he can take me where I needed to go, I agreed. I quickly learned that the safest way to get to one place to another without being ripped off is to go with a legitimate cab company or order an Uber.
Apart from this, very few people speak English unless you’re at a hotel, main tourist attraction, or young etc. Even then, it is not guaranteed that they can guide you to where you need to go. During this trip, I relied heavily on my iPhone, maps to be specific, so that I knew where to walk to and from my hotel.
Part of a habit of mine is that I don’t usually plan my trips until the last minute. Therefore, when I found this website that can provide suggestions and help plan a last minute trip, I was ecstatic: inspirock. I also utilized people’s suggestions when I arrived in Russia and researched locations based on the photographs from Murad Osmann’s Instagram.
Fabergé Museum – world’s largest collection of works by Fabergé and the first museum I visited during my trip
Church of the Savior Blood – one of the main sights in St. Petersburg and also known as the Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ; built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881
Palace Square – St. Petersburg’s main square that combines different types of architectural buildings together
State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace – one of the world’s largest and oldest museums founded by Catherine the Great in 1754 and my favorite museum; in my opinion, it supersedes the Louvre
Anichkov Bridge – oldest and most famous bridge that crosses Fontanka Bridge; it makes a nice afternoon and evening stroll
State Russian Museum – a collection of Russian fine art; I was able to learn more about the style of work
Moscow Kremlin – fortified complex; I accidentally stumbled upon an area that was restricted
Moscow Kremlin – one of the many churches and attractions located inside the Moscow Kremlin
St. Basil’s Cathedral (Exterior) – located right outside of the Moscow Kremlin
St. Basil’s Cathedral (Interior) – the interior was breathtaking and consisted of many ordained rooms
Red Square – Moscow’s main city square
The State Tretyakov Gallery – a collection of Russian fine art; it’s easy to get lost inside, but my favorite were the prints located downstairs, which told the story of the Bible
Lake Ladoga – largest lake in Europe and my alternative for missing my flight to Siberia; it was also my first time experiencing an impromptu city and cultural tour by my Uber driver
Osinovezckiy Lighthouse – an active lighthouse right next to Lake Ladoga
Right Side of Mikhailovsky 2
Mikhailovsky 2: Swan Lake Ballet
Left Side of Mikhailovsky 2
House of Books (Interior) – down the book aisle
House of Books (Interior) – front of the bookstore, one of the many floors
House of Books (Exterior)
Russian Culture and Cuisine
Whenever I travel to a new country, I’m always open to learning about the culture and trying authentic dishes. Here were some of my memorable encounters and favorite spots to eat:
Majestic Boutique Hotel – a hotel that embodied the Russian culture; fit like a king, elegant, and luxurious
Del Mar – a place where I made new friends whom also took advantage of the fact that I did not speak Russian; a night filled with lots of laughter, fingerpointing, and jokes
Beer Family Project – the first restaurant I stumbled upon during my first night in St. Petersburg
Coffeeshop Company – the place I ate prior to missing my flight to Siberia and also the place where I dined the same night with a new friend whom translated for me at the airport
Tsar – my first exposure to traditional Russian cuisine; I was told Tsar is translated to Czar, meaning king or royalty
Katyusha Restaurant –my last dinner in Russia
Terressa – a restaurant with an awesome roof top view overlooking the Kazan Cathedral
Interior view of Terressa
The first time you travel to a new country, you’re bound to make mistakes. Below are some things I learned along the way when traveling to Russia:
- Apply for a 3 year visa to Russia regardless of how long you plan on staying in Russia for, and apply early since the application process is rather extensive
- Russia is very strict when your visa expires even if it was only for two hours, which is what happened to me; worst case scenario, you might even have to go to court, which luckily, did not happen to me (thank you, US Embassy)
- Never trust men with signs saying taxi or signs saying taxi/will take credit card (will always and only take cash)
- Trust legitimate taxi companies or Uber
- Invest in a data plan when you are traveling abroad; certain parts of the country does not have free wifi
- The days are shorter during the winter in Russia so plan your day accordingly, or check out any of the museums that are open until 9pm if you happen to sleep through most of the day
- Moscow traffic is one of the worst in the world so make an extra effort to be early wherever your final destination is
- Rely on Google translate or a translations book
- Trust your gut
I love Russia and plan on visiting again in the near future. However, this time, I plan on traveling to Siberia for round two.
Where have I traveled in Eastern Europe?