JRNM 151 Student
“Reconsider travel to Russia due to terrorism and harassment.” This is what the U.S. Department of State’s travel advisory says for 2018, but this did not stop us from going and having a once in a lifetime experience.
My sister and I wanted to travel to a different country but could not decide on where. My sister, Erika, and I both work at a small outdoor retail store in Sheffield, called The Backpacker’s Shop, but she is a manager so she was able to give us the days off for our trip. I was reading ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy, at the time and jokingly suggested at work that we should go to Russia. Later, Erika looked up travelling costs to Russia and found that it was very affordable. We used Tripmasters to plan our trip and it was $750 each in which included round-trip flights, our train from St. Petersburg to Moscow, and our hotels. Our visas were $150 each which is very high compared to other countries. Most people do not travel to Russia in the middle of the winter so we decided to go while the costs were low and there would not be many tourists. I was very excited about this trip. I began reading and doing research immediately while my sister planned our itinerary. It is hard to get a visa for Russia and we wanted to go before it gets even harder to get in the country.
Before applying for a visa, you must be formally invited by someone from inside Russia. We asked our hotel and they sent us a formal invitation that we used in order to apply for our visas. There is a lot of paperwork that must be completed and sent to a Russian consulate. The passport that is reviewed and either accepted or denied. This took about three weeks unless it is paid for to be expedited.
We were in Russia for a total of six days because I have school and work. My sister, Erika, had to go back to work as well. We left on Feb. 6 in the evening and flew from Cleveland to Detroit which took about two hours. We then flew from Detroit to Amsterdam which was our longest flight lasting about seven hours. Then a flight from Amsterdam to St. Petersburg which was only three hours.
On Feb. 6 we had arrived in the beautiful city of St. Petersburg. We had no trouble getting through customs. The airport was very quiet and there were not many people there. It was very cold and it snowed almost every day that we were there. The weather was similar to what it has been like here in Ohio but with much more snow. Thankfully, we were prepared and had warm clothes for walking around in the city. We did a lot of research on what to wear. We would always wear waterproof, insulated boots, scarves, hats, gloves, warm sweaters and heavy winter coats. We never wore blue jeans because we read that you stick out in the crowd and because Russian’s do not wear jeans. We blended right in and many people assumed we were Russian and would try and talk to us, only to realize that we were tourists that speak English.
In St. Petersburg, we saw all kinds of museums, cathedrals, and palaces but some of the highlights were the Museum of Russian Literature, The Winter Palace, an opera at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, and the Peter and Paul Fortress. We were amazed at the rich history that the city had to offer. The architecture was sensational and the amazing artifacts that we saw in the museums helped us to learn about the unique Russian culture and how it came about. It reminded me of Washington, D.C. because of all the monuments and museums that were everywhere in the city. After seeing as much as we could in St. Petersburg, we took a train to Moscow which took about four hours. In Moscow, we stayed in the city and saw lots of things including the Red Square, the Kremlin Armory, Lenin’s Mausoleum, GUM market, and St. Basil’s Cathedral. Moscow was much more crowded than St. Petersburg but we still had a terrific experience there. The major sites in the city are all so close together that we covered most of the places we wanted to see in one day. The buildings were very colorful and intricate. Being in the Red Square was fascinating considering all that has happened there throughout history.
We concluded our time in Moscow by dining at a fancy restaurant called Café Pushkin. This cafe was the most incredible place that I have ever eaten at. The drinks were delicious and the food was wonderful. The building was beautiful, there were musicians playing harps and violins and young men that took our hands to help us down the steps and helped us put our jackets on.
The streets were well lit and coffee shops as well as restaurants were open late at night. During the day we would see people of all ages walking on the streets. At night it was mostly young people and lots of couples and/or groups of friends. It reminded me of New York City at night because of the crowds and how late people stayed out. The people we met, waiters or cab drivers were all very nice and did not make us feel that we were out of place or unwelcome.
I was surprised that many people knew at least a little English. One man that we had talked to in a coffee shop, said he never learned English in school. That he learned English from American movies and books. We had coffee at many different places and it was very good everywhere we had went.
The food, in Russia, was surprisingly good. I had never heard people talk about the food in Russia but everywhere we ate we had amazing food. It was a lot of heavy dishes like pierogis, meat pies, beef stroganoff, and borscht.
Everything was delicious! Wherever we went, it took a long time to get our food but it was because everything was served fresh and hot. The menu’s were often in Russian so we had used the Google Translate app to see what we were ordering.
Some people asked where we were from. My sister, Erika, always says we were from Canada whenever we travel overseas because it is a safe answer to respond with America. Americans do not have the best reputation in other countries, especially in Russia. This is due to all of the issues that our government is experiencing. Canadians are liked and respected pretty much around the world and although we were not afraid of harassment, we still told people we were Canadian just in case. The cities were safer than I expected however, the biggest threat was big icicles that fall from buildings and kill people each year.
One of the most interesting things I saw while in Russia was the body of Vladimir Lenin. Lenin had died when he was 53 years old but has been embalmed for 94 years. He lies in a glass casket and people can visit and see his body in Moscow. The building was just outside the Red Square and it was very dark inside. There were security and lots of guards inside and outside the building. We could not take pictures, put our hands in our pockets, talk, or even stop walking or the guards would yell at you. Everyone was very quiet and somber. It felt like going to a wake.
The exception is that he died 94 years ago yet still looks like he just died recently.
St. Petersburg and Moscow are both very historic and beautiful cities that made our trip to a foreign land a memorable and unique experience.