This week's Why Travel focuses on Russia. Our comrades on the other side of the world are not too different from us. Despite talking heads take on reality, the people of Russia want to share their culture with visitors. If you're looking for something different for your next trip, take a closer look at Russia.
Culture & Art
Visiting Russia is quite an experience. It feels like stepping into another world, yet it feels oddly familiar and comfortable. Whether you're in Moscow or St. Petersburg, there's no shortage of beauty, culture, and art to take in. Russia is home to some of the best ballet companies in the world and produced many world famous dancers, like Anna Pavlova, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Rudolph Nureyev. If you visit during the ballet season, you should definitely see a ballet performance. Some of the most noted ballet companies are the Bolshoi Ballet, Mariinsky Ballet (formerly Kirov), and the Mikhailovsky Ballet company. Not only are the performances beautiful and incredible, but the theaters in which these companies perform are traditional and very old. It's an experience just to sit inside one of these theaters.
During the day, before your upcoming ballet, take a trip to the Kremlin in Moscow or the Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg to see the collections of Faberge eggs. There are only 65 known Faberge eggs in the world, ten of which are at the Kremlin Amoury in Moscow, nine at the House of Faberge in St. Petersburg, and the rest in private collections or on loan to museums throughout the world. These delicately decorated eggs are finely detailed with color, jewels, and usually a beautiful theme. They were made for the royal family of Russia in the late 1800s and early 1900s and the eggs used were traditionally goose eggs. Faberge replica souvenirs are common throughout Moscow and St. Petersburg and if you want to bring one home, I recommend getting your egg at the gift shop of the House of Faberge, the Kremlin, or L'Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
Food & Vodka
Normally, I like to discuss food and various drinks, but in Russia, it's vodka. All day, every day, every meal. Like other countries in Asia (China, India, etc), it's not safe for Westerners to drink the water in Russia due to certain types of bacteria present. Because the water is less than ideal, most Westerners are served vodka.
Fun Fact: Russians keep the good vodka for themselves inside the country and export everything else. If you enjoy drinking straight vodka, you definitely need to make the trek to Russia.
Before the trip, my Russian friend went down a list of souvenirs to bring back (if I wanted) and food to eat. Despite having advanced notice of what most things consist of, I was not prepared for how delicious everything is. At most authentic Russian restaurants, you'll find Pilmeny, often listed in English as "Siberian Dumplings." These little ravioli/pierogi type dumplings are filled with meat, covered in melted butter and usually served with a side of sour cream. And it's delicious. Actually, it's deeeeelisshhhhousssssssssssssssss (with a happy eye roll).
When you're ready for something different after gorging yourself on pilmeny, find your nearest Teremok. Teremok is like a fast food joint where they make blinis (aka crepes) and stuff them full of sweet or savory fillings. I had a chicken caesar blini with a strawberry jam blini for dessert. Much like the pilmeny, Teremok was incredibly tasty. We discovered it on our last night in Russia and we were heartbroken we didn't eat more of it.
If pilmeny and Teremok sound too adventurous for you, there's always the old standby, McDonald's. Now, as a disclaimer, I never recommend McDonald's to anyone in America. However, I believe due to the EU and other government's stricter standards of meat quality and product, McDonald's in other countries is significantly better than in the States. Case in point: Russia. The beef patties in Russian McD's are thick and real - no fillers or fake stuff. The cheese is emmental and fresh. The vegetables taste like they are out of Babushka's garden and when you put all of that on together to make a burger… wow! It's hard to believe it comes from McDonald's.
Pro Tip: If you're an American traveling to Russia, you do need to complete a Russian visa application and send in your passport to add a visa to one of your pages. If this process, overwhelms you, there are several companies who will help you for a fee.
No matter what you're feeling, Russia has something tantalizing to offer. Like America, the people are more than their leadership represents. Yes, the majority of the people "elected" their leader, but when you go out and visit with native Russians, they are often in similar situations to Americans. Our differences are petty and our similarities bring us together. I hope you can visit Russia to expand your opinion of the country and its people.