In the Western public opinion, Russia is mostly associated with the Soviet threat, Tzar extravaganza, crazy Russians, vodka, ballet and dancing bears. The core of the former Russian (and later, Soviet) Empire is comprised of Russia itself, along with Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. Covering roughly half of Europe, these countries are separated by many issues but are unified by centuries of common history, Eastern Orthodoxy and the use of Cyrillic script.
- Why go there?
Westerners tend to approach these parts with caution. Mr. Putin’s escapades only heighten the tension – at times, re-creating the myth of the Crazy Russians seems to be his life’s quest. But at the same time, the myths fuel the interest for the shattered Evil Empire. Just think of actually visiting the missile base that was set to blast away your hometown just 25 years ago!
- What’s it best for?
To be dwarfed. By churches, subway stations, Soviet monuments and art, and just about everything else you see. If you like it big – this is the place for you.
- When is the best time to go?
Its a land of extremes – the summers are Hot and the winters are Cold. September’s Indian Summer, known locally as Babye Leto (Old Ladies’ Summer), often offers pleasant weather and fewer crowds.
- How to get around?
All the major cities are well connected by night trains, which offer the traveller plenty of opportunity to rub shoulders (quite literally) with the locals. Try to book in advance, especially in the summer months.
- Why is it best to avoid?
Language barrier. All signs are in Cyrillic script and hardly anyone speaks English. Find a local to guide you, learn basic Russian and be prepared to use a lot of mimics and gestures.
- Where to go if you just have one week?
Go to Kiev. It’s called the Mother of Russian Cities for a good reason. Kiev offers all Moscow or St. Petersburg have to offer at a much lower price tag. Plus its conveniently located, being only one train night away from the other capitals – Moscow, Minsk and Kishinev, as well as the Black Sea.