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A Holiday in Russia - the Basics

Language
English is not widely spoken outside the main cities and it was helpful to learn a little Russian. The Russians appreciated our attempts at their language. Sign language also worked well, and shop keepers often typed prices on a calculator and showed the numbers to us.




The written language is in Cyrillic script, and most signs are not translated (transliterated) into western script, so it helps to learn to recognise the words for Chemist, photo etc. Although it looks quite foreign, l
earning to decipher Cyrillic is not difficult. It is, however, a little confusing as several letters look like English but are pronounced quite differently (eg 'c' sounds like 's', 'b' sounds like 'v' and 'p' like 'r').


A basic knowledge of Cyrillic is rewarding as, when decoded, the words are often similar or identical to English, so it's easy to impress your friends with your knowledge of Russian. The words in the picture read "Russian Standard Vodka". Follow the links below for helpful web sites about the Russian language.

Money
Russian money: RoublesThe currency is Roubles (alternative spelling Ruble), divided into 100 Kopeks. Our guide book said we could not bring Roubles into Russia, so we changed our money (easily) at Moscow airport. However, one of our fellow travellers had no difficulty getting Roubles at their local Post Office in England. This is an indication of how rapidly thngs are changng in Russia. Although we used Roubles most of the time (except on our cruise ship - see below), the souvenir sellers were happy to accept Sterling, Dollars or Euros, something else the guide books said wouild not be possible. Credit/debit cards could be used in cash machines in the big towns and cities, and were accepted by some shops.
On board the cruise ship we did not use money at all. Everything was priced in "ship's units" (roughly equivalent to a Euro), totted up at the end of the holiday and then paid by card.

Weather
We travelled at the end of June and found we rarely needed the warm outer clothing we had brought with us. Even when we were close to the Arctic Circle, daytime temperatures were above 20 degrees C, and even night-time was quite warm. It rained twice during our fortnight; it was heavy but short lived.
The most interesting thing about the weather was the daylight. It was just after the summer solstice and our northern latitude meant that the sun did not set until around 11pm, though it stayed really light until well after midnight. This meant it was difficult to think about going to bed before midnight, and it got light again before 3am! St Petersburg celebrates the solstice itself with its White Nights Festival, during which the locals stay up all night
Of course, this was summer, and the Russian winter weather is famously chilly. For example, one of the huge lakes we sailed across is completely frozen in winter and cars drive over it!

Sunset on Lake Onega, north-west Russia
Sunset on Lake Onega. We were just over 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle in late June. The picture was taken at 10pm when it was still light and quite warm.

Transport
We travelled by cruise ship through an extensive network of rivers, canals, reservoirs and lakes. In addition ton the numerous passenger ships, we saw a great deal of freight traffic, transporting in particular aggregates and logs. We also saw a number of hydrofoils travelling at great speed..
Local trips were by coach. The roads we travelled on were excellent and we did not experience any bad driving. Russian's cars were either expensive and foreign (mostly German) or very old and decrepit. Of interest was the occasional Volga, as used by soviet officials in the past.
Moscow has a fascinating and very ornate underground railway transport system which is well worth a visit, even if you don't go anywhere (much more about Moscow's Metro here).
St Petersburg has a tram system. There are also trolleybuses in both St Petersburg and Moscow. The trams and buses seemed plentiful, though we did not experience this form of transport first hand.
As a pedestrian, there are three things to note, one good, two bad. Firstly, in St Petersburg the traffic lights have handy displays showing the number of seconds before the lights change. Secondly, it is not unusual for vehicles to be driven on the pavements to bypass a traffic jam! Lastly, it seems to be optional for Russians to stop at pedestrian (zebra) crossings, so great care is advised.


Busy traffic heading into Moscow's centre. Note the trolleybus on the right
Moscow metro station near Red Square Tram in St Petersburg
Moscow's Revolution Square metro station Tram in St Petersburg
Barge transport on the River Volga in Russia
A great deal of freight is carried on Russia's waterways. This barge is on theVolga River.
Hydrofoil at Yaroslavl, northern Russia
Hydrofoil on the Volga at Yaroslavl
 

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