The Russian Federation Some thoughts to consider (Disclaimer – Russia is a highly cultured and safe country for foreigners.)
Items to cover • Security • What don’t I see? • Gypsies, Beggars, Students • Photography • Cafes and Restaurants • Casinos • Jazz Clubs, Opera Houses and Ballet • Using Mobile Devices on your trip
Security • Stick to the group. Don’t go wandering off. • If Gypsies or beggars approach you, continue to walk and never stop to talk. • Always keep wallets either in a front pocket or an inside pocket. Don’t keep it in a diary or book or something accessible to professional pickpockets. • Don’t go to markets with excessive cash but don’t leave cash in hotels or buses unless secured. • Never pack cell phones in luggage or leave in your hotel rooms or buses.
What don’t I see? You may not recognize who some people are but that is entirely OK. Sometimes it is fun to know what others don’t realize. If you see young men dressed entirely in black, driving luxury cars with short hair, most likely they are members of the mob. Don’t worry, they won’t bother tourists or foreigners.
Gypsies & Beggars • Gypsies will approach you directly or send their little children to you to try and convince you to talk with them. They like to get tourists to let them do palm readings. NEVER ACCEPT. Folk performers dress similarly but you will know them since they will either be performing or dancing in a show. • Stay away from anyone asking you for money. Most beggars are organized by a syndicate. Once you give to one, others will follow you for the rest of the day and wont leave you alone. • It is common to be approached by what seem to be “friendly and sweet” college students who are interested to speak with you. They may be real BUT maybe not! Don’t go anywhere with them if invited unless your tour guide says it is safe.
Photography Russians usually don’t mind being photographed anymore than someone in the US minds. Don’t trust anyone to take your photograph, other than your tour guide or someone in the group. Older people can be sensitive to foreigners taking their pictures. Many older people grew up in the Soviet Union and have anti-foreigner attitudes.
Cafes and Restaurants • Most cafes and restaurants do not have English speaking staff unless they are in hotels for foreigners. If possible try to go with someone who speaks Russian. • Tipping follows the same rules as in the USA. 15-20% is normal. • Cyrillic PECTOPAH is pronounced Restoran
When you are wandering and hungry… • Russia is NOT a third world or developing country. Small cafes are great places to try local cuisines. Russian food is always fresh, they don’t use preservatives. Same goes for Russian candies. • If you have the opportunity to buy pelmeni (ravioli), perogie, borsch, caviar, blini, ice cream and other Russian foods, try them. • If you just don’t want to do this, they have McDonalds, Subway, Pizza Hut, KFC and Baskin Robbins. • If you have the time on a Sunday morning head to the Grand Europe Hotel for brunch. UNBELEIVABLE.
Hidden Secrets- Hotel Astoria for Afternoon Tea - Grand Europe Hotel Mezzanine Café
Casinos • Casinos are run by the mafia, always. • No one wins in Casinos, ever! • Unless you are ready to lose what you have in your pocket, stay away from them. • Gentlemen: Single women in casinos are not patrons! They are there for a reason you don’t want to get involved with. The same rule applies on main roads after 10PM at night.
Jazz Clubs, The Ballet and Opera Aside from arrangements for you to go to Museums and Palaces, Russian Jazz, Ballet and Opera are memories you will cherish for the rest of your life. When in St. Petersburg, if you can get to see Ballet at the Murinsky Theatre or a concert at the Jazz Philharmonic (tell them I sent you) do take advantage of the opportunity.
Advertising: Phone calls, Email and SMS • If you bring your US cellular, iPhone or BlackBerry to Russia you will become very emotional when you see your phone bill when you get home. Russia and Estonia are very expensive. You are not likely to find VoIP or free hotspots to operate from. This does not mean you cant have these. • I will gladly refer you to a company that rents BlackBerries with unlimited email and web browsing. They can also rent you local Russian cell phones with free incoming calls and calls back to the USA under $1/minute. • If you insist on taking an iPhone with you, they can give you a data bundle with MiFi hotspot under $200 (200 Mb). Your US provider will charge you the equivalent of $3200 – $4000 for the same 200 Mb. They also offer a DataManager you can use to monitor your usage. • Call 1 -800-423-4805. They even have a rep in Shepherdstown.