Why You Should Visit Russian Cities in the Wintertime
Things You Need to Do Before Your Russian Excursion
What Do I Need to Do Before I Leave On My Russian Trip
- Make Sure Your Passport is Up to Date
- Now the Visa Requirements. If you are an American You Will Need a Tourist Visa to Visit Russia or Business Visa for an extended Stay.
- Make All Your Transfer Plans to Get From Point A to Point B Before You Leave.
- Make Sure That Your Medical Insurance Will Provide Coverage, or Purchase Supplemental Medical Insurance That Will Cover You in Russia.
- Make Sure You've Had All Necessary Immunizations.
- Make Sure You Have Enough of Any Needed Prescription Medications.
- Have Back-Up Plans in Place for Any Unexpected Problems (flight delays, car transfer delays, etc.)
- Have a Russian Pocket Dictionary and/or Electronic Translation Devise.
- Learn Some Basic Russian Phrases Before You Leave, like "Gidya Toilyet?" (Where is the Bathroom>)
- Make sure you have a good light-weight digital camera to take along and extra memory cards.
Russian Cities in the Wintertime: a Delight to Behold
Russian Cities in the Wintertime are a Beautiful Experience for the Traveller
Every thought about visiting Russian cities and wondered what is the best time to go? My opinion is that the best time to travel to Russian cities is in the wintertime, for several reasons. One of the big reasons is that airfare to Russia is generally lower in the wintertime. I just purchased a round trip ticket from JFK to Moscow in February which was only $657.00. In the summertime, you'll proabably pay twice that.
Tickets may be a little more expensive in late November to mid-December, but spending the New Year Holiday in Russia is a wonderful treat. New Years in Russia is celebrated more like we in America celebrate Christmas, with much music in the streets, singing, dancing, & Sashlik (that is Russian Bar-b-Que) being cooked in the main squares of many cities and towns, and if there is snow on the ground (which there most likely will be), there are also horse-drawn sleigh rides, and ice sculptures abound. The "Yolka," (Russian Christmas tree, or maybe I should say New Year's Tree) in the center of the city or town will probably be at the center of all of these holiday activities.
On New Year's Eve there will be fireworks in many cities and towns, and many people will be celebrating all night and all the way through New Year's Day. Be assured, that wherever there is a Russian celebration, Vodka will abound. If you, like me, are not really a drinker, learn how to dilute your Vodka with substantial amounts of bottled water, as it is considered an insult if you decline to have a drink with a Russian.
What Russian Cities Should I Visit?
What Russian Cities Should be Visited in the Wintertime
First, you must see Moscow. Moscow is beautiful anytime of year, but even more so in the wintertime during New Years celebrations. If you can make an extended stay, you might enjoy the Victory Day Celebration in Moscow on May 9th, as it is a spectacle to uphold. (An extended stay will also probably get you a cheaper airfare price, too)
If you fly out of JFK in New York, there are two airlines flying non-stop to Moscow, Delta and Aeroflot. If you fly Delta, you will have to pay extra for any more than one checked bag. Aeroflot allows two checked bags at no extra charge on International flights (as long as they aren't oversize or overweight). If you need to make a connection at a train station in Moscow to get to another city, make sure you allow enough time to get from the airport to the train station, as even though it is relatively short distance, in Moscow traffic it can take a very long time. In Aeroflot, you can also get a flight to Kazan from JFK with one stop in Moscow for a few hours. The layover on the way back is much longer though.
Must see places for any tourist in Moscow include, Red Square, St. Basil's Cathedral, The Kremlin, and Gumm Department Stores. If you can, you should also visit Boshoi Theater, the Moscow Ballet, and of course Gorki Park. I hope when you visit Moscow, you will eat Russian food too, but if you MUST have American food there are plenty of McDonald's and Subway restaraunts in Moscow. You won't find any Wal-Marts there though.
No matter where you go in Moscow, keep the traffic in mind. There are 10 million people in Moscow, so if you thought traffic in New York was bad, well...................
You should also visit the Russian Metro in Moscow, as it is very ornate, very clean, and much faster than driving anywhere. The Moscow Metro is the second most heavily travelled commuter subway system in the world, next only to Seoul, South Korea. New York City Subway System only ranks 7th in ridership. Source: WikiPedia
Have You Ever Had the Opportuinty to Enjoy a Finnish Steam Bath or Russian Banya?
Travelling on to Yoshkar-Ola, Mari-El, Russia
On to Yoshkar-Ola in Mari-El Province
Yoshkar-Ola is the capital city of Mari-El and the government seat. The city is a medium size city with a population of around 300,000. There are various ways to get to Yoshkar-Ola from Moscow, but the most popular one is the Russian Railway. The trip is about 15 hours from Moscow and it's an overnight trip, which leaves Moscow around 4:30 in the afternoon and gets to Yoshkar-Ola at about 7:38 AM. There are three options as far as accomodations on the train. The first and least expensive is Platzkar, where there are no cabins. Each two people have a bunk bed, but everything is open. Second choice is second class where four people will share a cabin. There are two sets of bunk beds in every cabin, and storage under the bottom bunk. If you aren't travelling with three other people, you may be bunking with anybody. The third choice is first class, where there is one bed that pulls out into about the size of a full-size bed and seating on the other side. This is great if you are travelling with your beloved one.
You could also take a bus from Moscow to Yoshkar-Ola, which is the cheapest way to get there, but not very comfortable for a 400 mile ride, which still takes about 16 hours. No matter which mode of travel you choose, I HIGHLY recommend that you take your own toilet paper, as the toilet paper provided on public transportation systems in Russia is like brown grocery bag paper. Not very pleasant on sensitive tushies.
You won't find any American dining experiences in Yoshkar-Ola, but if you choose to dine out somewhere I would highly recommend Pharon II, which is an upscale restaurant featuring many sushi items. This is one of the few places that accepts credit cards when you dine out. There is another quite nice establishment which is more like cafeteria style called Terreolka (The Plate). There are some pizza delivery places in Yoshkar-Ola also.
If you are staying in an apartment or with friends and you buy your own food at the Magazene (small market) or Supermarket, I would recommend Perikrostok (means crossroads). They don't take credit cards, but there is an ATM in the store. I could not find toilet paper anywhere in this store though, nor could I find oregano.
If you like to ice skate, there is a beautiful ice skating rink called the Ice Palace in this small city too or you can go ice fishing on the Kakshaga River if it's cold enough. The temperature was between 27 and 35 below zero during my stay. When you visit Yoshkar-Ola, some very helpful travel help can be found at the Virginia Travel Agency. I have used their services for a translator to help me around during my stay in Yoshkar-Ola, getting transportation from SVO airport in Moscow to Kazansky Railway Station, etc. If you are looking for to meet some Russian lady while you are staying in Yoskar-Ola, they can also help with meeting some Russian women, even if it is just for a breakfast, lunch, or dinner date, and you can have a translator come along on your date with you if you desire. (Just keep in mind that you will have to pay for the time the translator spends with you).
If you have an opporutnity, Virginuia Travel also has a Finnish Steam Bath and Swimming Pool in Yoshkar-Ola, and it's a nice way to relax if your physican says you are healthy enough to engage in such pleasures. They require a payment by the hour, and you can also purchase drinks and dried fish there to induldge in if you so choose. Be aware, that at this site, the locker rooms are co-ed as is the steam room, and Russian ladies tend to be much less inhibited than American ladies, so you might get an eyeful of more skin than you are accustomed to at home.
Customarily, people go into the steam room for a short time, then they jump into the pool to cool off a little bit, have some refreshments, head back into the steam room, back to the pool, etc, and on it goes until the allotted time is finished. The Finnish Steam Bath is very hot, but not as hot as the Russian Banya, but in either case, make sure your physican clears you before you engage in this type of activity.
Important Things to Pack
Things to Pack in Checked Baggage
Things to Pack in Carry-On Baggage
Tush-Friendly Toilet Paper
Small Gifts for People You Are Visiting
Soap or Body Wash
Any Items You Will Need for Getting Washed and Changed in the Morning Before Your Plane Lands
Next Stop, Volzhanka,Чебоксары , Russia
Welcome to Volzhanka in Cheboksary Russia Home of the Chuvash People
Every place you go in Russia is divided into ethnic groups. In Yoshkar-Ola you will find mainly Mari people, in Cheboksary mainly Chuvash people, and in Kazan mostly Tartar people. In addition to Russian, each one of these ethnic groups also has their own local language. On this stop, we are going to visit Volzhanka a health sanitorium in Cheboksary, Russia. Just as Yoshkar-Ola is the capital of the Mari-El province, so is Cheboksary the capital of the Chuvash province. This city is a bit larger, with a population just under half-a-million. Cheboksary is a port city on the Volga river, so there are many summer activities that center around boating excursions, fishing, swimming, etc. There are many beaches and boardwalks in Cheboksary along the Volga too.
If you stay at Volzhanka, you won't need money for much of anything unless you buy alcohol in one of the bars onsite. Nearly eveything else is included in your room charge. There is a buffet at every meal (make sure you try the Kefir, a Russian staple drink). The menu changes every day for the buffet, so certainly you won't become bored. During the day, you can do such things as visit the mineral salts room, the steam inhalation room, there is a swimming pool during designated hours, but women and men swim at separate times, and of course the Banya. If your doctors says you are physically able to go to a Banya, a highly recommend it. At least try it once in your lifetime. You won't forget about soon. There is a charge for the Banya though and outside the Banya is a small room for taking some tea or coffee.
Volzhanka sits right on the banks of the Volga River, and in the winteritme some visitors enjoy taking a Banya and then jumping outside into the snow (in the winterime, there isnearly always snow). The Volga River is even frozen over from about October into April.
If you venture into downtown Cheboksary, you can find a mixture of cuisines available all the way from your traditional Russian cuisine (make sure you have some Pelmeni and/or Vereniki and tradtional Russian Borsch), to McDonald's. You might even run into a counter girl at McDonald's that speaks English, as most younger people have been learning English in high-school. BUT, it will be very pleasant for them if you can speak some Russian too. Russian people very much appreciate it when American people (or any other foreigners, for that matter) are considerate enough to learn some Russian language, culture, and heritage before or while they are visiting Russia.
Some Interesting Facts About Kazan
Here Are Some Interesting Things to Know About Kazan, Russia
- Kazan has a population of about 1.1 million people
- It is uncertain exactly how old Kazan is, but estimates range from the 11th century to the 15th century A.D.
- Kazan is the 8th most populous city in Russia and considered the third capital of Russia.
- Kazan has it's own Kremlin.
- Officilally Kazan had it's 1000th birthday in 2005
- In the 1550's Ivan the Terrible Massacred almost all of the inhabitants of Kazan.
Moscow Fair in Red Square
All Aboard for Kazan, Russia
All Aboard for Kazan, Russia Along the Moscow to Yoshkar-Ola Railway
I have visited part of Kazan in the wintertime and part of it in the springtime, so perhaps someday I will return and visit the part that I visited in the springtime again in the wintertime.
Kazan is on of the most beautiful and oldest cities in Russia with a very tumotuous history. There is a multitude of beautiful architecture in the city, and there are several restoration projects currently in progress in the city. One of the most beautiful places in the city is the Kazan Kremlin, where nearby you can see the beautiful Muslim Mosque depicted on the lower right of this series of pictures. When entering this Mosque, it is required that you don blue shoe booties, and for women it is required that they cover their head when they enter the Mosque. You can not take any pictures inside; however, in the center of the Mosque, enshrined in large glass display case, is a Swarovsky crystal replica of the Mosque. This replica is equally as beautiful as the Mosque itself. There is a small shop inside where you can purcahse some soveneirs which help support the upkeep of the Mosque.
The Kazan Kremlin itself, sits along the banks of the magnificent Volga River and there are many great photo opportunities here, as well in Kazan city itself. As Russian cities go, "Kazan ranks 8th in population and is considred the Third Capital City of Russia" after Moscow and St. Petersburg. (source WikiPedia). The population as of the 2010 census was about 1.1 million residents. Kazan has a very rich heritage, and was home to one of the most notoriousRussians and one of the most evil people to ever walk the earth, Ivan the Terrible aka Ivan IV Vasilyevich. Ivan was not always so terrible, and he was actually popular with the commoners of Russia. He was the "first person ever to be crowned Tsar of all of Russia" (sourde: WikiPedia). I suggest further study on Ivan the Terrible if you are interested because he was an interesting and complex figure in Russian history.
In the series of images presented in the panel on the right, you will notice a tree with several red ribbons hanging on it. It is traditonal for newly engaged couples to hang ar red ribbon on this tree to signify their love for each other. Just below that you will see a photo of Statue of Musa Cälil at the entrance to the Kazan Kremlin. Musa Cälil was a poet and Tartar resitance fighter who was honored with many military awards for heroic actions in battle post-humously. He was guillitined by the Nazis in 1945.
Raifa Monestary shown in the top on the side panel and one of the pictures further down was founded in 1613 and it is a very lovely place to visit either in the spring OR in the winter. There is a mineral spring on the grounds which many Russians believe has healting powers, and you can see many Russian vamilies there filling containers of water from the spring to take home with them. I belive that I was told that the water has a high content of silver, but don't remember for certain. You can see an iron fence around one of the buildings in one of the pictures, and the belief is that if you walk around the perimenter of that fence without talking, anything you wish for on your walk will come true. (I tried it, it didn't work).
At the bottom of the series of pictures, is Söyembikä Tower, which legend has it Queen Söyembikä jumped to her death from. This legend isn't true; however, many English interpreters who guide tours to Kazan will tell you of the Legend.
"Ivan the Terrible wanted to marry her, so she agreed that if he built her a tower made with seven tiers (one for each day of the week) then she would marry him. Ivan the Terrible supposedly finished the tower within the week so Söyembikä went up to the top of the tower and after looking out at her beautiful home of Kazan she became so overwhelmed with emotion for her people that she couldn't bear to marry the tsar and jumped off" Source: WikiPedia
Moscow, Kazan, and Yoshkar-Ola are all along the Moscow to Yoshkar-Ola Railway. You can get to any of the cities by bus from the other also, but it isn't a very comfortable way to travel. You can arrange guided tours with an interpreter to any of these cities through Virginia Travel Agency which I have mentioned above. They have offices both in Moscow, Yoshkar-Ola, and in the UK and I have used their services several times and found them to be friendly and reliable. I can only speak from personal experience, and I do not receive any fiancial benefit from recommending their services. Other people may have had different experiences, so it is highly recommended that you do your due dilligence ahead of time for any services you chose to use during your visit to Russia.
If you want to totally immerse yourself in rich Russian culture, you will not find it in Moscow, Cheboksary, Kazan, or Yoshkar-Ola. True immersion comes from spending time living in Russia as a real Russian lives in Russia. You don't want to stay in a fancy hotel, or even rent an apartment in this case. You should find a host family and spend time living in a Russian village, because village life is much different than city life. My wife comes from the Village of Zvenigovo on the outskirts of Yoshkar-Ola. In the village, they grow their own fruits and vegetables, raise their own animals for meat, their own chickens for eggs, etc. They don't have washers and dryers, they wash their clothes in the Kakshaga River and hang them up to dry on the clothesline. Banyas are not run by business, they are built by the villagers themselves and may be shared by more than one family. These are the real Russians and the real Russia. This is the Russia the true adventurer must visit.
Das Vidanya i Счастливого пути (Goodbye and Have a nice trip.) Spasibo!!! (Thank You)
Reference Sources Used in Writing This Article
- Ivan the Terrible - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Kazan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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