10 Surprising Things I Learnt About Russia

10 Surprising Things I Learned About Russia from my trip to Moscow and Saint Petersburg

*wow, a Borat and The Hobbit reference in one heading - I'm on fire.

At first glance, the gorgeous man draped languidly across the foot of my bed appeared to have nothing in common with me. His hair was as fair as mine was dark, his eyes as blue as mine were black, and his accent as soothingly Antipodean as mine was disconcertingly Transatlantic-meets-Rah. Yet he nodded in solidarity as he agreed, “I’m glad you feel the same way as I do about Russia and Cuba, and I'm glad that unlike so many people we've actually been to both.” Quite. Like her Caribbean ex-comrade, Russia is a country that everyone has a strong, quite often negative opinion on yet many have never been to. Wake up and smell the stroganoff, people! Break the shackles of Western propaganda! You have nothing to lose but your chains of uninformed prejudice! This month's travel blogger linkup explores the unexpected, so as my contribution here are this #TravelBlogger's 10 Surprising Things About Russia I Learnt from my summer in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Поехали!

10 Surprising Things I Learned About Russia from my trip to Moscow and Saint Petersburg

Russia is a country of contrasts, or so I gleaned from the two cities that are its former and current capital. Despite her imperial trappings - legends surrounding the Tsars and their infamously obscene displays of wealth - modern-day Saint Petersburg is incredibly laid back, almost nonchalant. Oh, this old thing dripping in gold? That's all in the past. On the other hand, contemporary Moscow practically screams "Cash Rules Everything Around Me C.R.E.AM, Get the money, rouble rouble bill ya'll..." Jarring, to say the least, when juxtaposed against a backdrop of Soviet-era landmarks.

Saint Petersburg and Moscow are remarkably clean. While the streets may not be as spotless as Singapore (and let's face it, which country is?) both cities are positively gleaming - and this was in summer, the peak travel season.

10 Surprising Things I Learned About Russia from my trip to Moscow and Saint Petersburg

I'm no communist (even if I agree that the best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter) but if there's a 'All for one and one for all' gesture I can get behind it's the Moscow Metro. Chandeliers, marble columns and floors, mother of pearl inlays, murals, Yuri Gagarin themed-trains...and all this regal splendour is being spent on a 'palace' the public can enjoy, that is the everyman's daily transport.

When it comes to being 'for the people' Moscow certainly puts her money where her mouth is - just look at their public transport (above).

Contrary to what American cartoons would have you believe Russia is not full of bears on unicycles nor men dancing the Kalinka in Red Square. Although there are Lenin lookalikes hovering about the tourist attractions for photo opportunities…

    10 Surprising Things I Learned About Russia from my trip to Moscow and Saint Petersburg


    How delightfully amusing to think that just a stone's throw away from the Lenin's tomb (top), the well-heeled nouveau riche are:

     a) flocking to GUM (Russia's equivalent of Harrods) to snap up Gucci purses (below) or

    b) peacocking at the O2 Lounge (above) in flashy 'we have arrived!' displays that could very well be straight out of Dubai, Shanghai, or London if not for the view of Red Square from the rooftop bar.

    10 Surprising Things I Learned About Russia from my trip to Moscow and Saint Petersburg

    For an country whose erroneous exoticism is hardened red-faced men wrapped in wolf fur knocking back Stolichnaya to keep the cold at bay, Russia is HOT. When it comes to dressing for a travel destination, especially one where I will be visiting places of worship, I always err on the side of conservative caution and pack maxi dresses for summer plus a shawl should the need to cover my ample bosom arises. Airy, gossamer-light maxi dresses have always helped me travel in style and comfort yet the sheer chiffon and cotton numbers I bought for last summer's trip to Moscow and Saint P might as well been a Siberian fox fur coat. Those overexposed photos you see here? No edit - that's just the Russian sun.

    The food isn’t all gruel and potatoes. Well, it kinda-sorta-is if you’re a vegetarian as my then-boyfriend and his many, many plates of starch would attest. There is always herbivore-friendly The Idiot in Saint Petersburg and no, the name does not reflect the owners' perception of vegetarians - the restaurant is named after Dostoevsky's famous novel. But for the most part: when in Russia, have beef with the Russians. Literally: sink your teeth into stroganoff and tartare, and don't forget to wash it down with shots of smooth, ice-cold vodka.

    3 things about Russia & Russians that I gleaned from the locals:

    Russians aren’t all stern and standoffish. You'll forgive them for not showing you their teeth before getting to know you - smiles are for friends, not to be given away like condoms at a free clinic. A 'duty smile' is not one of politeness but rather insincerity. "The laugh without reason is the sign of stupidity."

    Russia isn't especially homophobic, just conservative: all overt public displays of affection are frowned upon, whether they are hetero or homosexual. 

    Putin isn't the megalomaniac he's made out to be, and no more corrupt/evil/insert unflattering adjective than any other world leader. Ask any Russian about why he's so popular - he gets the job done ("Who else?"), he's saved the economy, he's improved women’s rights and animal conservation, plus he's an all-round badass who doesn't give a sh*t about your sanctionsNope, he's definitely an evil megalomaniac. Sorry Russians.

    so in conclusion, I've deduced that...

    Russia has a bad rep with the West, because the West turns to the US and UK for their news. The US moans about Russia because here's a big former Commie country who's doing fine and isn't afraid of them. The UK plays along because they want to stay sweet with Uncle Sam. 'Cos freedom is the only f-ing way yeah! 

    Intrigued and want to form your own opinion on Russia? Start with a trip to Saint Petersburg and stay at The W HotelHave you ever let others' opinions discourage you from visiting a place? Or did it only make you more keen to see it for yourself? (You rebel, you!)What and where is your most unexpected journey, and why?



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