Russia: the land of vodka, cold, and anti-American views. But is it really? As an American in Russia, I set out to find what really lies within a country shrouded in stereotype, secrecy, and judgement.
When I explain that I’ve been to Russia, the response is usually confusion or surprise that an American would venture there. Breaking stereotypes is one of the many reasons I love travel. You hear so much about a place and develop this concept of what it’s like and what the people are like. Travel either shatters that view or reinforces it. My experience in Russia shattered many western stereotypes. I now have a better perspective and appreciation for a place sold to us as “the other”.
Is Russia Safe?
I recently just returned from a visit to Russia and let me just tell you; almost everything you heard about visiting Russia is not true, or at the very least exaggerated. No, the police don’t demand to see your papers in exchange for a bribe. No, it’s not more dangerous than Europe; in fact, many studies have shown it’s safer! and Russians are definitely not rude, mean, or aggressive.
It is; however, a location that is best suited to experienced travellers or those who have all their travel plans arranged for them. The visa process was extremely easy. Probably accentuated by the fact that I applied with my Swiss passport and in all honesty, Swiss aren’t very threatening? The biggest crime we’ll commit is smuggling in Swiss chocolate by the truckload.
What’s truly amazing about Russia is how easily it defies every stereotype you’ve ever heard about it and how easy it is to fall in love with cities in a country that we are repeatedly told is evil, backwards, etc. Now Russian politics are a different topic that I won’t get into here, but on a purely touristic level, Russia should move to the top of anyone’s list. If I refused to visit a country simply because of their political actions, I most certainly wouldn’t even be able to return to America. so politics aside, I’ll focus on Russia as a host.
What does Russia offer Tourists?
The biggest asset Russia has is the variety of tourism options available to its visitors. The architecture and pure opulence seen in museums and buildings throughout Moscow and Saint Petersburg are indicative of Russia’s rich past. If you come for the museums, make sure to check out the Kremlin Armory in Moscow and the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg. The literary history here is a big draw although somewhat lesser known than the European authors, which we are accustomed. With enough research and planning, you can do entire daylong tours of places related to Tolstoy or Dostoevsky.
Another huge reason to visit Russia? The people! Regardless of what anyone will tell you were some of the most helpful, kind, and entertaining people I have met. I had a conversation with a lovely elderly couple on the street in Saint Petersburg about politics and talked about how to stay warm in crazy low temperatures with the guards at the Kremlin. Interestingly, I was able to see what Russians associate with California. Mainly: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Silicon Valley, California Dreaming, and why I wasn’t blond. Another shocker, they didn’t believe it snows in California, but nobody ever does.
It’s a place of both striking historical contrasts and an increasing move toward modernity and definitely worth a visit!
And before you ask, Saint Petersburg was better than Moscow in my opinion. Contrary to what people told me, I did not hate Moscow, I just found Saint Petersburg much more magical.