My impressions of Russia

3 May

 

 

I got back from Russia a week ago. I visited Saint Petersburg, then flew to Moscow. One of my days staying in Moscow, I took a day-trip to Sergiev Posad, a small town outside Moscow known for its monastery. And how was the trip? It was awesome.

As Russia is the world’s largest country, with a population of 143.5 million people, my week-long getaway provided only a tiny glimpse into the country. That being said, I noticed things about Russia that enthralled me as a traveler – and some things that surprised me.

Cultural Norms

Russia meme

A socially awkward penguin

 

The first thing that I noticed was that Russians, are generally not, in the American sense, polite. People in Russia don’t usually hold doors open for people behind them. They don’t smile unless they really mean it. Waiting in line is more of a battle to get to the front of the line than a wait in line. People don’t say “excuse me” as they push past you. Small-talk on trains is mostly unheard of.

I’d heard this a lot about Russia, and so I wasn’t surprised by this experience. But as I became acclimatized to the culture after my arrival, I became surprised. I’d expected to find this atmosphere to be cold and unwelcoming. But I found it oddly pleasant in a way.

In the USA, smiling and friendly chit-chat is more common. I expected to miss this about America while I was in Russia, but instead, it was a welcome change. Somehow, the social norms in Russia just felt a lot more human. You weren’t expected to radiating confidence and optimism all the time. The classic, all American “how are you” was something I was happy to have a break from.

Though I remain skeptical of the idea that American friendships are more fake and superficial, I do have a new appreciation for the cold, reserved nature of many people in Eastern Europe.

Sightseeing

St Basil's Cathedral

St Basil’s Cathedral

The Sights in Moscow and St Petersburg blew me away. I expected good sightseeing, but instead I got great sightseeing.

Saint Petersburg is now my favorite city in all of Eastern and Central Europe. The Hermitage, the Peter and Paul Fortress,The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood..all of these sights were incredible. The only one that seemed more generic than I’d hoped for was the Russian museum. To me, it just felt like any art museum, with few standouts among its artworks. Other than that, the sightseeing in St Petersburg was superb.

Moscow wasn’t as enthralling to me, but the sightseeing was still incredible. The famous Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the Tretyakov gallery were my two favorite sights there. But if there’s one place in the Moscow area I’m very glad to have visited, it’s Sergiyev Posad. It’s a small town about an hour and a half by train from Moscow. The monastery there was one of my favorite religious sights I have ever visited. It’s atmospheric, and deservedly well visited, but not overrun with tourism.

Food

As I had expected, the food was not a highlight of my trip to Russia. The Russian food wasn’t, at least. But they do a great job in restaurants serving food from other former USSR states. I ate Georgian Food, Uzbek food, and Azerbaijani food, and these cuisines were some of the tastiest I’ve tried. The restaurants had great lamb dishes, dumplings, and rice pilaf. We need more of that sort of food in the US!

Infrastructure

Train station

 

Of all the areas in which Russia surprised me, this was the biggest surprise. I expected potholed roads, and run-down, dirty soviet era railroads which hadn’t been upgraded in decades. Instead, the infrastructure seemed just like that of any western European country, and far better than the infrastructure of the Northeast US. The roads and sidewalks were sparkling clean, the trains were efficient and updated, the metro was very extensive and ran on time frequently, and the airports were just as modern as the airports in any other industrialized nation.

__________

Overall, I am very glad I chose to visit Russia. It was a great travel experience in terms of sightseeing, but it was also an eye-opening experience to visit a country that has gotten so much bad press in American media in recent years. I will be back in Russia at some point. I hope to one day see more of the country, possibly venturing out to Siberia and seeing Lake Baikal.

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