A journey through the hidden beauties of the Russian and Mongolian countryside, witness the harsh lives of smugglers and vagrants, taste simple cuisine, listen to stories around you from the rich and poor alike, yet create your own tale as you travel through a compelling experience.
Me and my girlfriend (we are a lesbian couple) traveled from Moscow to Ekaterinburg, and on to Volgograd. The trip was amazing. We were a bit worried about traveling without male company, but I must say Russia is one of the friendliest and untouristy places I've ever been.
It is a big advantage to know some Russian. Outside of Moscow we met nobody who spoke English. I found Moscow very stressful and expensive. It was the least pleasant city we visited. Our next stop was Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. I highly recommend Kazan. It's an old, beautiful and exotic city with a mix of Tatars and Russes living there. The atmosphere was far more relaxed than in Moscow.
Kazan offers great mosques, and is the Muslim centre of Russia. It's a great place to relax and stroll about. This city has some stunning sights, including the UNESCO listed Kreml.
Our next stop was Ekaterinburg. We were told that it was situated in the Ural mountains, but we never saw a glimpse of them. Nevertheless; Ekaterinburg is a very pleasant and chilled city. It has a very western feeling to it. It's easy to find western food, as there's plenty of Irish pubs there. I recommend going to the Altay building. There you can take a lift and see the city from the rooftop. It's quite stunning. There's plenty of theatres all around the city, and even though you don't understand Russian, don't miss the opportunity to catch local theatre-troops.
A great place (although hard to find) to stay is the guesthouse called Academy of Geology. It's peaceful and has beautiful rooms.
From Ekaterinburg we went south to Ufa. Ufa is the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan. Ufa was quite hard to get around, but it is still worth a visit. You can visit one of Lenin's homes and spot some unique architecture. The atmosphere in Ufa is, like in Kazan, very different from the Russian cities. I highly recommend the Azimut hotel (Bus stop Gore Moskva). It's a business hotel with great standards and a friendly staff.
On to Volgograd. Volgograd is probably one of the most beautiful cities I've been to. Situated on the banks of the Volga river with an almost tropical climate, it almost feels like you're in Greece. This is a city of history. The name Stalingrad might ring a bell. The most stunning thing to see in Volgograd is the huge Mother Russia statue. It's the highest statue in the world (72 m). It's an unbelievable sight when you compare it to a church that stands beside it. It looks more like a doll's church.
I also recommend the Stalingrad Battle museum, and the Volga river cruises. There are plenty of offers. Volgograd was really easy to get around in. The city centre is quite small, and it's easy to navigate because of the river. The Volgograd Hotel is cheap and amazing.
We had a wonderful time in Russia. My girlfriend knows some Russian and that came in extremely handy. We got quite used to people looking at us, but we never felt threatened or harassed. The most common comment we got from other women was that we were brave to travel by ourselves.
One thing that is difficult however, is buying train tickets. You will need to write down the information for the train you are going on, how many tickets you need, and what kind of cupee you want. And prepare for long lines. It might take hours to get your tickets. We always went in a 4-people compartment. It was a great way to travel. We shared compartments with so many different people, and it was a great way to get to know Russians. It's important to bring some food or beverage to share.
Girls; go to Russia. It is a fascinating place....
This is a very fancy bar located on the 22nd floor of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The view over Moscow is fascinating and so are the prices. But if you're in Moscow, you have to experience its high life at least once, no matter what the cost.
Russian Academy of Sciences, Leninsky Prospekt, 32a; nearest metro: Leninsky Prospekt, walk towards the tall buildings with the orange roofs; Tel: 495 938 5104, 782 5045; www.skylounge.ru
The only place where you can get a true impression of the scope of Moscow. If you've read Tolstoy's War and Peace (well done), this is where the scenes are set as the Russian army retreats from Napoleon's doomed advance.
Now it's a setting for the Moscow State University and has splendid views on a fine day. You really can see it all from here - especially the married couples having their photo taken with the panorama behind.
Sparrow Hills is known as Vorabyovi Gori in Russian. Nearest metros: Universitet or Vorabyovi Gori
Take The Scorpions' advice and follow the Moskva down to Gorky Park. Basically a big theme park, it's a bit rubbish, but there's a ferris wheel with a great view of the city. That's if you can keep your eyes open and ignore the dodgy looking Soviet engineering and the even dodgier looking guy who's operating it.
Get off the metro at Park Kultury station (Russians know it as Culture Park) and head for the impressive entry gates. After you’ve been on the wheel, go to Krimsky bridge and head for Sculpture Park, off Krimsky Val. This is where the Russian government decided to house the majority of Soviet era statues after 1991, and there are some wonderfully evocative works on show. They're all here - Lenin, Stalin, Dzerzhinsky, Brezhnev. A great place to wander, imagine or just get a few obligatory 'communism shots'. There's a small entry fee, and look out for the hideous/amazing statue of Peter the Great by the river.
Park Kultury Metro (on the brown ring / red line)
Send your feedback or queries to email@example.com