Tourists / Visitors Travelling In Russia
Here are some tips from a first time visitor to Russia.
In winter, bring some good shoes with good traction. Sweeping of ice and snow from walks is spotty in Moscow and Kazan and it is easy to slip. The Russians seem just to truck through it all. Also, steps in buildings can be uneven and there are unexpected changes in level in the floors in some buildings. Watch your step.
Russian outlets take round 2-pin Euro plugs. A flat Euro plug adapter did not fit into the socket. Current is 220V.
Buildings and cars tend to be overheated. Not always obvious how to adust the heat in the hotel room.
Almost all signs are only in Russian. Familiarize yourself with the alphabet before arriving so you will feel a little less lost.
Crosswalks are only respected sometimes. Be careful crossing streets.
Many people in the tourist trades speak some English but most people don't.
When you leave your hotel, take your passport with you and take a business card from the hotel so that if you get lost you can show it to a taxi driver to get home. Police can ask to see your passport at any time.
Russian food is plentiful, home cooked, and delicious. Soups are very good. The bread is delicious. Food in the supermarkets is plentiful and reasonably priced. There is a wide variety of teas, chocolates, dairy products, produce, candies, and vodka in a supermarket in a small provincial town in Tatarstan. Gas costs about the same as in the USA currently, about $1 a liter.
Carry plenty of cash. Card readers may not work when you need them, nor may ATMs. Many businesses accept only cash. Taxis do not take credit cards, or at least the ones I took didn't. At Kazan airport it was impossible to pay for excess luggage with a credit card. Luckily the ATM worked. Make sure you have some coins in case you need to use a public toilet. There is usually someone there who collects a small fee and keeps it clean. In Moscow there are even portapotties with an attendant! Toilet paper may or may not be available. Carry some with you. Paper towels are often absent, so carrying a small washcloth to dry your hands may be useful. Provincial toilets may be the squat kind and may be smelly. The toilet in one gas station in Tatarstan is just a portapotty cabin with a hole in the floor. Don't drop anything down the hole.
If you bring an unlocked GSM phone with you may bes able to get a SIM card (with the help of a Russian associate) that allows reasonably priced calls to the USA. This card was reloadable at various ATMs and terminals, using cash or a credit card. There are many phone plans and they tend to be complicated. Phone plans tend to be regional, so get one for the region you will be staying in. Roaming can be very expensive. A Russian helper in the phone store may be essential.
Allow lots of time at the airport, even for domestic flights. Security and checkin are inefficient and the lines move slowly. Baggage is screened at the door to the airport so if you have suspicious items in bags you intend to check you may have to show them and explain them. Often you have to take a bus from the terminal to the plane. If you are not at the gate when the last bus leaves, you are out of luck. Announcements are often incomprehensible and signs misleading. Russians tend to be pushy in crowds and you may have to defend your place in line. In Kazan, for example, there was only one security lane at each of the two screening points. You are screened entering the airport and then entering the departure area. There may not be many services inside security, depending on the airport. In Kazan the checkin staff was pretty clueless and very slow (They apparently work for a terminal operator, not the airline, judging from the uniforms). Be sure your frequent flier numbers are in your reservation; the desk clerk you get may not have a clue on how to enter one, especially for a codeshare flight.