Russia is a source of curiosity for most people. With news reports of spies and a revival of Soviet-era attitudes, is it any wonder that for many travellers they are curious what the Russian Federation is actually like?
I was lucky enough to visit on business in February 2012, I had many preconceptions of what I thought the people would be like. I did learn some funny facts whilst travelling there, the one thing that always sticks in my mind is that when you smile at somebody on the street that you don’t know, they think you have some sort of mental disability. This was fun ammunition to play with…
So, if you’re an avid reader of my blog you’ll know that as a gay traveller I often like to visit the local scene where I’m visiting. Thankfully for me, I visited Russia just before they introduced a new anti-gay propaganda law took hold, I’m happy to say that although the scene I found was underground, it did exist.
One of the biggest clubs in Moscow called Central Station was completely full when I arrived. It was -10 degrees outside and I was completely frozen when I arrived, thankfully inside the club it was hot… and that was just the clientele!
It was a relief that I was travelling with a colleague who was originally born in Ukraine but could speak fluent Russian came with me to the club. He advised me not to speak English upon entering as at the time due to all the attempted attacks by anti-gay groups the owners had become suspicious of anyone and everyone.
So I did as I was told and kept my mouth shut. Once inside the club, I saw many people wearing t-shirts with Union Jack flags which encouraged me to try speaking with a few people. They absolutely loved the fact someone other than a Russian was visiting the gay scene. I sadly didn’t discover if this was just because very few foreigners explore the scene or whether it was because those that do don’t speak to many locals.
One thing I have to give the Russians credit for is that they know how to take their vodka! In the UK we normally drink vodka with a mixer. In Russia I was served it in a large shot glass, my mixer remained in the bottle until I’d downed the vodka! After just two shots I was quite literally hammered, I had a very embarrassing incident in the taxi on the way back to my hotel.
I had to get the taxi driver to stop in the middle of a highway so I could vomit, I’ve never been so ill from alcohol. It was quite shameful, I haven’t done that again since!
Unfortunately due to a string of attacks, shootings and assaults the club that I visited has now closed. This really is a shame, but sadly isn’t surprising.
Many people complain about the cold, but I really enjoyed visiting Russia in winter. It makes it more ‘beautiful’, I say that loosely as Moscow is incredibly over-crowded and suffers hugely from pollution but is definitely worth visiting.
I was advised by several friends to make sure I used the Moscow Metro due to the fascinating facades, chandeliers and Soviet-era decorations. They were not wrong, it was incredible.
Like in any big city, Moscow commuters tend to keep themselves to themselves and won’t even look at you, if they hear an English accent they will stare at you. This could either be intrigue or they’re wondering why you are using the Metro to travel in their city.
The distances between some stations are huge, you could spend all day just travelling on the Metro. It might not be modern but it certainly was fun.
Commuting on the Tube just hasn’t felt the same since.
I try not to believe what I read in the press, although some things about Russia were true I did find some fantastic people who were open, honest and willing to discuss the current situation facing normal Russians. You also get to try the amazing food, my favourite was the Russian staple, borsch.
Although at the time when I visited Russia it wasn’t exactly a cheap destination, hotels in Moscow are some of the most expensive in the world. Thankfully at the moment due to the crash of Russian rouble this will make a visit to the country much less expensive.
Sadly though this doesn’t detract from the fact you will have to go through significant hoops to gain a visa, tourist or business!
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