Daily budget Basic €55/occasional treat €75. Drink Beer (pivo) €2.50. Food Pancake (blini) €1.50. Hostel/Budget hotel €15–25/€45. Travel Train: Moscow–St Petersburg from €25.
Crime and personal safety
Beware of petty crime, particularly pickpockets in the metro and in bus and train stations during rush hour. Don’t leave valuables in your hotel room. If you have a dark complexion exercise extra caution, especially at night, as racist attacks are not unknown. Your embassy will be able to advise you on what to do if you get robbed. The police (полиция) wear blue-grey uniforms; always make sure you have photocopies of your passport and visa on you, as they do stop people at random and often look for an excuse to fine you. When traversing busy roads, look for an underground crossing – (perekhod) переход – as many drivers do not honour zebra crossings.
High-street pharmacies (aptéka) offer many familiar medicines over the counter. Foreigners tend to rely on expensive private clinics for treatment, so travel insurance is essential. St Petersburg water contains the giardia parasite, which can cause severe diarrhoea – metranidazol is the cure. Moscow’s tap water is laden with heavy metals, so it’s best to buy bottled water.
Tourist offices are few and far between. At the time of writing, there was no existing official tourist office in Moscow. St Petersburg’s Tourist Information Office (Sadovaya ul. 14, Nevski Prospekt) will be able to point you in the right direction; for the latest restaurant and bar listings pick up the excellent In Your Pocket guide (w www.inyourpocket.com/russia). Hostel and hotel receptions carry leaflets and maps, and you can get up-to-date bar, restaurant and entertainment listings and reviews from English-language papers. The Moscow Times and the more ponderously pro-Kremlin Moscow News are well established; Element is directed at young city-dwellers (w www.elementmoscow.ru). Find maps in English at bookstores like Dom Knigi stores (larger stores in Moscow at Tverskaya ul. 8/7, Tverskaya and ul. Novy Arbat 8, Arbatskaya).
For international calls get a pre-paid international phonecard such as the Zebra Telecom card or Evroset card, usable from any phone. Ask at a bank or telecoms kiosk for a telefonnaya karta. w www.waytorussia.net lets you buy a card pin online, which you can use to make instant international calls. Non-Russian mobiles work on roaming via local providers, but you’ll pay an arm and a leg. Get a local SIM card for R200–400 (bring your passport with you to buy one), or stick to SMS.
Internet cafés are abundant and cheap; most hostels offer internet access on a limited number of screens for free or for R1 per minute, and virtually all cafés and restaurants have wi-fi.
Certain useful websites include:
wwww.sptimesrussia.com English-language online newspaper, with useful tourist information and current listings.
wwww.moscowcity.com Official Moscow city guide.
wwww.waytorussia.net Outstanding, detailed practical advice.
Most post offices are open Monday to Saturday 8am to 7pm, and blue postboxes are affixed to walls across both cities. However, local mail is slow and not particularly reliable, so for urgent letters use express companies such as WestPost, which let you obtain a Finnish PO address, then receive your post in Russia as poste restante, or DHL.
Money and Banks
Russia’s currency is the ruble, divided into 100 kopeks. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50 kopeks and 1, 2 and 5 rubles, and notes of 5, 10, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 rubles. Everything is paid for in rubles, although some hostels make a habit of citing prices in either euros or dollars. At the time of writing £1=R45, €1=R40 and US$1=R28. Only change money in an official bank or currency exchange. Most exchange offices are open Monday to Saturday 10am to 8pm or later, and ATMs are plentiful. In general, prices in both cities range from “new Russian” prices down to what the average Russian salary will cover, making many shops, bars and cafés affordable for the budget-conscious traveller.
There are special discounts for students and the youth. “Foreigner prices” at museums and galleries are often steeper than for Russian citizens, though most museums offer tickets for foreign students which cost half or two-thirds of the full price. An ISIC card is your best bet, though other student cards often work too. Ask for adeen studyencheskiy bilyet (one student ticket) in your most authentic accent.
Opening hours and holidays
Most shops are open Monday to Saturday 8am to 7pm or later; Sunday hours are slightly shorter. Museums tend to open 9am–5pm, with last ticket sales an hour before closing time, and they are invariably closed one day a week, with one day a month put aside as a “cleaning day”. Churches are accessible from 8am until the end of evening service. Clubs open late – many until 6am – or don’t close at all, morphing into early-morning cafés. Russian public holidays fall on January 1, 6, 7 and 19, February 23 (Defender of the Motherland Day), March 8 (Women’s Day), May 1 and 2 (Labour Day), May 9 (Victory Day), June 12 (Russia Day), and November 4 (Day of Popular Unity).
For visa information see “Russian red tape“.