” I haven’t been everywhere but its on my list.” – Susan Sontag
(Watch our Russia Vlog that illustrates all the below text here:https://youtu.be/kkrWaY_rrXA )
I am well aware that my blog has been quite dormant over the last couple of months, during which I even took a months leave from posting up on Instagram. I suppose you could say that this was a time for me to find some inspiration again and I did just that, in Russia.
Three weeks ago my husband and I left giddy and excited for the trip of a lifetime. We had planned months in advance to tour and attend football matches in Moscow, Sochi and Saint Petersburg all during the FIFA 2018 World Cup hosted in Mother Russia.
Do you know that feeling you get as a child when you enter an amusement park? Your heart starts racing, you hear cries of excitement, and maybe you even get goosebumps as you stand at the gates glaring in awe at the majesty of the colours, the food and the people. This was the feeling I had, on day one I knew it – I knew that Russia would be my real–life Disneyland.
Walking around Moscow and even Saint Petersburg, you can easily be bamboozled by the buildings around you, not knowing if what you’re looking at is a museum, theatre, hotel, mall, church or mosque. The architecture of each superstructure is designed to amuse your mind as you walk along the pavement with spectacular colours, in all shapes and sizes.
It would be impossible to sum up my thoughts and time in Russia in a mere blog post but I can leave you with lists of things to do, places to see and restaurants to try that will make sure you have a great time if you are planning a trip.
Thanks to my wonderful Russian friend, Ksenia, our brother in law and sister in law Yaeesh and Mahdiyyah and my husbands mad Google skills here is a watered down list of need-to-knows for each city we visited.
When you land make sure you get connected first and foremost.
Cellphone network provider: Megaphone – You can buy a 30gig data package with unlimited Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp usage included for 500 Rubles (R110) for TWO WEEKS.
Uber is very reasonable and even cheap in comparison to South Africa. DO NOT use a taxi to get to your hotel or ever, always use Uber.
Download the Google Translate app- If you’re like me and only understand the English alphabet, you’re going to need this app to read any Cyrillic street signs, restaurant menus or even just to communicate to someone on the street to ask for directions. English OFF, Russian ON.
Metro – The metro is even cheaper than Uber but you WILL need Google translate to understand the station signs and maps. Use Google maps to navigate your way through and you will be fine.
Water: Buy 500ml water bottles from the local supermarkets, these are much cheaper than at any restaurant or hotel. We paid about 22 Rubles (R5) for a bottle.
Being a Muslim traveller means finding halaal food, which can be challenging but I am delighted to say that finding halaal food in all the cities we visited was relatively easy.
- Eat:15 Arbat Street – Black Star Burger(Halaal) – it is also a lovely street to walk on during the day/night with many restaurants and a few shops.
- Foil wrapped vanilla chocolate dipped ice cream in GUM shopping mall – traditional Russian ice cream from the soviet times that you can still have today.
- Vai Me: Georgian restaurant (Vegetarian friendly) Try the savory vegetarian dumplings.
- Visit: The Kremlin– Do a paid guided tour – book online and skip the queues.
- The Red Square,this is where you can find the famous Saint Basils Cathedral (the very same one you see in every Russian travel image) / where you can view Lenin’s embalmed body and where you can find the popular shopping complex GUM.
- Luzhniki Soccer Stadium– we were privileged to watch two soccer games in Moscow one was at this stadium, even though the world cup is over you might want to see this to see a part of the city where history took place.
- Go on a subway tour– I kid you not the subways are like museums, we booked a subway tour online with many tour operators to choose from.
- Get your lunch to go and have it in Zaryadye Park,surround yourself with classical music and have a look at a part of the Eastern European jungle (planted here). Also visit the floating bridge, which is one of the best viewpoints in all of Moscow.
- Red October Chocolate Factory– expect graffiti clad walls, artsy restaurants and visit a local chocolate shop to buy chocolates for family and friends.
- Walking tour of the city – THIS IS A MUST.
- For affordable souvenirs visit Izmailovsky Market.
- Shop: GUM– Large department store housing over 100 shops – mainly luxury fashion. You can also find souvenir stores and restaurants here.
- TSUM – The largest luxury department store in Eastern Europe, over 100 different fashion, jewelry and cosmetic brands.
- Stay: H11 Loft – affordable, located close to the city centre and so cute!
- Eat:Halal House– you can find anything from traditional Russian dumplings to middle eastern inspired dishes to burgers and fries here.
- Kebab house– there are many of these Turkish inspired restaurants all around the city, be sure to check if they have a halaal certificate before you eat there of course.
- Norma Sochi – have the honey cake or any of the baking at this cozy café, the staff were incredibly helpful and welcoming.
- Visit:The Olympic Park– we hired motorized gearless bikes that you do not require a driver’s license. We got to see the entire park that was built for the 2014 Olympics, which included the soccer stadium, a theme park, food and fashion stalls and the official grand prix race track. This may have been the best experience of the entire trip!
- Seaport – walk alongside the black sea and enjoy its natural beauty.
- Spend a day at the beach– make sure to take swimming shoes or general walking shoes to be able to walk on the pebble filled beaches. There is no sand. You can also find many food, souvenir and clothing stalls along the beach.
- Shop: Chestnut honey also known as mountain honey – I am not a huge honey fan but my husband is and he says that this is one of the best things he has tried. We found the honey in one of the food stalls along the beach; you can find this at the local food market as well.
- Eat: UKROP – 100% vegetarian and vegan friendly too. The restaurant itself is so cute with swing chairs at the tables and retro furniture.
- Try pumpkin soup and rye bread –almost every restaurant in Russia has great soups to try!
- Classic Russian doughnuts and coffee– also known as pishkis, these doughnuts or rather their recipe date back to 1958. We paid about 180 Rubles (R40) for 4 light and delicious doughnuts and a cup of coffee. The coffee is pleasantly and surprisingly sweet and can be found at the doughnut shop: Pyshechnaya
- Biblioteka –Try out this restaurant on Nevsky prospect. The baking and the food is great! We went more than once and my favourite thing from there is the blueberry cake.
- Visit: The Hermitage Museum (the second largest art museum in the world consisting of artwork by Michael Angelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Van Gogh)/Winter Palace (which forms part of the Hermitage and was a residence for Catherine the Great)/Palace Square (the square just outside of the winter palace and Hermitage)
- Go on a boat tour on Neva River you can find tours for this online
- Go for the Ballet– we visited the old Mariinsky Theatre where we watched a classic ballet, called The Fountain of Bakhchisarai, with vintage binoculars and got treated to delicious desserts in between the show.
- Go for the Opera– we went to the new Mariinsky Theatre,which was ultra modern and was a world apart from the old theatre across the canal. We watched a famous Opera called La Traviata.
- Go for a walking tour of the city
- Shop: Nevsky Prospect– This is the main shopping street in Saint Petersburg, where you can find fashion stores, restaurants and Saint Petersburg’s largest bookstore called Singer House.
- The Galleria– a conventional shopping mall you may be used to and more time friendly than the high street. All my favourite European/International stores were in this mall like Bershka, Stradivarius, Pull & Bear, Sephora, H&M, Uniqlo and Victorias Secret.
All I can say now is, if you aren’t planning a trip to Russia yet? Why not?