Russia

How I Got into Russia

Russia has been in the news lately for Ukraine and the Sochi Olympics. This mysterious country has always been on my travel bucket list. I’ve heard the western stories about oppressive lives that people in Russia lead and I’ve heard about stories of Russian magnanimity during India’s wars with Pakistan.

I’ve read George Orwell’s 1984 and while it made for a dramatic read I wasn’t completely sold.  I was more inclined to believe in the stories I heard from my family.  I was very keen on seeing the country myself and when I got a chance, I grabbed it both hands.

Heading towards Moscow

The Visa

I was told that getting a Tourist visa for Russia involved a lot of red tape and hardship. I checked out the Russian embassy’s website and figured out all the things I needed. Surprisingly it wasn’t too long, albeit I had to incur some unnecessary expenses. As an Indian passport holder I was required to submit a copy of return flight tickets, hostel reservations and an official ‘Invite’ from an approved tourism company in Russia.

As per the laws, I had to call for ‘Invite Card’ from Russia and submit the original copy along with my application.  This cost me an extra Rs.5000, which really pinched my wallet.

The rest was as easy as a breeze.  Three days later I had my Russian Tourist visa in my hands!

The flight & food

Aeroflot In-flight food

I had chosen to board from the New Delhi airport partly so that I could spend a few hours in Delhi to catch up with some friends and partly because I wanted to see the world class T3 Delhi terminal. It was totally worth it.

I was on an Aeroflot flight and I must say that as the national carrier of Russia, I was disappointed to know that they didn’t serve alcohol on board. I was expecting a river of vodka flowing in the aisle and all I would have to do is dip my glass and get some delicious Vodka.  Oh I hate when bubbles burst.

I was given my subscribed Veg. Meal and I did in fact enjoy it. Well, what a let down, I can’t complain about the airline food. All in all, it was a comfortable 6 hours on my way to Moscow.

Landing at Sheremetyevo International Airport

On landing at Sheremetyevo airport, I was a bit lost. Here I am in Russia, at an international airport, BUT there’s hardly anyone around. I was a bit scared as I was so used to having mobs of people around me. I was in a bit of a shock.

The gorgeous smiles of the Russian air hostesses passing by were helpful in easing my nerves! The Russian journey had begun well 😉

Minsk

Travel Tips for Minsk, Belarus by Palina Kavalchuk

Hi! I’m Palina Kavalchuk from Minsk, Belarus. There are lots of small villages and towns to visit around Minsk yet, the city centre is still the most worthwhile place to see in Belarus. I absolutely love the country I live in and I consider Minsk to be at the heart of it.

Minsk is the capital city of Belarus. Between 1919-1991 it was the capital of the Former Byelorussian SSR. Much of the city was destroyed during the 2nd World War, later to be rebuilt to the liking of Stalin in the 1950s.

It’s a great city to witness remnants of the Soviet lifestyle. English is rarely spoken in Minsk, so it is advisable to learn some key phrases in Russian.

1. Tip #1:

Don’t come here at winter time.

2. Gorky Park

Take a walk around Gorky Park. Take a ride on Ferris wheel, buy pop-corn, cotton candy or ice cream and plunge into the world of childhood. Go for a row on a boat or pedal boat along Svisloch. It’s better to start your water activities at the Nemiga area.

3. Cycling the city

If you are adventurous, take a bicycle ride across the whole city, riding to the city centre and finishing your journey at Minsk-Arena. Here Ice Hockey World Championship will take place in May 2014. From there you can go to the Minsk Sea. Lots of water sport activities are available during the summer time.

Victory Square Minsk

4. Liberty Square and Minsk Town Hall

Go to the Liberty Square and Minsk town hall. There you’ll see the main Orthodox and Catholic Cathedrals and Synagogue standing face to face. I guess if any other religious groups lived in Minsk you would see here a temple for each of them.

5. Night Life

Minsk is quite famous for its active night life. Although it seem like everyone in the city is dead after midnight you just need to drop into the nearest bar to change the perception. Well, Minsk is also popular among sex-tourists. You’ll definitely meet lots of beautiful party girls in numerous night clubs.

How to approach this city:

Be ready to see the remnants of the Soviet past at every turn.

food caviar

TC Original: My Tryst with Caviar

Caviar in Russia
Caviar in Russia

Eating caviar will never be as fun as the first time I tried this supposed delicacy.  Now I am a foodie inspired by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Bear Grylls but when it came to actually trying new food, I was a bit hesitant.  It was of course the first time I stepped out of India and I had a hard time adjusting to the bland, almost tasteless food that Russia had to offer.  No don’t get me wrong, there are certain cuisines in Russia which have some hints of flavour and taste, but that’s for another blog post, I’m going to tell you about my tryst with caviar in this one.

I’m very choosy about my sea food. Living in Mumbai, I do have a large variety in terms of fish but I am snooty. I prefer eating fresh produce, found in my Uncle’s backyard in Goa.  If anyone’s ever had fresh sea food, you wouldn’t dream of having fish that has been brought in over many days from the high seas.  Moscow and Kazan, the cities I was staying in, unfortunately imported all its sea food from the coastal regions of the mammoth land mass, so fresh ‘Riba’ (Fish in Russian) was completely  ruled out.  There was however one thing that got me curious, Caviar.  Russia is famous for its caviar and I surely wanted to try it once!

Now the method of having caviar in Russia is to take a slice of bread. Plaster it with an inch of butter. Open the golden tin of caviar and scoop out the orange little balls with a spoon onto the bread and butter.  Spread this evenly and prepare to take a bite.  This was a bit difficult for me as I could smell the distinct odour of old fish.  It was I must say, extremely revolting.  I closed my nose and shoved the piece of bread in and started the awkward munching, hoping against hope that I don’t puke it out. Just when I thought the worst was over the little eggs started popping off in my mouth, oozing liquids that accentuated the taste of fish.  Now that’s where I realised it was an acquired taste.  Beer is bitter, but everybody loves that bitter tang that it imparts. I couldn’t brave myself up for another slice of bread with caviar. Enough of adventure for a day, I thought.  A fellow traveller with whom I was sharing the caviar tin with had a ball laughing at my contorted face.  Mind you I had paid 600 Roubles for a 100 gram tin of caviar.

It was a troubling experience for me honestly, but here’s the funny thing. I think I’m going to try caviar once again.  It’s not to prove a point or act even more stupid. It’s simply to relive that memory and in the process hope to may be acquire the taste.