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Travel to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Murmansk (the Arctic)

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  • Travel to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Murmansk (the Arctic)

    I just did a family vacation to visit Russia, to those places, to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Murmansk. Murmansk is the largest town / city inside the Arctic Circle, probably by a lot.

    I wrote a blog post about the trip, covering lots of details and including dozens of pictures. I'll link to that at the end and ramble on a little here first.

    The Northern Lights (aurora borealis) were amazing. I've lived in the mountains of Colorado, and in Hawaii, and have visited volcanos in Indonesia, and a lot of Asia, and it's probably the most amazing natural sight I've ever seen. One version just looks like a high band of clouds, a long broad streak across the sky, but other types have more color, and some shift and move in amazing ways.

    The cold of the Arctic was interesting. My family is Thai (I'm American, by the way), and they like the idea of the cold, which we've experienced in visiting the US and South Korea before. South Korea gets really cold, by the way. Not like Murmansk did though; down to -27 C / -16 F the first night we were there, and went out to see the aurora. After that it let up and -15 C / 0 F typical temperatures were cold but not so bad. The rest of the arctic experience was amazing, to see a reindeer farm, husky dogsled camp, etc.

    Moscow and St. Petersburg were cool, and completely different. People seemed a bit somber in Moscow, but then winter tends to mute public personas a bit, and living in big cities. Both cities had an incredible look; Moscow was grand and modern, and St. Petersburg just stunning. Lots of parts of the city look like palaces, and seasonal lighting exceeded what one experiences in the US, which is no small feat.

    The people were nice, if a bit reserved. They're the opposite of Thais, related to public persona. Thais smile as a matter of cultural convention, and Russians are incredibly genuine and if anything more negative than cheerful. As an American people only smiling to represent actual happiness made sense.

    I had the sense that we missed a lot related to Russian culture for the language barrier. Most people speak no English at all. That part was tricky, but random people were really helpful related to helping resolve problems. I know a Russian here in Thailand, and have a few other Russian online contacts, so the culture isn't a complete unknown. It's complicated, how it works out. To me they seem a lot like Americans. I suppose public persona isn't an exact match, and sense of humor, and a few other aspects, so maybe not all that identical.

    We spent a day with a guide who spoke great English, and that helped, a chance to question a local about various aspects of culture. I'd been talking to Russians online about tea and other travel issues for two months prior to the trip (there's a thread here about it), and that helped. Really you don't get that far into local culture in a two-week visit, and positive or negative events like meeting a friendly and genuine local guide or getting cheated on van shuttles stand out (almost every time; apparently it's an integral part of Russian culture, dodgy van shuttle service).

    That blog post contains lots of pictures and a more detailed run-down. The only other part that really demands mention here is the amazing transportation there. The incredible metro (subway) systems were a bit dated looking but perfectly functional--truly world class in that respect--and decorated in classic fashion unlike any other transportation infrastructure I've ever seen. A first class train between St. Petersburg and Moscow was obviously brand new and included a shower in the private cabins; that was different. Wifi access was all over the place, even free on some public transportation. It was a really cool experience.

  • #2
    This didn't exactly inspire a lot of discussion, but I'll post an update about reviewing a tea I bought there in Moscow, from Georgia (the local country, not the US State).


    To pass on just a little more advice about travel, I asked around in related forums about travel and tea in Russia before we went, and the Trip Advisor Q & A forum was by far the most helpful.

    In expat forums it's always possible the right person might see a question and pass on lots of information but results have never been as good in those.

    That forum: