Travel to Russia doesn’t need to be done with a tour group or as part of a cruise ship excursion. You can travel independently and with kids. We just returned from 3 weeks in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and nearby areas. Along for the ride was my husband, my 6 month pregnant self, our 4 year old and 2 year old. As we found on our trip, there’s never been a better time to visit Russia.
1. A weak ruble will make you feel richer
The current exchange rate is 64 rubles to a dollar. Before the Russian economic crisis began in 2014, one dollar bought you about 32 rubles. Although real prices are often no cheaper than elsewhere in Europe, the life of a tourist earning dollars or euros still feels affordable. The more you stick with Russian food, simple restaurants, and tourism geared toward Russians, the more affordable the trip becomes.
While great for tourists, the weak ruble makes life harder for Russians. If you’d like to learn more about the economic levers that drive the economic crisis, such as the price of oil and sanctions against Russia for its role in Ukraine, and how this affects Russian’s lives, here are a couple of good reads: The Russian Economic Crisis: How Severe and How Long? or this op-ed piece in The Moscow Times Russia Economic Crisis Risks Stagnation, Degradation.
The Russian economy in 2015
2. Your kids will make Russians smile
Old women on the metro smiled at my kids (astonishing, see #5). If my toddler was crying, women would offer candy or try to distract her. One woman even offered to hold my 2 year old and rocked her to sleep. Policemen smiled and helped us with our stroller.
If you travel with kids, they may be the only children you see for most of the day. We’re still surprised at how few kids there are on the metro or even walking the street with their parents. You’ll have to go to a playground or other kid specific area to see a handful of other children. The average number of children per Russian woman is 1.78, which is not enough to keep the population stable without migration. However, attitudes are changing. A decade ago, women wanted one child. Now the same generation wants three children. We were even able to buy a double stroller second-hand after Air France delayed and then destroyed our stroller.
3. Playgrounds are better in Russia
I live in the US and I miss the playgrounds of my youth, when slides were fast, you could be bounced off a see-saw, or scrape your chin after falling from the monkey bars.
Playgrounds in Moscow have recently been upgraded to combine relative safety with imagination and fun. Slides are metal and fast, not plastic like those in the US that makes kids slide down so slowly they sometimes have to push themselves to keep moving. One of our favorite new playgrounds is in Gorky Park, where kids can clamber over a wooden ship tilting at a 45 degree angle. If you’re in a major city and venture into the courtyards between residential buildings, chances are you’ll find multiple playgrounds and other kids to play with.
4. Eat like a locavore
A resurgent interest in farming has sprung up, along with high quality grocery stores so you can access superior rural groceries from the convenience of major cities. You can now buy a bewildering array of high quality milk products, including whole milk, baked milk, tvorog, or dozens of probiotic varieties. Even staple foods like vegetables, apples, pelmeni, juice, eggs, and ice cream are delicious in these stores. If you’re in Moscow, check out Vkus Vill and its sister stores Izdyenka, which only carries milk products. A little higher end is Lavkalavka, which has 5 locations in Moscow and you can order online for delivery to your hotel/airbnb. If you can read Russian, then ordering food on seasonmarket.ru for delivery to airbnb is one of the more cost effective locavore options. If you like fish and want to try the dozens of smoked, salted or fresh varieties from Russia, then get to one of the 8 locations of Ribnaya Manufactura (Fish factory).
5. Russians are becoming friendly
A decade ago, Russians were stony faced in public places, elbowed you in crowds, and might unleash a tirade against you in order to get a better seat on a bus. These behaviors were long explained as leftovers from Soviet times, when it was dangerous to show your inner thoughts. I also theorized that in a country where things didn’t work well, you had to grab what you could and jockey for position.
Now, people laugh easily and are friendly to strangers. Customer service is no longer a foreign term. In fact, people are helpful, nice, and friendly. This is especially true of those under 40 years old, who have grown up post-Soviet Union and are tired of the grouchy Soviet mentality.
Are you thinking about visiting Russia? Let me know why or why not in the comments. Like this post? Then please share, pin or tweet it.
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