We have been in Russia for a bit more than a month. These are my first observations so far:
- Security, security, security: Whether it’s in the big cities like Moscow, the smaller ones like Gorno-Altaisk, on the road or in the trains, we have been noticing security officers everywhere. The first day we rented a car, we were checked twice by the police. Not knowing any English they looked desperate and let us go.
- English: “vi gavarite pa anglijski?” Meaning do you speak English. In 90% of the case we hear njet (no), this with both the older and younger generation. English just doesn’t seem to be top priority, even though most of the music we hear on the radio is in English and a lot of t-shirts have English print. That said, people do help us and try to understand what we want.
- Hospitality: Rarely in my so far young 😉 life have I met as hospitable people as in Russia. Eva and me have been blessed so far with the people we met along the road. Whether it’s sharing food, helping us to find our way, walking us to our hostel, showing us hidden places or lending us chairs and a table. People have no problems sharing and do this in the most natural way.
- Western Europeans: Russians we meet tell us that Western Europeans don’t have a good image of Russia. I agree with them and tell them that we only know Russia through what is said in the media. Only negative news make the headlines. We don’t hear about the beauty of St Petersburg, the hospitality of Siberians, the warm weather in the summer or the magical feeling of the mountains in the Altai Republic. Russia has a population of over 146 million, it counts more than 6 different ethnic groups and has 36 recognised languages, in other words this country is huge, it’s a continent on its own with a rich history. You clearly see people’s faces change when travelling across the country. I believe it’s largely underrated and has a lot to offer. Sure, not everything is perfect, but that is rarely the case.
- Trains: My last observation has to be about the train system (rzd) in Russia. As a Belgian I can’t help but feel impressed by the trains. Can you believe that trains are clean or, more incredibly, arrive and leave on time? I strongly advise the Belgian train system (nmbs) to go and have a work seminar in Russia. They might learn a thing or two…