Category Archives: Travel in Eastern Europe

There is spring in the air :)

Sun is shining, birds are singing but there is still a lot of snow on the streets… This time some images from Riga, Latvia. I would say – waiting for the summer!

Park in the front of Latvian University, Riga, Latvia

Park in the front of Latvian University, Riga, Latvia

Freedom Monument in the central part of Riga

Freedom Monument in the central part of Riga

Old Town of Riga, called Vecriga

Old Town of Riga, called Vecriga

Streets of Old Town

Streets of Vecriga - Old Town of Riga

Traveling Russia? Celebration of May 9

Today is the May 9. If you happen to travel in eastern Europe or be in any part of Russia you know it by now ūüôā In Russia and places with large russian community this day is very special.¬† End of Second World War. Many say that¬†Victory Day celebrations ¬†is one of the most celebrated¬†amongst New Year’s Eve and ¬†Birthdays in Russia.

‚ÄúThere’s a war hero in every family, not necessarily someone who fought but someone who worked and survived during the war,‚ÄĚ therefore celebration of May 9 is very popular in Russia.

Historically it is celebration of Victory in Second World war in 1945. In Moscow on May 9 there is a big military parade and it is the national holiday ion Russia. In other big cities there could be some meeting  or smaller parade held. In this day you can see many orderly people in jackets with a lot of medals and flowers walking around.

Lately¬†as a sign of¬†May 9 celebrations¬†is a ribbon of St. George as well. Many people might even don’t know what it means but you will see many people wearing a¬†small orange – black¬†¬†striped ribbon.

Simple idea , started in 2005 has huge success not just in Russia but in every other place  with russian community. Every spring ribbons appears on cars, bags, posters as a sign of memory and respect. Ribbon itself origins  way back to the times of Imperial Russia, when it was introduced as the highest military decoration instituted by Catherine the Great.

Not positive side of¬† May 9 celebrations in Russia¬†– by the evening there will be more drunk people on the streets. Because one of russian traditions for remembering a friend is to drink a small glass of vodka. If celebrations beginn¬†in the morning, how many friends there are to ‘remember’ & how many other reasons to have a tost¬†‘for Victory’? That is one of the things that are mistery for people just traveling in Russia…

Day of Cosmonautics. Anyone for a Space travel?

Today, April 12¬†is the¬†World Cosmonautics Day. I don’t know how about the rest of the wold, but Russia is very proud about this – 50 years ago Yuri Gagarin was a first man travel¬†to the space. Y.Gagarin made a first space flight on the spaceship ‘Vostok’ launched from Baikonur Space center.

Somehow during my last trip I had few places around me in relation with the word ¬†‘Space’.

1. The Hotel I was staying:

Hotel Cosmos, Moscow

Hotel Cosmos, Moscow

2) the monument across the road:

Moscow monuments

Moscow monuments

3) the museum on the way:

Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow

Museum of Cosmonautics near VDNKh, in Moscow

Well, to add some more¬†–¬†here is one I took last summer, while in Orlando, Florida:

Atlantis launch on May 14, 2010

Space shuttle Atlantis take off on May 14, 2010

The view was so cool that for a minute I forgot to take a picture ūüôā … so as you see – it’s gone already…

Some time ago space was just for science and very few people could go there. Now some people are not dreaming about space traveling but actually getting ready for sightseeing of the planet Earth. What will be next?

Practice what you preach: Travel Planning

All the latest posts have been about my resent trip to Russia. I know this travel destinations sounds a bit exotic to many people, therefore I wanted to share my travel experience in Moscow. But at the same time I havent forgotten other travel related activities & planning some other trips as well. But before that here are 3 reminder things about planning a trip:

1.¬†Of course, when¬†we think about trip & related expenses, first advice from everybody is plan in advance. What comes to this trip I did it – got flight tickets already in December ( 4 month before the trip). Since then I’ve been comparing the prices that¬†been offered as a ‘special deal’ and can say that the price¬†I bought the tickets was one of the best. Few times for the short period there were¬†some offers with prices close to¬†one I had¬†but basically it showed that as it gets closer to departure date a¬†‘special deals’ or ‘sales‘ prices¬†don’t go lower that the basic level price, if booking good time in advance.

Moscow. Sheremetyevo Airport.

Moscow. Sheremetyevo Airport.

2. Other thing I wanted to mention is a hotel reservation. Earlier on to book a hotel room in Russia with international booking engines was almost impossible. There were just few international brands with 4-5 star hotels. What I was usually doing for my Russian trips, is doing search on local russian sites & then looking for the website of particular hotels I was interested. That way I could get at least reasonable price range for 2 Р3 star or private hotels.

When planning my trip to Moscow this year, out of curiosity I did a search on Рthe hotel booking site I use for European destinations. Big was my surprise to find that they have added many hotels and even hostels with reasonable prices for Moscow and Russia in general.

What I like about is that you can find hotel reviews there. For booking a hotel in Moscow that is very important because many ‘hotels‘ arent really a hotels, but just one floor or even one very big apartment¬†as a ‘small private hotels’. Last time I¬†visited in Moscow I actually stayed in one like that. The best things were central location and the price¬† around 2000 rub. Not so good things – that is a big apartment were you rent just one room ( with shared kitchen, shower &WC); furniture in rooms are not the best quality; no internet access.

3.¬† Last thing I’d like to mention here is – get off the beaten tracks. And here I mean your habits of planning the trip.

For several years I had clear picture what is the best way to plan my a trip to Moscow. As mentioned before, I was nicely surprised to about opportunity to book a hotel in Moscow on my favorite booking engine and was about to do it. In the last moment I decided to check out the special offer from event organizers.

I know the hotels they were offering – the good ones. And I knew the price range of hotel rooms there.¬†From my experience before¬†I knew¬†that mostly every time hotels offered by organizers are good but they¬†cost much more I’d like to pay. Definitely not a budget friendly ones. So I just do my own research & find the one¬† nearby area.

Same¬†was about to happen this time as well. But for god knows what reason I downloaded¬†a hotel registration form. And what I see there? Both 3 and 4 star hotels are offered with very reasonable price. Of course I want it. Why I didn’t take the offer before? Because I knew the price for that hotel & I could not imagine that special discount for event participants will be so big…

What I wanted to say here is that even you’ve been doing something for years & you think your solution is one of the best one, check out the some other options that are a bit outside your regular beaten trap. Because it might happen that NOW there is a better, cheaper or more convenient way…

What comes to me – I’m about to try one more thing I havent done – use for bidding on hotel room for one of my next trips.

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Traveling to Moscow? 7 Things to Know

Everything is back to normal again because ¬†I’ve been at home already for a few days.¬†But there are few things I’d like to mentioned about¬†my¬†resent¬†trip to Moscow.

1) After¬† finding out that I was in Moscow many people say – WOW, that’s great – but they don’t feel like to do the same. Why? Because they feel a bit afraid from traveling to Russia.¬†¬†Yes – Russia is different from the rest of Europe. But that makes it interesting ūüôā

Moscow. English signs

In central part of Moscow there are many signs in English

Big cities, like Moscow & St Petersburg are save travel destinations for tourists. Many people do speak English. In central part of Moscow there are many signs in English as well. During my trip I¬†met a couple from Brasil¬†they said that¬†they love Moscow absolutly. They didn’t¬†speak English either… many travel guides do speak Spanish or Italian.

 2) When people get Russian visa they are told that they need to register within 3 working days. If you stay in 2-3 star hotel in Moscow, they already provide this service automatically. If staying in smaller private/ family run hotels or outside the big cities ask them about options. It is better to have this registration because otherwise can get some fines.

I’d like to mention that it is normal that Russian police officers now & then check someones ID.¬†Always carry a passport¬†with you. In Russia passport is the main ID document.

3) There is no Tourist Information Center in Moscow such as. Though you can find many leaflets, basic maps or information on most popular sightseeing places in the hotel’s lobby or ask information desk about how to get from place to place. Though if you have a good guide-book with area maps & metro plan it is kind of easy get from place to place.

4) Moscow is a big city. The best thing to avoid confusion is to prepare for the trip in advance: Where,  what is located? How to get there?

Do online research for sightseeing places worth to visit in Moscow or get good travel guide-book. Russians use public buses and taxis (or private cars) a lot but I would strongly suggest use Metro (subway). Print out Moscow Metro map to make marks where the hotel is located and how you will get there. Just write down directions & the name of nearby metro station.

5) What comes to the Metro (subway)¬†– there are subway maps everywhere in stations & inside the train. It is cheap & convenient way of transportation in Moscow. Just look for the place or building with big red sign ‘M’.

Moscow. Sign for the subway - M

Moscow. Sign for the subway - red letter 'M'

Yes, there are a lot of people using it, therefore get 10x card for fast entrance through ticket chek point. There are special doors for entrance and others just for exiting. Find the name of metro station you need, pick the ‘line’¬†& follow the signs to the station or changing the train ‘lines’. Entrance in to the train is fast. Quick out – quick in & it’s gone…

6) It might not seem fair that there are special ‘foreigner’ price for the entrance tickets to many museums or theater performances. But there is nothing much to do – foreign travelers¬†pay¬†2 – 3 times the¬†price that locals pay. That’s why often you’ll see one price in English but other ones in Russian.

So there are two options to solve this problem. One – you speak more or less fluent Russian to buy tickets; two – if there are some local people you know, who could buy tickets for you (& don’t talk much while passing the lady who is checking the tickets ūüôā )

Moscow streets. Rush hour traffic jam.

Moscow streets. Rush hour traffic jam.

¬†7)¬†Be aware of the cars ot¬†the streets. I would say that driving culture is very low in Russia. They more or less follow ‘red’ and¬†‘green’ lights but otherwise be careful. Main streets are very wide with a lot of cars and traffic jams. Therefore going from places to places by car takes time. But the main thing I wanted to say here is that if you want to cross the street even on pedestrian walk, watch out for the cars.

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Sightseeing in Moscow. Day 2

Yesterday was very nice day from weather point of view. Therefore I could spend more time in the afternoon by walking around. Moscow as a city has a long & rich history, great culture and a lot of cultural entertainment. I preferred to take some Moscow sightseeing but some of my colleagues decided go to some theater performance. If you are interested in cultural side of traveling – check the wide offer of world famous performances, theaters, concerts, exhibitions in Moscow.

Moscow. Kremlin view from riverside

Moscow. Kremlin view from riverside

As I mentioned before on Thursdays many museums have longer working hours. I decided go to Tretyakov Gallery – largest collection of Russian Fine arts. This museum is located in Zamoskvorechie – across the Moscow river. On the map it looks like quite a distance for walking but practically it is pretty close to Kremlin area.

Moscow. The dathedral of the Christ the Saviuor

Moscow. The dathedral of the Christ the Saviuor

At first I went to the Cathedral Christ the Saviour (Metro station Kropotkinskaya ). I would say that this cathedral is one of the ‘must’ things to see. Building itself is nice & impressive. Hard to believe that in Soviet times there was a public swimming pool… That was the Soviet attitude to the church – at first to destroy or at least put something contradicting / ignoring religional values.

So my destinations were Cathedral of the Christ the Saviour – Tretyakov Gallery – beginning of Arbat Street. From walking point this distance took me around an hour (including picture taking on the way). Sightseeing on this route is very nice because you can see many attractions from the bridges on the way. With some map or guide book it is easy to find a way.

What comes today – nothing from sightseeing point of view. It is Friday today. I’m busy during the day but in the evening there will be a special party organized for the participants of the event I’m in Moscow. Event is big & therefore there will be a live concert of local artists. Not found of pop or techo music but why not to get to know Russian stars ūüôā

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All set & ready for the trip to Moscow

Yesterday I got my travel visa to Russia. So I can say that I’m all set & ready to go to Moscow. Well, I’ll go in a week but right now I already know what my plans will be there. It’s not that I’ve been planning this visit a lot.¬†I’ve been in Moscow before &¬†¬†I know¬†what I’d like¬†to do.

St Basil's Cathedral, Moscow

View of the St Basil's Cathedral on Red Square

This time my trip to Russian capital is more like business trip, therefore there will be 3 evenings & 1 day for visiting the places I’d like to see. Because of¬†tight schedule there are things I know for sure that I’ll do & when.

1. For fastest & most convenient way from Sheremetyevo Airport to the central part of Moscow is by AeroExpress. This direct train service is very good & comfortable way to the Belorussky Train Station. From there I can take a Metro to the place I need. I expect total travel time around one hour. For the city in size of Moscow, this is fast. And price for this convenient trip is reasonable Р320 RUB for the train & 28 RUB for the Metro.

2. What comes to the Metro, this is one of the best ways to get around in city. Inside the Circle line is the central part of Moscow with many sightseeing places & attractions. If you stay in Moscow for at least few days, I suggest everyone to get a card of 10 rides for 250 RUB. That will make entrance to the metro smooth & more convenient.

I like using Metro in  Moscow. It provides fast & easy access to many sightseeing  places. Many Metro stations are deep underground therefore for many people it might be as a small adventure as well. It kind of gives the feeling of the place. Besides Рall the Metro stations inside the Circle line are like a piece of art. Get a map of Metro & explore underground Moscow.

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

Take a walk in area around Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

3.On Thursday evening I’ll visit¬†Cathedral¬†of Christ the Saviour – one of the places I like to visit every time I’m in Moscow. Cathedral itself and area around is very nice & impressive ( after the visit to the Cathedral I would suggest to take a short Moscow River sightseeing cruise nearby to see Kremlin). In the nearby area there are few Museums to visit as well. Why Thursdays are good for museums? Because in many museums there¬†is a¬†late night entrance –¬†you can see exhibitons till 8 or even 9pm. Works good if I’m busy during the day.

Last time I was in Moscow I found out about this by chance.¬†I¬†went to Pushkin¬†Fine Art Museum and besides great exhibition of Japanese Art there was a musical performance at that evening as well.¬† So now I’m suggesting to everyone – use the opportunity of thurdays. What comes to Russian museums – they are great & worth to visit. State Tretyakov Gallery is national treasury for¬† Russian fine art but Pushkin Fine Art Museum has one of the most representative collection of foreign art.

4. Last day of my visit I’ll have free for myself. That means… actually I havent decided¬†yet ūüôā There are many places to see or many things to do. I’ll be staying near VDNH – large¬†exhibition center and park. Might be there will be something interesting or check out Kva-Kva¬†Aquapark –¬†one of the largest water parks in Russia. Great fun for children but adults can check out list of special night events.¬†Ok, maybe no the Aquapark¬† this time because my hotel will have a large swimming pool with some slides & SPA center…

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