Skip to main content

Spotlight Russia: 7 golden travel tips

By Steve Dorsey, for CNN
updated 9:23 PM EST, Mon February 10, 2014
Men: don't be afraid to give a woman flowers. Men: don't be afraid to give men flowers, either. The custom is widespread. Men: don't be afraid to give a woman flowers. Men: don't be afraid to give men flowers, either. The custom is widespread.
HIDE CAPTION
Flowers rule
People dress up for everything
Winter can get pretty steamy
You're not required to drink vodka
Winter can be tough on shoes
Superstitions about money are common
Unauthorized cabs abound
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • You won't be made an outcast for refusing vodka
  • You'll have plenty of chances to break out your fancy evening gear
  • Chivalry rules -- expect to give or be given flowers

(CNN) -- What lies beyond Sochi?

Only the largest country in the world in terms of area.

Post-Olympics, should you find yourself stretching out to explore the rest of Russia -- especially Moscow and St. Petersburg -- a little cultural background can help you make the most of this dazzling land.

Chivalry rules

You can't miss them: flowers are everywhere in Russia, even in the bitterest cold.

Men give women flowers for almost any occasion -- it needn't signal romantic interest.

Women carrying huge bouquets down the street or in the Metro is a common sight.

MORE: Dacha, chacha and a gay bar: 9 ways Sochi surprises

It's a sign that relations between the sexes are still largely traditional.

Women are offered food and drinks first.

Men are expected to take a woman's coat and to walk her back to her hotel, car or even elevator.

Chivalry can appear charming or antiquated, depending on your view, but either way it's best to go along if you want to make friends.

Just heading to the store ... Russians will dress up for almost any occasion.
Just heading to the store ... Russians will dress up for almost any occasion.

You'll get good use out of a suit or evening dress

Sure, you'll want to be dressed up for the ballet or to get into a "face-control" club (a Russian specialty where bouncers judge your suitability for the premises in a glance).

But many Russians love any excuse to pull the sharpest, newest clothes out of their closets.

READ: St. Petersburg -- 12 best sights in the city of the czars

Going out to dinner or just visiting a museum -- there are any number of reasons to get dressed up.

Coat checks are everywhere, so you won't need to hang on to that bulky top coat.

But winter might ruin your shoes

You'll know this if you already come from a cold climate, but no small amount of shoes are sacrificed to a Russian winter.

Puddles, mud and snow can spell a tearful goodbye to your most expensive Oxfords or Manolos.

Some Russian urbanites advocate chunky snow boots for the sidewalk and a change of footwear for indoors.

Not all Russians drink vodka

Go to a big dinner with Russian friends and you should be prepared for plenty of vodka toasts.

You'll also find the drink in endless varieties -- from vodka made from melted icebergs to "ecological" vodka to bottles that come with their own knitted warmer.

That doesn't mean you're obliged to get obliterated as soon as you pass customs.

"I've met a lot of Russians who don't drink," says Fiona Spoon, a British student in Moscow.

"It all depends on who you meet."

When with Russian friends, you won't be pressured to drink, especially if they think you've had enough.

It's not cold everywhere in winter

It may seem unusual for a country that's hosting the winter Olympic Games -- and that contains what's said to be the coldest continually inhabited place on Earth -- but Russians can be sensitive to the cold.

Many who can afford it skedaddle to the Mediterranean and other warm places on package vacations at the first sign of snow.

If you're in Russia in winter, you need to get used to cars, museums and hotel rooms heated to an inferno, while outside it might feel arctic.

The solution is to bring clothes you can layer to keep cool or warm, whether you're inside or outside.

Spot the official taxi? It\'s not always easy.
Spot the official taxi? It's not always easy.

Unauthorized cabs abound

Unlicensed taxis operate alongside the legal version in many Russian cities.

Laws introduced over the past few years -- including requiring every cab to use a meter and an orange light on the roof and to bear checked stripes on its sides -- appear to have been only a temporary deterrent.

As in many cities worldwide, unlicensed cabs are cheaper and often more common than official taxis and so they still abound -- even though plenty of Russian residents and visitors have tales of being ripped off.

MORE: Russia's 10 ritziest hotels

You'll see unlicensed cabs outside Metro stops and near bars, where they'll blurt out "taxi" when you walk by.

For registered taxis, you can download the popular GetTaxi app, which helps you to locate an official cab nearby.

Keys don't belong on the table

Whistle while walking down the street or listening to your iPod, and you may get strange looks: it means bad luck.

Wonder why shop assistants place money on a small dish instead of into your hands? Some believe money carries negative energy.

Other ill omens include putting empty bottles or keys on a table (it signifies financial loss) or standing on any kind of threshold (where it was once thought bad spirits dwelled).

Omens of imminent financial reward include finding a spider on your clothes or, a weird notion that prevails in other countries, too, being the target of a pigeon's sloppy toilet habits.

READ: Sparkle, dazzle, flash: Moscow's gold-standard shopping

Steve Dorsey is a freelance journalist who has reported from Russia on subjects from the Bolshoi Ballet to Kremlin politics.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:38 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Whether filled with electric blue sulfur flames or hissing lava, these mega mountains offer incredible vistas
updated 8:40 PM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
This once-a-year luxury cruise visits untouched islands and never-snorkeled reefs.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Peter J. Goutiere was just shy of 30 years old when he piloted a Douglas C-47 from Miami to Kolkata, India.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Breathtaking scenery, championship design -- many of the courses dropped into the Canadian Rockies are among the most memorable in the world.
updated 9:06 AM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
A floating hippo in the Thames river designed by artist Florentijn Hofman
Why Florentijn Hofman is sending a giant beast into London's River Thames.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
Scrap all those other bucket lists you've been compiling and start saving -- these memorable-for-a-lifetime trips don't come cheap, or easy.
updated 8:42 PM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
A squabble over a device that limits how far a seat can recline has brought inflight etiquette into the spotlight again.
updated 6:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Thirst for victory competes with thirst for booze in event where competitors raise their glasses long before they cross the finish line.
updated 5:57 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
At these fun Los Angeles bars, the the drinks come with a chaser of kitsch.
updated 4:41 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
From dining next to massive predators to drinking atop a rock in the middle of the ocean, Africa boasts some of the most interesting places to eat.
updated 5:21 AM EDT, Sun September 7, 2014
Just weeks after Bill HIllman, known as a veteran, expert bull runner, was badly gored in Pamplona, he's back at other smaller bull runnings in Spain, but walking with a cane.
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Don't like the country you live in? Why not create your own, as many people have done. We uncover the parallel world of "micronationalism."
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
A CNN producer experiences China's poor on-time flight record firsthand as his plane takes off eight hours late.
updated 2:00 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
New Yorker Kerrin Rousset's exploration of Swiss city aims to lure cocoa fans over to the dark side.
updated 11:47 PM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
Some things are just better after dark. These experiences around the world prove it.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT