Useful information

24 hours

One of the good things about Russia is that it is never difficult to find a place to get food or drink, even in the middle of the night, whether it is a simple shop or an expensive night club. If you see the 24-sign it means this place is open around the clock! Even experienced global travellers are astonished at the number of supermarkets and kiosks open all night long.

Alcohol

The old stereotypes about Russian drinking habits are slowly dying out, particularly amongst the younger generation. That said if you do somehow find yourself enmeshed in a vodka session with locals, don’t try to keep up, here they drink it straight - which can go to the head pretty quickly. Vodka is cheap and there are oodles of different brands with cool labels to choose from. Russki Standard, Diplomat and Lviz are pretty good, and if you want something more exotic, try Nemiroff: Ukrainian pepper vodka with honey.

Russian pivo (beer) is good stuff, which is why Russians consume more beer than any other alcoholic drink. St. Petersburg brews Nevskoe, Baltika N7 and Bochkarev are usually on tap and are the mainstay for most Petersburgers. In Moscow expect to see lots of Baltika but also some other local largers such as Stary Melnik, Sibirskaya Korona and Yarpivo.

No Russian celebration is complete without Sovietskoe Shampanskoe (Soviet Champagne), the national party drink. A bottle of this bubbly, which some like more than the real French stuff, will set you back only 3-5 euros. Sovietskoe Shampanskoe comes in five varieties ranging from very sweet (sladkoe) to dry (sukhoe) and very dry (brut).

Customer service

Customer service - as a concept - is relatively new to Russia, and some Russians have never experienced it, which is why they don't know how to deliver it themselves. It's not uncommon to be ignored in restaurants and shops by seemingly paralysed service staff, to be yelled at by angry babushkas working in world-famous theatres, or to be hung-up on by unhelpful operators on telephone helplines. But Russia's service culture is changing, and in the biggest cities St. Petersburg and Moscow friendly and helpful staff are becoming the norm not the exception, although they may not always speak English. In our restaurant pages, we've tried to indicate the quality of the service across a range of establishments, so that you'll have the chance to experience real Russian hospitality while you're here.

Electricity

The electrical current in Russia is 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Most sockets are standard European size with double round-pin plugs. It makes sense to bring an adapter (in Russian, also adapter or perehadnik) just to be sure.

Floors

The Russian floor-numbering system is American style, which means there is no ground floor. When you’re on the ground floor, you’re actually on the first floor. Go up one and you’re on the second, and so on.

Local time

Russia has 11 time zones, and St. Petersburg is in the same zone as Moscow: UTC/GMT +3. So, when it's 12:00 in Moscow and St. Petersburg, it's 04:00 in New York, 09:00 in London, 10:00 in Berlin and 20:00 in Sydney. However, as Russia does not change it's clocks with the seasons, during the winter the time difference is UTC/GMT +4.


Queues

Unless you're prepared to pay someone to wait in line for you, then queuing is an unavoidable part of life in Russia, and it’s something which Russians have astounding stamina for. Don't expect the person at the cashier to move any faster just because there's a queue stretching out the door and round the corner. There’s always a line, and it won't stop the cashiers from taking their tea breaks. The places where you are likely to see the longest queues are the train station and occassionally metro stations. Fortunately most stations now have automated machines where you can buy and print out your own tickets.

Tipping

Tipping isn't expected in bars, but it is the norm in top-notch restaurants. Ten percent is average, but it's up to your discretion. Don't feel pressure to tip if the service is atrocious, and don't hesitate to politely ask for all of your change back, if the establishment automatically pockets whatever amount you hand them for the bill. Some restaurants automatically add on a 10% service-charge, so check your bill first.

Toilets

Public toilets in the centre of the city are few and far between. Innovative, although somewhat squashy toilet buses are sometimes parked at public events or outside major tourist sights. Generally speaking, McDonald's and random hotels and cafes are your best option. Just utter the words 'gdye tualyet?' (where is the toilet?), while flashing a friendly smile, and most establishments will let you use their facilities. Otherwise, look for the Russian letters ‘Ж’ (women’s) and ‘M’ (men’s).


Weights and measures

Russians are a specific bunch, and in a restaurant or bar, you'll always know exactly what you're getting. Russia uses the metric system, and on menus, next to the column of prices, there is usually a column of measurements in grams. Spirits and wine are also sold in grams. A standard shot of vodka is 50g, and a glass of wine is 150 - 200g. Menus often show prices for meat and wine per 50 or 100g, so be sure to check carefully when you order. Beer is sold in glasses; a big glass is half a litre, and a small glass 250 - 330ml.

Russia in facts and figures

Area: Russia is the biggest country in the world, covering an area of more than 17 million square kilometres, of which 13% is developed and 51% is virgin territory. The capital Moscow is located in the centre of European Russia, while St. Petersburg is in Russia's North-West Federal Region, and is seen as Russia's window to the West.

Population: Russia: 144 million, St. Petersburg: 4.6 million.

Ethnic groups in Russia: 81.5% Russian, 3.8% Tatar, 3% Ukrainian, 1.2% Chuvash, Bashkir 0.9%, Belarusian 0.8%, Moldavian 0.7%, other 8.1%.

Borders: With borders stretching from Europe to Asia, Russia has many neighbours. Norway and Finland border the north-west. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the Ukraine lie to the west. The south borders Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, and to the south-east, lie China, Mongolia and the Korean People's Democratic Republic. In the Far East, Alaska lies across the Bering Strait, and Japan, across the Sea of Japan.

Lakes: Russia's Lake Baikal, in Siberia, is the world's deepest lake. Europe's largest lake - Lake Ladoga - is north-west of St. Petersburg.

Rivers: Russia's longest river, the river Lena, flows for 4,400km through Siberia. St. Petersburg's river Neva is 74km long, 32km of which flow within the city’s boundaries. The famous Volga river is said to be the longest in Europe and is just a few hours drive from Moscow.

Highest point: Mt. Elbrus 5,642m (Caucasus).

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