What do you know about Russia

What have you heard about Russia? It’s the world’s largest country? Tick. They drink lots of vodka? Tick. “It’s cold, the people are rude and there are lots of secrets”, is what one friend told me. Oasis Overland have recently launched a new exploratory trip which begins by travelling from London to St Petersburg, and I for one am keen to learn more about this country characterised by so many stereotypes.

After a week of train travel through Berlin, Poland and Ukraine, the trip reaches Moscow.  Wikipedia tells me that “Moscow is the northernmost and coldest megacity and metropolis on Earth”.  Even the word ‘megacity’ intrigues me.  The fact that it has 4 international airports doesn’t interest me (although 4; really?!).  I’m much more fascinated in gawping at St Basil’s Cathedral, one of the most colourful religious buildings I’ve ever seen.  The bubble tops look like marshmallows!  I want to wander in Red Square and travel back in time to where the Tsars used to have their coronations, or stand in wonder before the Kremlin; a building which conjures up all sorts of secretive mafia nightmares. It’s currently home to the big man in charge – I wonder whether he rides horses bare chested on the grounds?

St Petersburg, for me, is the main attraction.  It boasts to be the cultural capital of Russia, founded by Peter the Great who was so different from every other Tsar. Having researched him a bit, I have a semi-crush; he was the black sheep because he preferred culture to boozing and schmoozing. He was also obsessed with ships and sailing, hence the city’s location on the Gulf of Finland.

The Hermitage is one of the biggest art museums worldwide, you could spend days there and not see everything! I don’t know much about art, but even I know this place is a big deal.  The main reason for my fascination with this city, though, is its other claim to fame as one of the most besieged cities of World War Two.  The Germans almost succeeded in starving the city to death, and over a million people died.  Together with those who were evacuated in time, or who were lucky enough to escape, the city’s population was decimated.  Some seventy years on, St Petersburg is now the second biggest city in Russia – talk about a 180!

I travelled to Russia this year with Oasis on a private charter, and laid to rest some of my preconceived assumptions on the Russian people. Unfortunately they are usually portrayed as a serious, unsmiling and rude people, who shout a lot, even when happy.  The people who I met were incredibly different; they were kind, helpful and generous.  We travelled through the lesser known areas in the South near the Georgian border and were really touched by how excited everyone was to see a big yellow truck driving through. We did see evidence of one stereotype though: vodka. It definitely is the drink of choice out there, and I quickly learnt to never empty my glass; an empty vessel indicates you’re thirsty!

For many people, Russia is a far away land full of mystery.  For me, too. But this trip gives you an opportunity to find out more about it’s history, it’s culture – and take a high speed train from Moscow to St Petersburg! 635km in 3 hours 50 minutes? Wow!  Russia is only the beginning, too.  The trip travels for 24 more weeks; through the ‘stans of Central Asia to China and Tibet, across the Himalayas of Nepal and Pakistan; passing through the ancient Persian Empire that is now Iran, and ending in the bridge between Europe and Asia, Turkey.  Who’s up for an adventure?

Take a look at our exploratory overland adventure!  LONDON to ISTANBUL via KATHMANDU (26 Weeks) – Ultimate Asia Overland