So you have decided to come and visit our wonderful and unique country! Excellent! We are sure that you’ll have the time of your life here, meet lots of new interesting people and see some unbelievably beautiful places!
Nevertheless, you should remember that you are going to different country that has its own laws, rules and traditions. There's no need to panic though! Just read our article and everything will be fine.
Those who have know little about Russia are usually quite surprised to find how different it is from their home country. There are several things that foreigners should bear in mind when coming to Russia for the first time.
It's true that one of the first things you should be prepared for is the unpredictable Russian weather. Of course, Russia is BIG country, and the weather and climate will vary from region to region. However, in the North-West, where Petrozavodsk is, you will experience the famous Russian winter, which can be very, very cold, with temperatures sometimes dropping to about -35! Warm jumpers and sweaters, a decent coat, suitable footwear and a hat, scarf and gloves are essential.
Summers can be hot here in Russia, with temperatures sometimes reaching abouve +30, so be prepared and bring your hat, sunglasses and suncream etc. However, extreme summer weather, especially in Petrozavodsk, are not common. In the last couple of years winters haven’t been so severe and summers have generally been cool and rainy. Summer evenings here can be chilly so don’t forget warm clothing and a light jacket. One very important thing to note though is that here in Karelia, flies, mosquitoes and midges are abundant and can cause a lot of irritation. So if you don’t want to spend your evening being attacked by mosquitoes bring some insecticide! Anti-mosquitoe repellents etc are widely available to purchase in shops here. If you need help, just ask your host family.
In spring and autumn the weather is interchangeable. March, April and October can be especially rainy, windy and wet. Think about bringing good, sturdy shoes and an umbrella. However, if you're coming to Russia during Spring and Autumn you can still expect to have some pleasant weather. Sometimes at the end of September we have what call "Babje leto", the equivalent of an "Indian Summer" in English, when it seems that summer has returned, and for several weeks it is warm, sunny and dry. Autumn continues to set in at the same time, with the leaves on the trees turning shades of gold, red and orange, making for a truly beautiful sight! And of course, it's always a pleasure (and a relief) after the long winter to spot the first buds of spring at the end of April and beginning of May. Spring sets in fast and before you know it, summer is upon us again!
A personal medical and first aid kit is a good thing to have with you when travelling anywhere. For example, it can take your stomach some time to get used to local food so be prepared! But in general, it's always a good idea to be armed with pills and medicines just in case you get a headache or cold, which can be brought on by the unpredictable Russian weather. Just remember to take care of yourself!
You should bring some sort of debit or credit card with you (Visa, Master etc) as well as cash with you. You may easily withdraw Rubles from ATMs dotted around the city. Unlike in Europe or the USA, debit and credit cards are rarely used in shops and restaurants in Russia, and in Petrozavodsk there are many small shops and cafes that won’t be able to take payment by card. If you want to pay by card it is best to do so in big shopping centres, malls and established restaurants.
The currency used as payment in Russia is the Ruble; in Petrozavodsk you won't be able to use Euros or Dollars to pay for things. However, you can easily exchange your different currency in banks in the city centre. We do not advice you to change money at stalls on the street; it is possible to do this, and legal, but you may lose out on money as street vendors may charge higher rates and may not object to deliberately misleading unsuspecting foreigners who may have trouble understanding.
IMPORTANT: DO NOT drink water straight from the tap. Unlike in Europe, where it is possible to drink from the tap, we advise you NOT to do that here in Russia. The water is dirty and may contain dangerous bacteria. Don't risk it, and boil or filter water, or just buy drinking water from any shop.
And for some more advice. According to the law it’s forbidden to drink alcohol in public places. Although you’ll probably see crowds of young people walking down the streets or sitting in parks with a bottle of beer etc, we do NOT advise you to follow this example. The same thing applies if you intend to drive here. Don't follow the example of other drivers and drive at a reasonable speed! You should only cross the street where there are traffic lights or zebra crossings. Foreigners generally received higher penalties than Russians for breaking the law. And please, sue your common sense and keep your things safe at all times!!
Of course this list doesn't cover everything you should know, but contains very important points which we would advise our foreign guests to remember in order to have a comfortable and safe stay in Russia.
Russians are very cheerful and famous for their hospitality. You will see this in the way your host family does their best to make you feel at home. They are sure to be keen to find out more about you, your family and your country and culture. So bring some photos from home to show them! Also don’t forget to bring a camera as there are lots of unique and beautiful places to go sightseeing! Try to purchase our national souvenirs as well to share impressions with you nearest and dearest back home.
Welcome to Russia!!!