You may already be aware that Russia Experience produces a handy guide to your voyage: the Trip Info Pack. It’s a pretty damn useful companion for those embarking on a Trans-Siberian rail trip. When you have signed up, you’ll be presented with your own copy, and from that point: you’re “in”. You’re one of us now – and must stay, forever! Well that last point is optional, of course.
In this last look at travel preparations during the final countdown, I’ll be drawing on the guide’s eminently practical advice. Remember when I recommended photocopying all your travel documents (more than once) and dispersing said copies about your luggage and your person? It is ideal to have more than one copy of the pack – scan it and then email digital copies to your own email address. That way you’ll have high quality copies available to you wherever you travel. This is in addition to the hard-copies of course.
See how useful the Trip Info Pack is, already?
Are you on medication? You will have to bring enough to cover your entire Russian visit, yes? And perhaps a small contingency in case you drop some down the toilet or they ‘go missing’ along with your wallet. Well, it’s advisable to keep any medication in its original packaging – if you consider just how a casually wrapped polythene zip-bag of nameless pills would look to a customs officer. The same goes for over-the counter medication such as the aspirin in your first aid kit.
Batteries are readily available in Russia – provided that you only need double or triple ‘A’ sizes. With anything more exotic, say: camera batteries for instance, then you are really chancing your arm if you fail to bring them with you.
On the subject of electricity, a multi-way mains adaptor is pretty essential for all of your western electronics. Both Russian and Mongolian sockets feature two round pins, whilst China uses a double flat pin format. One adapter won’t do. Don’t be tempted to use a plug with two pins “that fits” into a three pin socket (or other suicidal variations) – that extra socket hole is there for a reason, probably in connection with ‘saving your life’!
One of the things that Russia does well is: ‘boiling water on trains’. There’s lots of it. You’re in samovar territory now, after all. It’s all there for copious amounts of tea and coffee; unlike tap water, which you should never drink anywhere on your trip – or clean your teeth with, gargle with and so forth. Think: “if it comes out of a tap, then it stays out of me”. The one possible exception concerns establishments where expensive in-house water filtering systems (yes: systems) have been installed.
At any rate; it’s recommended that you bring your own instant coffee/tea for rail-time – not necessarily for safety reasons, it’s just that the local instant stuff is reportedly foul. You’ll also need sugar and some creamer/whitener (they don’t generally do “white”). Oh, an insulated, travel-proof mug will also come in handy. So that’s: everything but the boiling water then.
You’ll also need a mini-immersion boiler to go with the travel adaptor. That’s a one-cup sized unit, for when you inevitably find that your hotel room doesn’t have a kettle. Another missing gap (literally) is a self-seating travel plug for your bath. Yes, you are likely to find them absent as well.
Footwear and clothing is worth some thought and will of course vary according to the time of year in which you travel, and the activities that you intend to pursue. For trekking, a decent pair of walking boots with ankle support and a good grip are strongly recommended. This is not necessary however if you’ll only be on and off trains and around town. In the latter case, a good, durable set of shoes is in order as Russian pavement maintenance is not what it could be. The obvious choice would be decent trainers, but there is still something of a stigma associated with ‘sportswear’. It’s generally looked down upon; urban Russians tend towards smarter footwear and trainers would probably get your entry refused from clubs. These, along with looser clothing work better on the trains as a matter of comfort. Trains are generally warm – even in winter – so you’ll need something more comfortable to slip into between freezes (or bakes).
Speaking of winter: it’s a cold that you wouldn’t believe: so thick, insulated coats, boots, hats, gloves and a warm scarf for your face are recommended. You’ve probably noticed the huge outdoor ensembles that the Russians wear – well these are the locals! They’re used to it and they still deck themselves out for the Arctic. What are your chances?
Clothing also has to fit the environment culturally when it comes to visiting prestige establishments, especially those of a religious nature. Russian Orthodoxy is taken very seriously by devotees – on a par with national pride – so you will be expected to dress modestly; to fully cover-up when visiting churches and cathedrals – minus headgear for men. Women are expected to wear a headscarf however, and to be fully prepared: a long skirt too. Some establishments may hire/loan long sack-cloth like attire, but it’s better not to chance it. Sorry ladies, Russia is not exactly at the cutting edge of feminism yet.
There’s plenty more to discuss in the area of do’s and do-nots. We will be looking at some more later.
[Photo by Limp182]