A diverse and rich culture.
The old Soviet image of Russia – as a land of bureaucratic hurdles, Lenin statues, corrupt police, vodka, Cyrillic signage, and cute onion-shaped domes – is alive and well in the new (far more expensive) Russia. The nation spans nine time zones, but the bulk of visitors stick with the westernmost one: to see St. Petersburg (a town of Venice-style canals and European-style palaces) and Moscow (home to the Kremlin, the Bolshoi ballet, and bewilderingly expensive sushi bars). But only seeing those two cities is like visiting New York and saying you know the United States. The trains are great in Russia (with door locks and samovars down the hall); they're a super way to get into the countryside of birch forests and taiga that extend the full week it takes to penetrate Siberia to get to distant Vladivostok. There are stops every 25 or 30 hours so you can see where the last czar was shot at Yekaterinburg, quaint wooden architecture in Tomsk, and massive, mountain-rimmed Lake Baikal in Siberia (bigger than North America’s Great Lakes combined). Best of all are the train-mates you will meet along the way, cute Russian grandparents who share their kielbasa sausage, home-grown tomatoes, cheese, and, of course, vodka.