If you have concerns about safety, wondering how to hail those cars on the streets, what it would be like to walk at night alone or taking a long Trans-Siberian train, we combined some experience-based practical advices in this article – written by women travelers.
Traveling in the City: Metro and Bus
In the crowded Metro, there is the custom that a gentleman should let his seat to a woman. But generalythe first who got the seat keeps it. Babushkas sometimes tell off young men who don't stand up for them.
When taking the Metro with a child, people sitting move a bit to let a little space for the child, and often someone stands up to let you sit with the child. People are helpful with carrying push chairs but like in every capital city, it might be not so comfortable to get it on and off trolley buses, minibuses, Metros..
If you live in the suburbs, you might have to take a 'marshrudka' (e.g. minibus) to the nearest Metro station. In the mornings they're usually very crowded , some of them not even stopping at your stop because they're already full. When one marshrudka stops, the first in the line at the bus stop get in first but Babushkas often fight their way through and in front of the others. If you don't wish to wait for hours, I advise you to do like them and push through the crowd regardless of their comments.
If you're in a hurry, the fastest option is to wave your hand for a car and to ask for a ride to the closest Metro (usually costs around $1US for 5 minutes ride). In the morning it is the safest moment of the day to take a car in this way, as the drivers are often people going to their work.
Some useful tips to take a car: -- Stand next to a bus stop, so the car has space to stop and if the bus you need arrives, you can take it. -- Choose whom you get in with, for example don't wave your hand to a car with more than one man inside, or to a car with black windows. If a car you don't like stops for you, kindly ignore it or nod a 'no' with the head and step back with the people waiting for the bus. -- Wave your hand to a women driver. -- When the car stops, talk through the window and say to which place you want to go ( for ex. 'doMetro Izmailovskaya') and for what price ( 'za sorok-40- Ruble')
At the airports, taxi drivers ask people if they want a drive to the city. Some of them are not very reliable, and they propose high prices. It is not very safe to use their services. To get to the city, there is a shuttle in the day time from the airport to the nearest Metro stations in Moscow and St Pete; in Irkutsk there is a bus to the city. If you arrive late at night, it is safe to book a taxi beforehand, it will be cheaper and safe, at the condition that you get in the car of the right driver. You can order a taxi for a transfer in Moscow through our site. You can tell us with what sign you want the taxi driver to meet you.
What to Wear in Russia
Once I met three Belgium girls traveling along the Transsib. They told me they had hesitated to pack their mini skirts, and short shorts to wear while in Russia. But when they saw how the girls where dressed here, they felt very free of wearing what they like, even they felt like cutting their shorts shorter.
If in the daytime, in the summer, it might be tempting to walk in the streets of big cities, dressed like the Russian girls, with no bra, mini skirts... it feels safer to wear something to cover oneself when taking
the metro back to suburbs, or when the evening comes.
In winter, it feels as if you're wearing two skins: one warm coat for walking outside, and taking the public transports, and a light outfit under it for when you're inside a building. Most public places, like libraries, universities, museums, cinemas, concert rooms, have a cloak room, so you can leave your warm coat, and hat and walk in light demi-saison clothes. Many Russian women wear fur coats, especially babushkas. The attitude towards fur is very different than in the West where it seems very posh and cruel to wear animal fur. In Russia it is very common, and fur is not as rare as in the West as all animals grow a natural winter warmer fur. As fur coats are relatively cheap they're popular among things brought back from Russia by foreign lady visitors.
On the beaches, women usually wear swimming costumes and are surprisingly rarely topless. There are some kind of outdoor changing rooms installed on every public beach for people to dress and undress out of sight. There are some nudist beaches in St Pete and on lake Baikal. Swimming naked on public beaches can be 'offending'.
Last Summer 2002, we were taking a traditional Russian 'Bagna' on Olkhon Island with some friends, and as the tradition wants it, every ten minutes or so, we were running naked out of the steaming little house into the fresh waters of Baikal lake. After the 'Bagna', once we were dressed, a guy from Irkutsk administration showed us his id, and told us 'what we were doing was disturbing public order', we were 'out of the Russian law', 'the beach is a public place'...etc... He didn't fine us finally but I think he had time to have a good peep before making a fuss.
So I'd advise to think twice and look where you are before going wild.
It can be interesting to enter in an Orthodox Church, especially when it's the time of worship, and that people sing, and light candles and incense. It is polite to cover your hair with a veil, or a scarf, or even a hat. In summer you might be refused the access to the church if you have bare arms and legs. The men also should have their body covered, but their head should be bare.
Is it Safe to Walk Alone?
Like in many places, when darkness comes, weird people start to be met and it's advisable not to hang around in the parks or in the suburbs.
If some drunk guys start bothering you at night, calling you, putting themselves on your way, by experience, I think it is good to look down avoiding any eyes contact. Just continue your way with a firm step, stay quite, look as if you know where you're going and you don't see them. Often they'll continue to call you and comment on you until you're out of sight and they won't piss off more. Engaging into conversation can keep them glued to you until your door step.
In the day time, it's completely safe to walk alone, even in the residential suburbs as there are many families with children.
However, pickpockets are also in Russia and it is safer to keep your money bag tucked under your clothes, that it doesn't stand out too much.
Traveling in Russian Trains Alone
Women who take the train alone in Russia often buy a berth in a plazkart wagon, or common wagon. Mostly families travel there, and lone travelers. It's an opportunity to meet with people, to share with them a meal, to talk and it feels safer to be among many people than in the confinement of the kuppe, or the four berths compartment. Taking a berth in a Kuppe can be safer to put away your bag and it is usually cleaner than in the common carriage. The only thing is that you may not fancy your neighbors. For example many soldiers travel in 'kuppe' as they have free rail tickets. Their jokes and stories about the war are interesting but the soldiers tend to get fast too drunk and noisy. However Russian women traveling alone often ask the conductor of the wagon to change compartments, and an arrangement is usually found.
If you like to check how much fat is in the food you eat it's quite practical in Russia as all packed products bear on them the amount of fat and proteins. Fat is written Üàê ('zhir'), proteins is
'belki', the amounts are in percentage for 100 grams. In the cities, a lot of kiosks sell different food. It is possible to eat healthily on the street, buying fruits, cottage cheese/ tvorog- Творог, black bread/ tchyorne khleb- Хлеб , dried fruits, a baked potato...Here are some usefull words: --fruits/ frukti Фрукты , --vegetables/ ovoshi Овощи, --cakes/ pirozhki-Пирожки, --potato/ kartoshka-Картошка(with cheese/ s' sirum, without butter/ byez masla).
Contraceptive Pills and Personal Hygiene
Even though the contraceptive pill is used by more and more women in Russia, in the drugstores ('apteka') you won't find the same brands as in other countries, so you might as well bring with you the quantity of pills needed for your stay. If you lose them, you can phone to an international clinic for advice on which Russian substitute you can buy.
Menstrual protections can be bought in many places in big cities for ex. in the stores in most of the central metro stations, or in drugstores, in supermarkets, in local shops. There are international brands such as 'always', 'carefree' and 'libresse'.
Only one kind of pregnancy tests are found easily. The one which works only when the woman is in the first days of menstruation delay. Other tests can't be found, better not take a risk of getting pregnant in Russia.
Condoms are sold everywhere. 'Durex' brand is very popular. In smaller cities you often find only Russian brands or some fake Chinese counterparts, which might not be as reliable as known trademarks from the West.
It is forbidden to piss in the streets in Russia, as much for men as for women, and it is fined a higher price for foreigners, so be discreet if you have a pressing need. Or better, enter any cafe and ask for the toilets ('gdye twalet?'). Even if you're not a customer, the cafes usually don't mind you use their toilets.
The public toilets and the toilets in the railways are quite dirty. Women's toilets, however, tend to stink less than men's.
In Russia, you'll find toilets with seats and without. Often there is no toilet paper or only very rough grey rolls.
In trains, the toilets close during the stop at stations. The floor and the seat of the toilet are often wet and sticky because of piss. There is a special way to sit, which can be useful to know about: you'll notice the seat is a bit larger on the sides, this is to let you squat on it. You can hold on the handle not to lose balance while the train is moving.
On the door of the toilets for women there is usually the letter Ж for Женщины 'Zhenshini'- Women in Russian. The letter for man is М for Мужчины 'Muzhchine'-Men. It's like an X with a vertical bar in the middle. Sometimes they make Cyrillic letters look beautiful.