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Questions About Russia

St Basil's Cathedral Moscow, Russia

St Basil's Cathedral

Questions About Russia

An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983

Questions About Russia for Senior travellers on a small group tour.

Odyssey Traveller specialises in crafting unforgettable experiences for senior and mature-aged travellers for couples and solo travellers. Providing adventure and educational programs for escorted small group tours since 1983. Odyssey has built up a reasonable knowledge bank to answer questions about Russia that travellers are likely to ask, as they make their plans to tour independently, or with us as part of a small group tour. We hope that this list of frequently asked questions and the answers we provide will help you with planning your next holiday.

Read on, but please do not hesitate to contact us via the website, or through email or chat if you have more questions about Russia or our other tours.


Russia is the world’s largest country by area, spanning 11 time zones and bordering 16 countries, spread over a vast expanse of eastern Europe and northern Asia. It extends from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east. To the north is the Arctic Ocean, and down south is the Black Sea and the Caucasus. Its capital and largest city is Moscow.

Russia’s huge territory incorporates a wide range of environments and landscapes, evident on a ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway: the landscapes change as the train moves across Siberia.

If Siberia were a country in itself, it would be the largest country by area at 13.1 million square kilometres (5,100,000 sq mi). Today it accounts for 77% of Russia’s total land area.

Russia’s vast territory is home to a diverse, multi-ethnic population, though a huge majority of this population (81%) are ethnic Russians.

Modern Russians formed from East Slavic tribes (Rus’), but little is known about these tribes outside of archaeological remains. Rus’ comes from the Old Norse word for “men who row”, and probably referred to Norsemen who arrived in the region from Sweden. The Kievan Rus’, a loose federation of states which grew from the East Slavic tribes, and from which the name “Russia” is derived, are the ancestors of modern Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity was the country’s dominant religion for a thousand years since the 10th century, when  Vladimir I, grand prince of Kiev and ruler of the Kievan Rus’, was converted to Christianity by Byzantine missionaries. The Russian Orthodox church suffered under communist rule, but the dissolution of the Soviet Union gave way to religious freedom.

Majority of Russians belong to the Russian Orthodox church, which consider the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople as primus inter pares (first among equals) among the heads of Orthodox churches worldwide.

St Basil Cathedral, Moscow, Russia
Iconic Kazan Cathedral in Irkutsk, Russia


Russia is famous for its long, fascinating, and complex history, leaving behind various monuments still attracting thousands of visitors every year. It is also famous for its natural wonders and unique landscapes. Russia is home to many species of wildlife that cannot be found anywhere else.


“Taiga” is a forest of the cold, subarctic region, also the collective term used for the northern forests of Russia, especially Siberia. The word means “land of the little sticks” in Russian. The world’s largest taiga is in Russia, covering 5,800 kilometres (3,600 miles).

The taiga is filled with wildlife. Common in the area are the red squirrel (Scurius vulgaris), Siberian chipmunk (Eutamias sibiricus), arctic hare (Lepus timidus), lynx (Felis lynx), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), Siberian weasel (Mustela sibirica), ermine (Mustela erminea), wolverine (Gulo gulo), and sable (Martes zibellinus). Historically, the small, carnivorous sable was hunted for its dark brown or black fur. Sable fur has been a highly valued item since the early Middle Ages and was treasured by the Russian nobility. It formed the bulk of the tribute paid to the tsarist regime after the Russian invasion of Siberia.

The larger mammals seen in the taiga are the elk (Alces alces) and brown bear (Ursus arctos).

Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal is the largest, deepest, and oldest freshwater lake in the world. It contains nearly a quarter of the world’s fresh surface water, more water than all of the Great Lakes of North America combined. It has a depth of 1.6 kilometres (around a mile) and is considered the world’s oldest lake at 25 to 30 million years old. This is a popular stop for tourists riding the Trans-Siberian Railway. In summer, they can swim in the lake’s clear waters (so clear that from the surface you can see to 40 metres or 130 feet), or go ice fishing in winter on the lake’s frozen surface. They can also take the  Circumbaikal Railway, which offers a scenic and leisurely ride around the lake.

Lake Baikal is a zoologist’s and botanist’s dream–it is home to more than 1,700 species of plants and animals, 80% of them endemic to the area. Baikal’s commercial fish is the endemic omul (Coregonus migratorius), a white fish belonging to the salmon family. It is often sold smoked, a local delicacy.

Stolby National Park

The Stolby National Park (Nature Sanctuary) is located 10 kilometres south of the city of Krasnoyarsk. Founded in 1925 by locals, Stolby (“pillars”) derives its name from the unusual shapes of its rock formations mostly of sedimentary and volcanic origin, dating back to the Cambrian Period, making the rocks more than 600 million years old.


The Kremlin, with its roots as a medieval city-fortress, the seat of the Orthodox Church, and now the centre of political power of present-day Russia, is a sight to behold. Enclosed by high walls and heavily guarded, the best way to see it is during a boat cruise on the Moscow River. An entrance ticket (through the Kutafya tower) will give you access to the numerous monuments and church-museums within the Kremlin walls.

Red Square

The Red Square is outside the eastern wall of the Kremlin, and used to separate the Kremlin from Kitay-gorod, a centre of commercial activity in medieval Moscow. Red Square is also called Krasnaya ploshchad; while in modern Russian, krasnaya translates to “red”, in Old Russiankrasnaya is the word for “beautiful”. And the Red Square indeed is beautiful, surrounded by monuments of historical importance.

The Romanovs

Nicholas and the tsarist regime fell in the February 1917 revolution. The fallen tsar and his family (Tsarina Alexandra and their five children, along with three servants and the family physician, Dr Yevgeny Botkin) were detained following Nicholas’s forced abdication, and were killed by firing squad in Yekaterinburg by their Bolshevik captors in 1918.

The Russian Orthodox church, Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints, was erected on the spot where the murders occurred, the basement where the family was slain becoming part of the church structure.

Nevsky Prospekt

Nevsky Prospekt is St Petersburg’s central artery. It takes its name from Alexander Nevsky Lavra (a lavra is a monastery consisting of cells for hermits) which was founded to commemorate Prince (and later Saint) Alexander Nevsky for defeating the Swedes. Being the main thoroughfare of the city, palaces, shops, cafes, and cathedrals sprouted along Nevsky Prospekt, and walking its entire length (4 kilometres from Admiralty to the monastery) can be a magical experience.

The Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints, Yekaterinburg, Russia
A view of Russia’s Lake Baikal
View of the pillars in Stolby Nature Reserve in Krasnoyarsk, Russia
A wooden chalet in the midst of the taiga in Irkutsk, Russia
Two elks fighting in the winter forest.
View of the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia
View of the Peterhof Grand Palace in St Petersburg, Russia


The double-headed eagle appears on Russia’s national emblem, a bird facing the East and the West simultaneously. A symbol of unity, it originated from the Byzantines, who used the double-headed eagle on their coins and the emperors’ clothes. The first official Russian seal bearing the two-headed animal appeared in 1497, more than two decades after Ivan III married Byzantine princess Sophia Palaiologina. The eagle was replaced by the hammer and the sickle during the Soviet era, but was reinstated in 1993.

Yes, however the Australian government advises travellers to exercise a high degree of caution in Russia overall, and to reconsider your need to travel to regions bordering the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkiv due to political unrest.

The US Department of State provides the same travel advisory for Russia overall, and warns against travel to the North Caucasus and Crimea.

For more information on travel security, visit the Australian government travel advisory service or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

According to Russia Beyond, tap water in Russia is safe and meets the country’s sanitary standards, however it is not recommended to drink as the quality may not be good; for example, the water in Siberia has high concentration of silicon and manganese. Better to boil or filter the water first!

Yes, but you must obtain a valid visa prior to arrival. If you are arriving by cruise ship or ferry at St Petersburg and Vladivostok, you are permitted to stay in Russia for 72 hours without a visa, if accompanied by a tour operator licensed by Russian authorities.

US citizens can find more information here. The Embassy of the Russian Federation in the USA  also provides up to date information.

Whether or not you need a visa to enter the Russian Federation will depend on your citizenship. As visa rules frequently change, make sure to check with your tour operator or the nearest Russian embassy or consulate to verify the details prior to your departure.

To obtain a tourist visa, your passport must be valid six (6) months beyond your intended stay, and you must have tickets and documents for your return or onward travel from Russia.

Citizens of certain nations are not required to obtain a visa prior to visiting Russia, as long as they honour the length of stay provided by their country’s visa waiver agreement with the Russian Federation.

Autumn in Primorsky Krai, in Far East Russia.
Altai mountains, Russia
Capturing a picture of Moscow’s Red Square

If you’d like to learn more, do join Odyssey Traveller’s tours to Russia, designed for the mature-aged and senior travellers.

Take a look at the itineraries, and please call or send an email if you have further enquiries.


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