Hi from Rick: Russian from Here to There
I've just returned from Russia, where I spent five days wrapping up my summer trip. The travel thrills I had in the new St. Petersburg reminded me that even if we've "seen" a place before, it's likely become a very different place in today's fast changing Europe. It also reminded me of how fun it is to be steep on the learning curve. Every hour came with surprises and life-long memories.
Exploring yields great moments. In a local market, I learned why pickles are always a big part of any market scene here: When a Russian man thinks of vodka, he thinks of pickles. Just as we enjoy chips or pretzels with our beer, Russians crave pickled vegetables with their firewater.
On the way home from the Catherine Palace on a hot, hot day, our bus driver stopped at a big Soviet-era square, where hundreds of kids were enjoying buckets of fun with the fountains. Watching the commotion (and dodging lots of water, as tourists were fair game), I was struck by how, throughout the world, the laughter of happy children sounds exactly the same.
I picked up a few practical travel tips in St. Petersburg, too. While probably not recommendable for a guidebook reader, the city's "unofficial" taxi system is fascinating, and locals take full advantage of it. Getting a ride is like fishing. You look for an old beater of a car (usually a Soviet-era Lada) driven by a single man (usually a Central Asian immigrant) and hold out your hand. He stops, and you negotiate a price. Locals might pay 100 rubles ($3) for a ride that tourists would be lucky to get for 200 rubles. Then hop in...and pray you get to the place you agreed to be taken. I soon got pretty good at spotting beat-up Ladas with Uzbek drivers, saving us miles of walking. Hopping into a Lada one time, I told my local guide, "This is a good system." He corrected me, saying, "No, this is a good lack of a system."
To read a day-by-day account of my travels in Russia — with fun photos and video clips — visit Rick Steves on Facebook.
Smart travel is all about sharing what we've learned to help make somebody's next trip smoother and more rewarding. In this month's Travel News we continue the tradition with articles on budget tips for 20-something travelers, European beers, Czech byways, royal birthplaces — plus readers' confessions of travel lessons they've learned the hard way, and a video introduction to my content-packed YouTube channel.
Thanks for traveling along with us. And if you're ever in St. Petersburg and see me driving by, be sure to hold out your hand.