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Tips for Travelers: Russia 2004

Money

Travelers Cheques are little use in Russia, though you can cash them at the airport and hotels. What you need is cash: either American dollars or Euros. This, of course, makes you somewhat vulnerable on arrival at the airport and hotel.

Money Belt and carrying valuables

A money belt is vital and it must be very hard to get at. Forget bum bags: you might as well pin the money to your clothes.

Do not carry anything you're not prepared to lose.

This sounds rather pessimistic but the previous tour group had someone whose credit cards were stolen. Our group had a camera stolen in a bar and one of the people who carry the pandas around nearly had his credit cards stolen from a trouser pocket.

Metro Stations

This is a well-documented scam, but it nearly got us. At the entrance to the metro, two or three people restrict entrance to the station. They let people through in bursts and look as though they may be working at the station.

As the intended victim gets close to the door, the flow of pedestrians is stopped and the victim is surrounded and bundled away from the door. Pockets and bags are then rifled.

If you feel that access through the Metro entrance is being restricted, check that the people at the door are not wearing uniforms. If it comes to it, don't stop: force your way through and keep an eye on other people in your group.

Metro

This warning applies to most underground systems but especially Moscow and St Petersburg.

The train doors are controlled by a timer not by a guard. Therefore, when it is busy there is a lot of pushing to get on and off the train.

When using the metro, make sure your pockets contain nothing valuable, keep close hold of your bags, wear rucksacks on your front not back, and keep and eye on fellow tourists.

Vodka

Cheapest place to buy decent vodka is a supermarket, though you must pay in cash. Avoid the brands you know here.

Some brands are expensive and targeted at tourists: no Russian could afford them. You can get a good bottle for around five Euros.

Credit Cards

Cards can be used in larger stores and hotels but many shops prefer cash. We were asked for our PIN number in a supermarket, which seemed wrong. As we didn't know it, and wouldn't have given it anyway, cash was the only alternative.

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