Fifa World Cup was the event of the year, and Junaid was there to see it with friends! Join Social Diary as we follow Junaid through the streets and cathedrals of Russia!
- What was so special about selecting Russia for your holiday destination?
A couple of my friends and I were very excited when we heard that FIFA World Cup was taking place in Russia. It’s not that I am a diehard fan, but it seemed like an amazing opportunity to visit Russia and watch the world cup. Travelling an exploring the world is something that I really look forward to. We all knew that there would be a lot of festivities and it would be fun. It was completely worth everything, the culture, the people and everything there was simply worth it.
- Which cities have you been travelling to within Russia? What was your first expression of the cities you named?
I visited two destinations, St Petersburg and Moscow. Reason why we only stuck to these was that we only had a few days to look around, and it was not a wise idea to spend the time travelling on the road. These were places we really wanted to visit. So we spent three days in each city. It was a wonderful experience; specifically before going there I did a bit of my research. And none of the things I read were very motivating. Stories about muggings and thefts had shaken us a bit and we assumed that the situation would not be so ideal, but we did not experience any such incident.
- What is the differentiating feature of Russia from the rest of Asia?
Russians are the nicest people; they are very innocent and straightforward. They are not something like you would have expected after watching a movie produced in Hollywood. They are very liberal when it comes to their dressing, yet at the same time quite conservative in their thinking. They are very decent and nice people. Secondly the architecture is a mnemonic of European architecture. They have numerous cathedrals and churches.
- Russian cuisine has Northern and Eastern European, Caucasian, Central Asian, Siberian, and East Asian influences. Which food did you try out and you think it was worth the value?
We tried a number of different things. We had continental food, Chinese, Thai, Arabic, and the local specialties as well. So we tried a bunch of things. In terms of taste it was quite delicious. In both the cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, all the food we had was very delicious. We also tried food that is available in Pakistan. But there were certain items which were quite unique.
- Did you try the street food there? How different is it from Pakistani street food? Also was it easy to find halal food?
We did try street food, but from what I understood it is not as prominent there. There was one particular thing we tried and it had a long line. It was sugar coated bread being served with tea. It was okay, not out of the world, as for the quality of the food was pretty good. But I think we have a better variety of street food here in Pakistan.
There is a famous arbat street in Moscow, where there are different restaurants. Taj Mahal is the one we ate frequently, which is halal. There are quite a few halal restaurants in Moscow, since there are many people from post Soviet nations living there, such as Uzbek, Tajik and they are all Muslims. Chaye Khanna is another restaurant we ate at. I had borscht/Russian cuisine). We also had Uzbek plov and manti (dumpling) at an Uzbek restaurant in St Petersburg. They don’t use much spice in their food unlike us.
- Moscow is a very old city, and its history is visible from the architecture throughout. How was your experience in the city?
Yes, we had reserved a day to visit most of the cathedrals and churches in both the cities. In St Petersburg we had arranged for a tour guide, who explained the history and background of the places. It was a wonderful experience. It was amazing to see that most of these churches were well kept and maintained. Some of them were even rebuilt and upgraded. In one of the church they had a timeline of how the church had evolved overtime. The models were quite interesting to see.
- Did you visit any of the historical sites in Moscow, such as St. Basil’s Cathedral, Bolshoi Theatre and Kremlin?
Of course we had to visits these areas! Kremlin is a place that I had seen so many times in movies, so the trip would not have been completed without it. We also visited the Kremlin Wall. It was a sight worth seeing. In Moscow we saw Kremlin, St Basil sadly didn’t go inside, GUM mall which is one of the oldest malls in world; every site had a unique architecture.
In St Petersburg we saw Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St Isaac cathedral, Hermitage museum, again from outside, Winter Palace, Peter and Paul fortress, Kazan cathedral, Palace Square.
- How was the trip to St. Petersburg? Did you visit the Baltic Sea?
It was beautiful. The architecture there was mesmerizing, and as for the people they were so cooperative. The overall environment had a very positive vibe. It had quite a few interesting cafes there. Café Singer was worth visiting. It had the best view on the block; we could see an old cathedral as we sipped away and had delicious food. We did not go to the Baltic Sea, but we visited Nevsky Prospekt, which is the main Street in St Petersburg. You can see the Neva River from Peter and Paul fortress flowing into the Baltic Sea from there.
- Any funny incident that took place on your trip?
One thing that was very common in both the cities was that there were countless street musicians all over the place. This was not something funny, but it was very amusing for me. They would be playing numerous tunes, which we did not understand but the locals there really appreciated it. So while walking in Moscow we stopped to listen to a band performing there. While we were listening my friends urged me to go and sing with the band. That was a wonderful and memorable experience.
- Did you bring any souvenirs with you?
There were a lot of souvenirs shops there. The place is famous of their matryoshka dolls, which is a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another. I visited this shop there and they had all sorts of Russian dolls. They had dolls of numerous singers and bands, such as Metallica and Bon Jovi. So I bought some to bring back.
- Crazy shoppers are always looking for things they MUST have. What would you suggest they should buy and from where (If you know a particular place)?
Whenever I go abroad I do make it appoint to check put local brands and shops. So in both Moscow and St Petersburg I visited Zara shops there, though it is not a Russian brand, but the shops were so huge that I could not say no to them because it is one of my favorite brands!
- What time of the year do you recommend travelers to visit Russia?
I think the time I visited was the best. Mostly because the days are very long and the nights are short. I was amazed that the sun was out even at 10 pm in the night. The sun would go down at 11:30 or 12:00 at night and would be out again around 3.So this made it very productive to have long days. As for the weather it was quite pleasant. It was not hot at all, rather it was cold. Moscow was warm, whereas St Petersburg was relatively colder.
- One word to describe your experience?
- What is the one thing that you always take with you on your trips?
I think it would be my phone to capture all those moments with everyone, specifically my fans. Secondly, of course cash to experience as much as I can.
- Deciding on what to spend on more (food, hotel or travelling) is a decision we all take. Which of these do you prefer to empty your pockets on?
For me it would be travel, food and hotel. I would really rather spend more on travelling and food, as I love trying new food and enjoying it. After that it would be hotels, because I usually do not spend a lot of time there. I spend my time, day or night, roaming around the cities, so it does not make sense to spend so much on hotels.
- For those of us planning to visit Russia, what is the minimum amount (pkr) you would suggest we should keep?
A Russian Rubble has a value of almost twice as much as a Pakistani Rupee. One Rubble is for 2 rupees, so it is not at all expensive, Russia is quite reasonable. Also since we did not spend that much on the hotels it did not cost us much that much. I would say that you can have a wonderful trip within 2 lac Pakistani Rupees for a week.
- Where were you staying and was it comfortable enough for you? What do you think is the current situation of the accommodation in Pakistan? (In comparison)
We were staying at a hostel with separate rooms. It was very clean and hygienic. When we went there we realized that they have a lot of people coming in from all over the world. This is the reason everything is quite well maintained and clean. In comparison in Pakistan things are not that good, mostly because our tourism sector is not that robust. We have good hotels, but if anyone wants to look for a reasonable stay, such as hostels, they are not that good.
- Suggest a few ideas which in your opinion would enhance the traveling experience in Pakistan?
One thing that the countries all over the world do is that they project a very good image of themselves. No country is perfect; they all have crimes and have problems. But what they do is hide these things from international travelers and the world. The people within the countries know what is happening, but they highlight only the positive aspect for tourism. This is something that Pakistan should do, and I think the media has a major role to play along with this political and industrial bodies also need to be active. We have everything, different seasons, natural resources, culture, locations, everything. We need to improve our image, create a better system and invest in the positive image. And we should promote and brag about our positive aspects, just look at countries around us, they do the exact same thing!