Can anybody who has travelled Russia and/or China tell me how easy it is to get by only speaking English? I am thinking of travelling in both countries this winter. Do they speak English in the major cities and train stations?
[ Edit: Edited on Jun 14, 2007, at 8:40 AM by timdunford ]
Ive been to both St Petersburg & Beijing - used public transport in both cities and didnt have any major problems at all - we only speak English but we managed to make ourselves understood! Most people will speak English to some degree or level - or take a guide book which will have some translations or get your hotel/hostel to write in the local tongue names of places you need to go & indeed their address so that you can show to taxi drivers etc etc.
If anybody has any useful phrases in either language I'd really appreciate it. Does anybody know what the Russian and Chinese is for 'chicken'?
In Russia you will struggle to find anyone who speaks a single word of English other than student. Either they don't want to speak the most basic of English or they can't, but I only spoke to one person outside of the hostel staff that was Russian and spoke or understood any English. I got by with only knowing spa-see-ba (Thank you). With getting train tickets it is certainly a lot more difficult to get them without knowing any Russian at all. I got the hostel to write a brief note in Russian for me stating where I wanted to go, what date, approximate time and class of sleeper carriage I wanted. Then when I got to the station and they couldn't understand English I just handed the note and the time I got the hostel receptionist to write wasn't available, so the ticket person would show me the available time in 24 hour clock mode and I'd give them the go ahead with it. So it will definitely be some what harder in Russia to speak to any locals apart from hostel receptionists. I even had a hotel receptionist who didn't know any English. It'd definitely be advisable to at least learn the cyllic alphabet to read signs. In Moscow it was easy to get by on the metro when you carry one of the tourist metro maps which have both an English and Russian version of the train station, so you can look out for your stop. In St Petersburg I tried one time and struggled as I couldn't find a metro map like was the case in Moscow.
In China I didn't find a lot of people who knew any major English, but I still managed to get by using the standard basic sign language, writing what I see on signs, or getting hostel receptionists to write what I need. A must do in China is to get your hostel/hotel business card in Chinese as you may find you are hailing down a taxi for ages to find a driver who knows any English if you need to get a taxi back to your accommodation. Also have the phone number handy because you may need the driver to call the hostel/hotel if he can't find it and you can't navigate your own way there. Maybe it has changed somewhat since 2005 seeing the biggest event of 2008 is going to be arriving soon.
In the Cantonese Dialect of Chinese chicken is spelt "gai" (the a has a line on top and an example given for a letter with a line on top was silk and the i had the line above). I am hopeless with pronunciations of foreign words, but geh-e seems like what the pronunciation would be in the Cantonese dialect, but I have no phrase book or dictionary for Mandarin so some Chinese person would have to let you know of that one. In Russian my phrasebook says chicken is pronounced "kuritsa".
[ Edit: Edited on Jun 17, 2007, at 5:44 AM by aharrold45 ]
timdunford, I completely agree with aharrold45 about Russia.
In the big city you can easily find English spoken person in the street and get answers to your questions. But in small towns you will probably get a communication problem
I suggest to ask hotel staff to buy train ticket for you because train station staff rarely speak English.
But anyway, Russians are very friendly and people will try to help you even they don't understand English
I am not sure about right transcription, but you can use "tsiplyonok" "kooritsa" to say chicken in Russian. Last one (kooritsa) is more common.
p.s. Try to speak slowly, because most people in my country can read English, but haven't spoken practice...
p.s.s. Phrasebook: http://www.phrasebase.com/english/phrases/
[ Edit: Edited on Jun 17, 2007, at 10:39 PM by cybervlad ]
Thanks guys, that's a real help. I think I'm going to take one of those 'point it' guide with the pictures of everything you can just point at. That phrasebase website is good, cheers cybervlad. Is there anywhere you really recommend in Russia that's a must see? We probably have to start our journey in Moscow or St. Petersburg, which would you say is best?
St Petersburg is definitely better than Moscow. Not only is the visa registration process less painful there, but the police aren't everywhere you look trying to get bribes off tourists like is the case in Moscow.
Don't get me wrong by what I just wrote, Moscow is a really beautiful city that is fairly nice as well and is definitely a must see, but St Petersburg is better. I'd say St Petersburg deserves 7 days minimum and Moscow deserves 5 days minimum (add a few days more if you want to see the Golden ring places). That is how long I spent in Moscow and St Petersburg and I felt that it was just enough, but I always cram a lot in to my days.
If Eco-tourism is the sort of thing you like, The Great Baikal Trail/Lake Baikal, Primorsky Coast area, Amur River area and Kamchatka are meant to be really nice places for that. If Cultural travel is what you want, Kazan, Ulan Ude, Altai Republic (also looks very scenic), Tuva Republic and most of North-West Russia are meant to be the best places for that.
I've only been to Moscow and St Petersburg out of all of this, so I am only going on what I have read and what other very experienced tourists to Russia have told me recently for the other stuff.
Have a great trip.
[ Edit: Edited on Jun 25, 2007, at 6:10 AM by aharrold45 ]
timdunford, and again, i can't add anything to the reply of aharrold45
I prefer St Petersburg too.
Just keep in mind that there is very long distances between places listed by aharrold45 (except St Petersburg / Moscow). For example journey to Baikal/Altai/Tuva etc from Moscow will take about 5 days by train.
To reach Kamchatka you need 6-hours fly...
In general, if you want some eco-tourism, you need English spoken guide, because locals in these areas don't understand English at all...
Also I can recommend to visit Yekaterinburg:
There is not so many objects to see as in St Petersburg, but, some historical places can be very intresting. For example, Church on the Blood, built on the spot where the Ipatyev House once stood: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipatiev_House
I think, 1 or 2 days stopover will be enough.
Again, many thanks for the advice guys, its a big help.
Can you maybe tell me something about the trains? What are they like for food etc? Are there sleepers for the longer journeys? For the long trips between places would it be possible to stay on the train for a few days on end or would it be better to stop off every couple of days to get a shower etc?
Also, I've heard it can be expensive getting off and on all the time, as opposed to one big ticket, and that sometimes it is difficult to get tickets. Is this true, do anybody have any advice? We're travelling in November.
What are they like for food etc?
All trains have restaurant cars, though they vary wildly in quality and variety. In all you will be able to buy basic food, drinks and beer etc.
Every carriage has a samovar (a hot water boiler) which is constantly kept running, so you can always get hot water for drinks/instant noodles etc. Each carriage also has its own attendant, all of whom sell tean and coffee, most of whom also sell some noodles, beer, etc.
At many stops (though often not so much the big city stops) the train will stop for 10-25mins, and on the platforms will be lots of generally old ladies selling food and drinks - everything from frshly cooked bread and boiled eggs to bottles of vodka and instant noodles. Freshly smoked fish if you happen to be near a Lake. This way you can keep buying things as you go. However, it's always best to get on trains with at least some provisions, and stock up when you can as long stops can be many hours apaprt, or in cases, mostly in the middle of night.
Are there sleepers for the longer journeys?
Almost all trains are designed to run over very long distances, and expecting local/commuter trains and one or two others [the occassional day trains from Moscow to St. P, for example], ALL accom is sleeping (of 3 different classes).
For the long trips between places would it be possible to stay on the train for a few days on end or would it be better to stop off every couple of days to get a shower etc?
Entirely up to you. You can travel 8days straight on a train if you want, or you can travel in short bursts and stay overnight in places etc. It also depends if you want top see/visit places on route or not. Whilst there aren't showers on trains, there are sinks and hot water, so washing is possible. And, obviously, hundreds of millions of Russians and travellers have been travelling long distance on trains for many, many years without getting off every day or two to shower. You adapt.
Also, I've heard it can be expensive getting off and on all the time, as opposed to one big ticket, and that sometimes it is difficult to get tickets.
If you buy a through Moscow to Beijing ticket (for example) it is cheaper than getting on and off, but not hugely so. The basic rule of thumb is that it costs an extra 10usd for each stop that you make, though some are cheaper and some are more expensive. It can be difficult getting tickets at peak times (summer, holidays), but generally it is easy enough providing you flexible enough. Being able to take a train a day later, or few hours later, or going to a mid point and changing trains will offer you significantly more options than requiring a specific through train. But if you book one/two days beforehand (often you can do it on the same day) you should be fine. I try and book my onward ticket as soon as i arrive somewhere, and I've rarely had a problem - where I have, i've always been able to fix an alternative. And in November, you shouldn't have many problems.