We all have a vision on how we will spend our precious days away from regular life. For some its traveling far from home to a place where most things are foreign. An evening stroll along the Volga viewing the red stars that light up the top of the Kremlin, Seven Sisters and St. Basil’s. There’s also the subterranean beauty of the extensive subway system lit with crystal chandeliers and elegant tiled passageways which look more like a museum then public transport hubs.
Intrepid shopping trips to the Vernisage in Izmailovo Flea Market checking out Matryoshki dolls painted with Putin and Medvedev faces, Lenin and Stalin commemorative Statues and other Soviet Kitsch objects.
Today, visitors can freely walk around the interior walls that surround the Kremlin fortress where former Czar royals lived in seclusion and away from the common people. Their ostentatious collections of jewels, thousands of pieces of cutlery, carriages, clothing and countless gives from allies are on display for those who can pay 700 rub or about $25 USD and no pictures allowed, viewing times are limited and just about everything is a bit irregular.
All there is to be seen in Moscow and much of Russia does come with a hefty price tag which starts with the visa and goes through the lack of budget accommodation. This is not an ideal backpacker spot since it’s impossible to just land and figure it out as you go. I guess if there is a will then there’s a way like but at an expense which would deter most vagabonds.
If a traveler has their heart set on a trip to Russia then the investment is well worth the hoops and greasy palms one must contend with before being let in. If not, there are less expensive alternatives which provide similar experiences with less of a price tag and hassles. Many former Soviet controlled cities offer a good alternatives for travelers looking for signs of the glory days of communism under Stalin and Lenin.
Tbilisi instead of Moscow
One of those is the lovely former Soviet satellite country of the Georgian Republic. This lovely country is on the move and could be a member of NATO as soon as this May when NATO holds their summit in Chicago. This doesn’t exactly thrill Russia and tension between the two still continues on.
Tbilisi lies of the banks of the Kura River and it’s hills contain medieval fortresses, parks and the larger than life soviet style Kartlis Deda Statue.
The war is over in Georgia and it’s a wonderful place to visit. Travelers can’t find any better Soviet kitsch then the Stalin Museum in Gori, Georgia. This is where you can see the home of Josef and his family and view the 83 ton very secure custom train the paranoid Stalin travelled in while visiting his post 1941 conquered regions. There is much more to Georgia than birthplace of one of the world’s most paranoid and murderous dictator. They are still in the process of removing him from their past which includes everything Soviet. Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s pro-Western president, is trying to get rid of all Stalin references and not so long ago finally had his statue removed from the center of Gori. President Saakashvili wants to continue to sever all connections to Russia’s former occupation of Georgia.
Just trade it for Red Wine and/or Borjomi
Georgia continues in their quest to be known less for its conflicts and more for things like their fine wines, bubbly therapeutic mineral water and unique culture.The Russian’s continue their embargo on Georgia’s biggest beverage exports, wine and a salty mineral water with the labels of Borjomi and Nabeghlavi.
Wine is the blood of Georgians as vodka is in most of Russian citizens blood. Russia’s ban only makes both very affordable for locals and visitors. Vodka of all kinds is not hard to find and one of the few Soviet traditions that will be hard for Georgians to give up but the wine is devine and extremely budget friendly thanks to the Russian embargo and lack of interest from this feisty neighbor.
There’s nothing that can touch the beauty and elegance of the subway stations found in Moscow. The few built in Tbilisi which give visitors a feel for the signature look the Soviet designers were going for. Construction of most of these smaller marble walled stations was completed in 1966. Today, there’s no longer signs of Stalin, but they do deeply resemble those built in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The subway conductors and security do not allow picture-taking inside the subway system. I managed to accidentally bump my camera with this one below.
Budget low down:
Georgia: Free for most upon arrival
Russia: $130 on average and need to start process at least 2 months before departure
Accommodation in the city:
$40-100 USD/night for most hotels including breakfast and private bath similar to the Charm Hotel
$70-100 USD/night for most double with separate bath no breakfast at hotels like and similar to the Petrovka Loft close to Red Square
Splashed out 3-course meal: $30 USD
Traditional Georgian Cuisine Menu:
– a glass of wine for $3.61
– a liter bottle of Borjomi for 90 cents USD
– a plate of 3 Khinkali for 90 cents USD
– a large Khachapuri or cheese bread for $3.91 USD
Meal totaling: $9.32 USD without tip
Basic Budget meals: $10-12 USD without drink
McDonald’s Value Meal: $4.99 USD
Cheap Eats listed on this site made for foreign students staying in Moscow.
Cities of Georgia may not have the prestige of cities found in the former Mother Land of Russia but they are easier on the wallet. The choice is of course the travelers. Travelers will find a visit to Tbilisi an experience to remember. Travelers can see where Stalin grew up and how the first Soviet satellite country to declare independence from Russia has fared despite continuous conflict after cutting loose.