I hate it when people bad-mouth a place. So i decided to check it out myself!
I found Moscow and St Petersburg to be safer than many European cities,( Think Barcelona / Milan). Russian cities close very late and its safe to walk on the streets, even late in the night.I walked at 2 am from the Red Square, along Tverovsky Street to my hotel. Lots of single women and couples on the street and you feel perfectly comfortable.
Russian Mafia is a bit like the Mumbai mafia. Unless you have pots of money, you really don’t need to worry.
Since the fall of communism, English is taught as a second language in Russian schools. Thus most young Russians know English. The Quality of interaction might vary, but in the big cities you can make do without Russian.
Surprisingly I have heard versions of this sentiment from even the locals. ( “We take time to open up”). In my experience I have found Russians to be as warm as most foreigners I have interacted with. Incidents like people stopping on the street to help you were the norm rather than the exception.
Yes. Hotels are super expensive in Moscow. But apart from Moscow accommodation, prices are on par with a cheap European city like Berlin. Accommodation in St Petersburg is reasonable.
Lots to see. If you rank the tourist stuff, Russian cities get a 7 out of 10. (Paris being a 10, Mumbai being a 3). Similar marks to what a Munich or a Stockholm would get. The cultural experiences are of course priceless. Our overnight Train compartment from St Petersburg to Moscow, had 2 officers from the Red Army, One of our guide was a physicist who was arrested by Putin for advocating democracy. Another guide had been a school teacher under communism. Post perestroika he lost his job, and now sings paeans of the communist leaders.
The biggest surprise for us was the how tasty and varied Russian food was. We had gone dreading that we would experience food which was very bland and totally meat based. A worse cousin of Central European cuisine. We were however pleasantly surprised. Russian food has lots of regional influences and apart from the core Russian food, food from the provinces (Georgian, Azerbaijan and Uzbek ) are very interesting. They have a lot of Middle Eastern influences and are very easy on the Indian palate