“Isn’t it going to be really cold?” was the response we most commonly received after mentioning our plans to visit to Russia in winter. But Robert and I were insanely excited, and it entirely lived up to our expectations.
Snowflakes landed on our shoulders as we waltzed through Red Square in the heart of Moscow, St Basil’s Cathedral looking unbelievably dreamy with snow perched on its many striped spires.
But yes, they were right – the cold was a shock to the system. In St Petersburg, early December meant the sun appeared above the horizon around 9:30am, and set at about 3:00pm, Even standing in full sunlight during this time did not warm us up in the slightest.
The ridiculously short daylight hours did not give us a lot of time to sightsee, but we were keen to explore so by braving the icy conditions we learnt very quickly how to stay out and about in negative 5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit). Here are our top 5 tips on how to survive a Russian Winter.
1. Don’t Ever Stop Moving
Keep moving, always. Constant movement keeps your body temperature up, the minute you stop you’ll start feeling the cold seeping through your clothes into your skin. On our first day we stopped to take photos outside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. What a mistake that was! Don’t even stop for 5 minutes – just take the photo and move on. Or walk in circles, that also works.
2. Retreat every 1.5 hours.
We used cafes, bars, restaurants, and museums – anything with heating will do. Regularly escaping the cold will give your fingers the opportunity to defrost and your body temperature a chance to return to normal. You’ll also give yourself time to mentally prepare for your inevitable return back into the cold.
3. Gorge on carbs.
If you’ve ever wanted an excuse to shovel down carb heavy foods, here it is. Colder temperatures require your body to use more energy to keep warm. Replenish those lost kilojoules and warm your insides by feasting on foods such as Borsch (a starchy beetroot and potato soup) or Pelmeni (Russian dumplings) served with sour cream.
4. Invest in really, really warm clothing.
This was our number one mistake. The coats that we’d bought to get us through the Australian winter were totally unsuitable for Russia! I was wearing 3 layers of pants (thermals, leggings, and jeans) and 4 layers on top (thermals, t-shirt, thick jumper, and coat) and I was still cold. Invest in proper winter gear, and keep your extremities warm with woolen gloves, and a scarf and beanie. I’m sure you’re aware of the stereotypical Russian fur hats? They wear those for a damn good reason.
You may think that all this clothing will require an insanely large and heavy backpack, but this is not the case! See The art of packing lightly for tips on reducing your luggage weight.
5. Drink vodka.
Available in a number of different flavours, it’s quite typical in Russia to enjoy vodka at any time of the day for a quick hit of inner warmth. Russians take pleasure in enjoying the taste and the stuff they drink is likely much better quality than what we’d normally get.
Vodka in Russia is traditionally drunk neat and certain types are supposed to provide health benefits for various ailments. The Russian word for cheers is ‘Nastrovje’, which translated to English is ‘to good health’. I don’t need any further convincing.
This post was written by Ashlea, a 26-year-old colourfully clothed and excitable vegetarian who loves photography, cooking, and exploring the world. Currently blogging from Sydney, Australia, she lives a minimalist lifestyle and spends the majority of her modest income on whatever trip she’s planning next. You can check out her blog or follow her adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.