Thursday, June 10, 2010

Field Guide, part 1 : Argentina, Russia, Turkey

I have started to compile information on the countries we will be visiting. Note: I didn't write this, I just read through several guide books and typed up information I thought would be valuable. Citations follow each location. Any additional information would be greatly appreciated, just add a comment. (Argentina, Russia, Turkey)
I'm starting to get excited! Thanks for joining in the planning process!

Buenos Aires, Argentina:

  • Unit of currency: Peso. 3-1 against the US dollar (but this could change quickly). 1 peso=100 centavos. The $ sign in front of a price is usually used to signify pesos, so this should be the case unless otherwise marked. Banks generally have better rates (to exchange money), than foreign-exchange offices, though the lines are longer and hours are shorter.
  • ATMS are everywhere in BA and the handiest way to get money. They can be used for cash advances on major credit cards (but your banks charges a lot of cash advances, so use a debit card/checking account!!). To avoid having a fistful of large-denomination bills, withdraw odd amounts, such as 290 pesos. Travelers checks are very impractical in Argentina.
  • Cell phones: It’s possible to bring your own unlocked trior quad-band GSM cell phone to BA, then buy a SIM chip (Less than $ 5 USD) and get top-up cards as needed (this is what I am doing).
  • Time: when it’s noon in BA, it’d 8 am in San Francisco (GMT -3 hours)
  • Tipping: customary is 10% for a sit-down restaurant and this cannot be added onto a credit card bill, so carry cash for this purpose

Bao, Sandra. Buenos Aires. Footscray, Vic.: Lonely Planet, 2008. Print.

Moscow, Russia:

  • “Somewhere it’s written in travel that you never say ‘no’. Some guy offers to show off his bee-keeping skills at a nearby dacha? You just go. In Yakutsk, some locals offered to take me around the city’s permafrost-bumpy streets-we met these sled dogs in a Cossack-style fort. ‘Sit with dogs,’ I was instructed. And I did what I was told.” (Within reason, of course, and never go off alone. But let’s enjoy the opportunities for adventure!).
  • Eating: Most restaurants only take cash. The cheapest local cafeteria (stolovaya)-a meal might cost $5USD.
  • Dress: Casual or semi-formal dress is acceptable in almost every Moscow restaurant. Russians tend to overdress rather than underdress, so err on the formal side.
  • Shops: The best souvenir and antique shops can be found along ulitisa Arbat, a charming old pedestrian street. For the more adventurous a trip to the weekend flea market at Izmatlovo Park is a must (anyone interested?). Here it is possible to buy everything from Russian dolls and Soviet memorabilia to handmade rugs from Central Asia and antique jewelry.
  • What to buy in Russia: Intricate wooden boxes, Semi-precious stones (Malachite egg, Amber ring). Carved wood, Palekh box, Russian shawl, etc
  • Practical Info: Lists of restaurants, plays, nightclubs, etc can be found in the Friday edition of the English-language newspaper The Moscow Times.
  • Booking Tickets: By far the easiest way to book tickets for a concert, ballet, opera or the theater is through the main international hotels, even for visitors not staying there Both Western-style and Russian-run hotels will usually offer this service. (Although this can be the most expensive way!...) The cheapest way to get tickets is at the venues, though they have unpredictable hours.
  • Visiting churches: Attending an Orthodox church service is a fascinating experience. (Saturday nights or Sunday mornings). Russian churches do not have any chairs, people are expected to stand. It is acceptable for visitors to drop in on a service for awhile, but certain dress rules must be observed. Shorts are not accepted. Men must remove their hats, women should cover their chest/neck and shoulders and preferably wear a headscarf or hat.
  • Money: Roubles are the only valid currency. Credit cards are rarely accepted in shops. Tipping is a matter of choice, pay what you consider appropriate.
  • Roubles cannot be obtained outside Russia, but there are many exchange offices all over Moscow. A passport has to be shown when exchanging money. On completing a currency transaction, an exchange slip is issued. ALL SLIPS SHOULD BE KEPT, as they must be attached to the customs declaration filled in on arrival in Russia, and presented at customs upon leaving Russia.
  • Exchanging money: Alfa-Bank and Sberbank offer the best exchange rates. The cash-dispensers at Alpha-Bank take Mastercard and Visa and charge no local commission (although your bank will charge at any international ATM). Banks usually charge at least 3% to cash travelers checks.
  • Student Travelers: International Student Cards: accepted for discounts into museums, and discounts on rail travel when booked through STAR travel.

Rice, Christopher, and Melanie Rice. Moscow. New York: DK, 2010. Print.

Istanbul, Turkey:

  • A visit to the market that spills out around Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar is a must. A cornucopia of fine ingredients is brought here daily from farms that surround the city. Apricots, watermelons, cherries and figs sit alongside staple vegetables, such as peppers, onions, aubergines and tamoatoes.
  • Coffee: worthy of its own section: Turkish coffee (kahve) is dark and strong and is ordered according to the amount of sugar required: az (little), erta (medium), or cok sekerli (a lot).
  • Try to eat lightly for the first few days to avoid an upset stomach.
  • Shopping: Most shops that cater to tourists will be happy to accept foreign currency. If you can pay in cash, you can usually get a discount. Exchange rates are often discplayed in shops and also appear in daily newspapers. Credit cards are widely accepted (except in markets and smaller shops) and most vendors do not charge a commission. Cash and haggling are expected in the markets and bazaars. Start by offering half the asking price.
  • How to bargain: Always take your time and decide where to buy after visiting a few shops selling similar goods.
  • The procedure: You will often be invited inside and offered a cup of tea. Feel free to accept, as this is the customary introduction to any kind of exchange and you will not be obliged to buy. If you are seriously interested in an item, be brave enough to offer half the price you are asked. Take no notice if the shopkeeper looks offended and refuses, but raise the price slightly, aiming to pay a little more than the original offer.
  • Turkish fabrics, jewelry, leather, antiques, books, spices, pottery.
  • Etiquette: In cities, Turkish women usually cover their arms and legs in public, and many cover their heads. Visitors are not expected to cover up in this way, but some Turks may be offended at exposed limbs in public places.
  • Bathrooms: Bay (mens room) and Bayan (Women’s room).
  • Women travelers: Dress respectably and look purposeful when walking around. Avoid being out alone at night.
  • Mosques: Non-Muslims should not enter any mosques during prayers (prayer time); wait until most of the worshippers have left. Take your shoes off before entering and either leave them outside or carry them in with you. Make as little noise as possible and show consideration for anyone who is praying there.
  • Students: An International Student ID card (ISIC) offers you a 50% reduction into sights, and discounts on inter-city trains.
  • Exchanging money: Exchange offices offer better rates than banks. You will not be charged commission on cash exchanges, rates are prominently posted. Travelers cheques are rarely if ever accepted. If you need to, consider a money order (Western Union). Check that your debit card is valid internationally.
  • Cell phones: Turkey has many mobile phone operators. The main one is Turkcell. This operator has GSM roaming agreements with 180 countries.
  • Internet cafes are widely available and charge per hour, though half-hour rates can be negotiated. Stamps are available at post offices and PTT kiosks.

Folkard, Claire, Rosie Ayliffe, and Paul Bates. Istanbul. London [etc.: Dorling Kindersley, 2007. Print.


  1. Beautiful photos! You might not be planning to say No in Russia, but in case you have to (and I think you might!) a loud, quick Nyet will let anyone know you mean business :)

    Don't pet or feed the dogs in Istanbul, and be careful about how big your smile is in Russia! But otherwise, have fun!! :)

  2. Awe, thanks Kate! :) I'll take all the advice I can get. Miss you! Hope you're doing well in Morocco


Thoughts, comments or questions are welcome!