The local currency is the Russian rouble. This is now internally convertible but cannot be taken out of the country and exchanged for foreign currency. Inside the Russian Federation, however, it may be exchanged for any hard currency. Be prepared for the exchange rates to fluctuate daily. The rouble is the only currency used in the Russian Federation for all cash transactions. The rouble comes in denominations of 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 in notes, and there are also 1, 2, 5 rouble and 1,5, 10, 50 kopecks coins (one kopeck is 1/100 of rouble). All cash transactions in shops, restaurants, hotels etc, must be made in Russian roubles or by credit card. Most of the larger, established outlets in Moscow and St Petersburg accept credit cards. You will find that the products in some shops are tagged with prices in dollars or 'y.e.' which actually is dollar as well. If you pay cash, the rouble equivalent is calculated on the basis of a so-called 'house rate' which is invariably higher than bank exchange rates. This means that it is often more cost-effective to pay by credit card. Given the fact that western style supermarkets import most of their goods, the prices they charge are, on average, higher than in Western Europe. Following a decree passed in January 1994, it was declared that the rouble should be the only currency used in the Russian Federation for all cash transactions. However there are occasions when you can pay for goods and services in hard currency, but it's not legal.
If you need to change money you can go to any commercial bank or licensed exchange point. The majority of these exchange roubles for US dollars and German marks only. The exchange rate changes every day, so you are not advised to change more than you need. Be aware that rates and commissions may vary between exchange points. It is advisable to exchange money ONLY through officially licensed banks and their exchange points, NOT in kiosks or in the streets, since this is less secure and you run the risk of receiving counterfeit roubles, dollars or other troubles. According to a new regu-lation all individuals, either local or foreign, must show their passport in order to change money in officially licensed banks. Now exchange rate is from 27 to 28 roubles for 1$
Though there is running water in the Alty, showers are very uncommon. I was
introduced to a Russian tradition called the Banya (sauna). I will try and
describe and event that must be experienced to truly appreciate.
The sauna usually consists of at least 2 rooms, one being the steam room and
the other a sort of warm waiting room. The traditional banya is supposed to
be experienced in the nude (co-ed is also common). This prospect seemed to
be more worrisome to North Americans than Europeans or the Russians I was
There are several traditions that go along with the Russian banya. One of
my favorites was the "flailing." As you lie on the bench in the hot room,
someone methodically beats you with a damp bouquet of birch leaves. I was
told that the birch leaves, which are supposed to absorb the toxins that
your body sweats out, enhance the massage effect. The heat and the massage
quickly relax your whole body - I slept very well after each banya.
Another 'tradition' was to pour some alcoholic beverages onto the stove.
The ladies from Moscow were all for using beer - which gave the entire banya
a delicious smell of baking bread. However, Marcin, my fellow Polish
traveler was more in favor of using vodka. This was supposedly a faster way
for you to absorb the 'nutrients' in the vodka. The vodka burned my lungs
and made me feel lightheaded - mission accomplished.
Rapid temperature change is also supposed to invigorate the body. So we
took to getting very hot and then running outside and cooling off in the
snow. Very similar to Canadian Jacuzzi parties in the winter!..."