Language: Russian

Climate: Russia's climate ranges from steppes in the south to humid continental in much of its European areas; subarctic in Siberia to tundra in the polar north. Winters vary from cool along the Black Sea coast to frigid in Siberia; summers vary from warm in the steppes to cool along the Arctic coast.

Time Zone: Nine time zones

International phone code: 7

Currency: Russian ruble (RUB)

Capital: Moscow

Transportation: Moscow and Saint Petersburg are served by direct flights from most European capitals, and Moscow also has direct flights from many cities in East Asia, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East and North America, including non-stop flights from Toronto and Montreal. There are three international airports in Moscow and getting between these airports is quite challenging because there are no means of rapid transfer between them. Russian Railways runs reliable service between and Eastern and Central Europe and Moscow, and to a lesser extent Saint Petersburg. Travelling in Russia by car can be difficult. Roads may be poorly marked and poorly maintained, especially outside the cities and towns. Car rental services are only starting to develop in major cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and are expensive. Due to the immense size of the country the best way to get around quickly is by train. Russia has an extensive domestic rail network linking nearly every city and town. Most Russian cities also have bus links to cities as far as five or six hours away or further. Tremendous distances make plane travel highly desirable if you plan to visit far-flung attractions. Nearly every major destination of interest has an airport nearby. The great majority of domestic flights are to/from Moscow, but other services exist.

Gay Russian Federation

Canada recently updated its travel advisory to Russia to include a warning about a new law in St Petersburg that criminalizes "homosexual propaganda." The law, and several others like it in other Russian cities, passed despite protests by the European Union, the US State Department, and gay rights organizations around the globe.

The law purports to protect minors from sexual predators, equating homosexuals with pedophiles. Its wording is extremely broad, ostensibly criminalizing any discussion of gay issues in a public forum.

Participating in such 'propaganda' may lead to arrest and fines of up to 50,000 rubles (CAD$17,000).

For gay travellers there are two sides to the argument: Do you boycott the country and spend your tourists dollars elsewhere? Or do you show your support for the Russian gay community by flying in and participating in the scene?

Despite the new laws, there are still bars, saunas, gay-friendly accommodations, and tours in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but don’t look for much outside these two cities.