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Russia vaults across two continents and spans 11 time zones, yet its territorial vastness is easily forgotten in the crush of rush-hour metro rides and in crowded urban apartments. This chapter helps you figure out how to tackle your trip: where and when to go; how to get there; what precautions to take; and how to save money.

Moscow is almost a country unto itself, a metropolis of 12 million people enjoying the fruits of Russia's booming oil economy. Despite Russians' innate conservatism, today's Moscow is a 24-hour city that pulses with change, from the ruthlessly competitive restaurant and club scenes to the volatile financial markets and the clamor for the latest top-of-the-line cellphone. In the background, tented spires and golden cupolas of medieval cathedrals beckon, Stalin's neo-Gothic skyscrapers soar, and the imposing authority of the Kremlin lords over it all.

St. Petersburg occupies a world of architectural order forged out of a swamp at a forbidding latitude. Peter the Great's invention cost the lives of thousands of workers sent to make the Baltic Sea delta inhabitable 300 years ago. But his vision lives on -- even new buildings adhere to the symmetry and classicism of Peter's day. The sea-green Winter Palace overlooking the Neva River houses the Hermitage Museum's staggering collection of fine art, and sumptuous royal estates dot the surrounding forests. St. Petersburg's reputation as Russia's intellectual and cultural center has not brought the city the prosperity that today's Moscow enjoys, but Petersburg has better hotel choices and a restaurant scene nearly as vibrant as the capital's.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.