I'm a bit of a Slavophile. Growing up in Cold War Tulsa, we were told the Soviets were bad. So I immediately became interested. I did a school report on "Life in the Soviet Union," studied Russian in college, spent the summer of '92 studying in Moscow and St. Petersburg, got followed by a KGB guy when I was interning at Echo Moscow, rode the Trans-Siberian Railway (twice) while updating Lonely Planet guides, and went back last year with Kim for a fun Viking river cruise down the Volga, and to shop for Soviet records.
I know Russia's never been an easy place to visit. But I also know it's easier than it used to be. And that it's worth the effort. I've never seen any place, for example, with more flower shops. And if Russians love flowers that much, they have to be a people worth spending some time with.
I've noticed, though, that no matter how many headlines Putin makes, travel media seems to turn a relative blind eye to the world's biggest country. At least in those year-end "best of" travel lists, I mean.
In the past four years, Russia's hosted the world's biggest two sporting events: the Olympics and the World Cup. And yet Russia made those "best of" lists only 12.5% of the time. Yet when those same events are held in places like Brazil (also home to an expensive, time-consuming visa process) or South Korea (near that feisty North Korea border), the host nation makes the list 67% of the time.
That's 12.5% vs 67%. Feels like a "blindspot bias" to me.
Robert Reid, co-founder of AA Jaggers, has worked in travel publishing for over two decades. Follow him on Twitter at @reidontravel.