Eli Orzessek finds the answers to your travel questions.
I've always had a fascination with Russia and its culture, and since I'll be going to Europe in September to visit family in Croatia as well as checking out some other countries, I was thinking about doing a side trip there. While I've always wanted to go, I'm not sure it's a great idea as Russia is well known as being a very homophobic country and I'm a 45-year-old gay man. At the same time, I want to take the opportunity while I can. What do you think is the best way to approach it? Vic
This issue was highlighted during the Winter Olympics in Sochi back in 2014 — prior to the event, there was a huge crackdown on LGBTQI rights and it caused a lot of controversy and discomfort, particularly for gay athletes.
From what I've read, it's a bit of a paradox. Same-sex relationships are legal in Russia and there are apparently thriving gay scenes in Moscow and St Petersburg. However, there are rules against public expressions of homosexuality, backed up by legislation — and homophobic attacks have increased since the law was introduced in 2013.
Basically, if you decide to visit, you'll want to be as discreet as possible. This means no pride flags or symbols and you should even be wary of posting material that "promotes" LGBTQI issues on social media. Tourists have been jailed over this law, so it pays to be careful.
You're likely to feel safest in the big cities of Moscow and St Petersburg, which are a lot more tolerant and have discreet gay scenes. Writing for Vice, a UK expat describes Moscow as "the gayest city I've ever been in ... you just need to know where to go". The biggest gay club there is the five-storey Central Station.
If you do go out on the scene, be aware of possible homophobic attacks when leaving — it's best not to hail a cab directly outside the venue.
Your safest bet would be a tour group — you're less likely to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. All of the major tour companies offer comprehensive products for Russia, taking in St Petersburg, Novgorod, Klin and Moscow. You could opt for one that finishes in more LGBTQI-friendly territory, like Berlin.
There's also an Australian gay travel company called Above Beyond tours and they offer an 11-day tour of the Baltic Sea and Russia.
If you can put up with a bit of repression, I'd say go for it — just be careful.
In response to last week's question about Aswan-Luxor riverboats, Kate Graham wrote in to recommend Djed Egypt Travel (djedegypt.com/dahabiya-nile-cruise).
"It is expensive but you travel on a very beautiful dahabiya (canal boat) with a small amount of sailing, otherwise it is pulled by a tugboat so you don't have the noise and vibrations of having a motor on board. The boat is truly gorgeous and a great way to experience the atmospheric Nile, and the food is excellent."
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