How Many of These Russian Foods Have You Eaten-

One of the best ways to truly experience a country during a visit is to seek out regional specialties. Russia has no shortage of them.
Here are ten great foods to check out, and let us know how many on this list you’ve tried on Twitter @TxtPassportVisa .

borscht1. Borscht
Usually eaten as a starter, although it can make a great meal with a piece of rye or garlic bread and a salad.
This beet and cabbage red soup is a delicious belly warmer on Moscow’s colder days, served with or without meat, potato, herbs (usually dill) and a dollop of smetana, Russian sour cream. Accompanied with a piece of rye bread or garlic bread topped with melted cheese, this dish is hearty enough to serve as a meal, although it is usually eaten as a starter.

2. Bliniblini
If you love French crêpes, you will be on track to love the Russian version: the blini. Usually made with buckwheat flour when savory fillings are used and white flour when it’s a sweet treat. Savory fillings often include smoked salmon, salted herring, creamed mushrooms, or a schmear of sour cream. Sweet fillings are often homemade jams, berries, honey and condensed milk are all common.

russiansalad3. Olivier / Russian Salad
When in Moscow, order the Russian salad known as the Olivier Salad and you’re in for a treat. This salad has cucumbers or crispy Russian pickles, diced potatoes, peas, chopped hard-boiled egg, and a smattering a freshly made mayo. Sometimes meats are added finely diced or enjoy it as is. Different regions in Russia will have variations of this dish.

4. Smoked Salmonsmokedsalmon
Russia is big on fish that is smoked, salted, and marinated in strong, earthy flavors. Common side dishes with fish are pancakes, or alongside a salad. Sometimes IN the salad. Another commonly enjoyed dish is Shuba. Also known as, “herring under a fur coat.” The “fur coat” consists of layers of finely diced or grated vegetables such as beets and onions that are boiled until just cooked through.

shashlik5. Shashlik/Shashlyik
What’s better than meat on a stick? Russia has their own form of shish kebab using both meats and fish. Chunky cuts of chicken, beef lamb, or salmon are cooked on a skewer then served in an unleavened (flat) bread. Shashlik is a common street food m definitely give it a try during your visit.

6. Pelmenipelmeni
Watch out, Pelmeni is addictive. So you should totally seek them out when you’re in Russia. Pelmeni are wonderful little dumplings packed in a thin dough made of water, salt, flour, and eggs. Filled with herbs and meats such as beef, pork, and lamb. In other regions common fillings are smoked salmon and mushrooms mixed with a cream sauce. Pelmeni comes two ways, either on the side or in a broth – try it both ways!

pirohzki7. Pirozhki
These little delights are baked buns stuffed with a variety of delicious fillings. Most common are beef or mashed potatoes and mushrooms. There are also salmon and oatmeal pirozhkis. Depending on the region you’re in Russia will determine the types of pirozhki that are available. Many restaurants will offer sweet dessert pirozhki that have fruit, cheese, or cottage cheese fillings.

8. Medovik medovik
You can’t visit Russia without experiencing a slice (or two or three) of Medovik. This is so much more than just a honey cake. This is layers of yum and makes a spectacular way to end a meal.
The legend states that the first Medovik was created by the personal chef to the wife of the Czar, Alexander I in the 1820s.

stroganoff9. Stroganoff
Beef Stroganoff is probably the most widely known of this type of dish, but what makes a stroganoff is not the protein but the delicious sour cream based sauce. Other commonly used proteins are chicken, pork, salmon, and even sausage.  This dish was born in mid-19th century Russia and is still popular around the world today.

10. Mushroom Juliennejulienne
The name sounds bland and boring, but Mushroom Julienne is anything but. This is a dish where French meets Russian cuisine and it’s completely awesome. It is a simple mixture of mushrooms, thinly sliced onions, butter, white wine, sour cream and heavy cream baked and then topped with cheese.

Happy Memorial Day!
If you’re firing up the barbecue today – here’s a video you will enjoy.

Many cultures have their own take on barbecue. Here is a collection of BBQ dishes from around the world. How many types of BBQ around the world have you had?

We are kinda torn between Texas and Korean BBQ.
Speaking of Korean BBQ, if you’re traveling to Korea, let us get your Korean travel visa for you,  and that will free you up to plan to enjoy some killer BBQ during your trip. If you want to know where to find some killer BBQ on your next visit to Seoul, Travel Adviser has some recommendations from other travelers:

screenshot of Seoul BBQ Restaurant recommendations from TravelAdvisor
screenshot of Seoul BBQ Restaurant recommendations from TravelAdvisor

Have a safe and fun Memorial Day!

5 Things to Know About Traveling in Russia (1)Getting to Russia is easy (and we can make it even easier) – you need a  passport that is current and a travel visa whether you’re going as a tourist or on business.  Now, here are five things to know about Russia that you’re likely to experience.

Before you enter Russia…
U.S. travelers will go through Immigration Control. Usually, you won’t be asked the nature of your visit to Russia, as it’s clear from the type of travel visa you’re carrying. Then you will go through Customs Declarations. It’s very simple. A green door for travelers who have nothing to declare and under $10K in cash on hand. If you have more than $10K in cash or you are selling something in Russia during your stay, there is a red door for your entry. This is the final hurdle for entry into Russia.

The Food
One of the best ways to experience a country is to ditch the restaurants that are recommended to tourists and go for the foods of the region you’re in. You should make it a point to seek out Pelmeni. They are wonderful little dumplings made with unleavened bread and filled with everything from Siberian pork, beef, fish and sometimes vegetables. Each region will have their own unique type served with dipping sauces ranging from sour cream, chili, curry, and even mayonnaise! Shaverma is popular, known as shrawarma in the Middle East where the dish hails from. The Russians put their own stamp on it and make it just as awesome. A typical St. Petersburg Shaverma usually has a meat such as lamb, goat, chicken, or beef and they are combined with tomato, cucumbers, onion, and a tasty white sauce usually made from kefir and mayonnaise. The sandwich will be wrapped in a traditional pita or lavash bread.

Getting Around Russia
If you don’t have an international driver’s license, you might think commuting around a country as huge as Russia would be a logistical nightmare, fortunately it is not. Russia actually has a pretty good and affordable system of public transportation around the country. The railway connections were rated to be on-time by most travelers. In Moscow, the subways are rated as fast and convenient.

Internet and Mobile Service
In the cities, you will find free Wi-Fi on public transportation as well a cafes, airports, hotels and many other places. The prices for mobile data are also very affordable.

Easy Availability of ….Everything
In Germany, it’s the norm that not too many people are out after midnight. In Russia, the cities don’t sleep. Most food and drugstores operate 24/7. There are late night movie showings, you can get food delivered at any hour. There is literally always something to do, see, or eat.

The Hospitality of the People
Forget anything you heard about surliness, Russians are NICE. Travelers rated the passion of the people highly for love of their country as well as helpfulness for tourists.

How to Get Your Very First PassportBetween now and 2018, several states will need to comply with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and their state issued i.d.’s will need to meet certain requirements. If not, a passport will be a necessary for state to state travel within the United States. Also, it’s a good idea to have a valid passport.

Don’t have a passport? It’s time you did!
There are just 3 main steps to getting your passport and then your boundaries for travel will broaden dramatically. Using a passport expediting service can make the process even easier.

passportaStep One
You will need to complete and print out the application from the Department of State. However, don’t sign just yet. You will need to wait to do that in step 2. You will need to make a copy of the DS-11 form to include with your order to expedite your passport. The next step will be to obtain two passport quality photos. You can get these done at any Walgreens, Kinkos, or CVS. Now, you’re going to need proof of your identity in the form of a certified birth certificate or U.S. naturalization document.
You will also need to print out a copy of the authorization letters for Texas Tower to act on your behalf.

compareserviceStep Two
An authorized Passport Agency Deputy (also known as a local United States Post Office) will need to witness and execute your documents you filled out at the Department of State website. If you need help finding a local agency, you can go here: http://iafdb.travel.state.gov. The Passport Agency Deputy will charge a required fee of $25 to execute your documents and that will be paid separately from your passport expediting fees. The Deputy will place your signed and witnessed documents into an envelope that is sealed. Do not reopen this envelope. Ask for your documents back and state you will be using our services to process your passport request.

Step Three

Send your documents in the sealed envelope with your order form to Texas Tower.

That’s it, that’s all the steps you have to do to get a passport. Ready to get started? Just click here and you can begin the steps to getting your passport today.

Now that the U.S. has lifted embargoes against Vietnam in an effort to completely normalize relations, this should continue to improve tourism to the region.

U.S. citizens require a travel visa to enter the country for either business and tourism. We can obtain your Vietnam visa for you in 8-10 business days or as fast as 1-2 days. Make sure your passport is in order, and start planning your trip!

There have been a lot of tourism videos made, but this overview of Vietnam by drone is pretty cool, check it out.

quanHere’s some Monday Inspiration for you. 29-year-old Quan is on a mission to promote awareness for more wheelchair accessible places by clocking a 3,900-mile trip made by wheelchair.

When Quan was 17, he had surgery to remove a tumor from his spine. The tumor was removed, but he suffered nerve damage in his spine and lost the use of his legs. When he took a customer service job in Beijing in 2013, he noticed there were not a lot of places that were wheelchair-friendly and every day was a challenge for him.

So far, Quan has been traveling for 570 days. He stated that he has found opposition during his travels. “Restaurant owners would refuse to take me in because they see me as a beggar,” Quan said. “I go to a hotel, they would tell me they are fully booked.”

Ultimately, Quan wants people with disabilities to fit in and be treated just like anyone else.

There are an estimated 85 million residents with disabilities in China. The country is working to improve access for individuals, but progress has been slow. Quan noted so far he hasn’t seen many hotel or restaurants with excellent accessibility as of yet, but he’s hoping as news continues to spread of his journey, awareness will continue to be raised.

The 2016 Summer Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro Brazil on Aug 5-21. Here’s what you need to know to make sure your entry into Brazil goes off smoothly.

Travel visas are normally required for U.S. citizens for entry for both business and tourist visits to Brazil. For the Olympics, Brazil has waived the need for a visa.

You will need a valid passport for the trip. If you need to renew – let us do the work for you! Just call us at 713-874-1420 or visit our Passport Renewal page to get started.

It’s not unusual to take in a zoo in a city where you’re sightseeing. It is unusual to take in a zoo where the animals roam free and the people are in a cage. That’s one of the features that makes the Chongqing Zoo worth a trip.

There are numerous exhibits with animals in habitats, the feature that gets the most attention (besides the adorable pandas munching on bamboo) is the ride through the park where visitors are safely inside a metal cage on a truck and the animals come up to view YOU.

image from : http://www.indiatimes.com/news/world/this-is-china-s-most-ferocious-zoo-where-people-are-caged-and-animals-roam-free-255005.html
image from : http://www.indiatimes.com/news/world/this-is-china-s-most-ferocious-zoo-where-people-are-caged-and-animals-roam-free-255005.html

Other animals reside in habitats and include other big cats, elephants, and pandas, including the famous Ling-Ling.
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The zoo has a lush landscape of tropical plants and is well-maintained. You can either get a ticket through the tour group you’re with or purchase tickets at the gate for $10 USD.

To get there from the United States you need to make sure your passport has 6 months left before the expiration date and you will need a travel visa to enter China – talk to us if you need either, we’re here to help!

This is the largest zoo in Southwest China, so expect to spend several hours here if you want to see everything. There are over 1,000 birds (the ornithology buff in your life will love this) and 170 different species of animals to view.

Planning a trip to the United Kingdom? Since no visa is required for entry for U.S. citizens, just make make sure your passport has more than six months before expiration (otherwise you need to renew your passport) and you’re good to go!

The money conversion rate can seem daunting for planning a trip to Britain  if you’re used to the deals you get in South America or in other countries. But, there are deals to be had in the U.K., you just need to know where to look.

Budget-Friendly Places to Stay
Think a posh London hotel is out of your price range? Not necessarily. Check to see if the hotel you want to stay in offers a guaranteed dollar rates. This will give you the best exchange rate dollar for dollar.

Another way to save money when you’re visiting the U.K. is to rent a room or bed and breakfast.  The Youth Hostels Association has a network of over 200 youth hostels in England and Wales. These are ideal for singles as well as family travelers. They have nice accommodations and you can find good food at a good price.

Speaking of Good Food…
When you’re visiting the UK on a budget, you don’t have to forego great food. By all means, check out the fish and chips and pub grub. There are also Michelin star restaurants within your budget such as  Arbutus  in Londonwhere you can nosh on a 3-course meal that is very budget-friendly. One dining experience you shouldn’t pass up is found in Gastropubs. They have been one of the hottest food trends for a couple of years now and there’s no sign the appeal is waning.

What to do on a budget…
Short answer : there’s a lot to do on the cheap in the UK. History buffs should take advantage of the free admission offered at the more than 250 National Museums and galleries in Britain. There are 238 in London alone, 11 in Scotland and 8 in Wales.

Getting a London Pass might be worth your while. The card will give you complementary entry to 50 attractions as well as the ability to claim special discounts and offers at restaurants and theaters. It’s also your golden ticket to avoid long lines at popular attractions. Plus complementary access to public transportation to get around town.  tubes and trains.

vietnamdosdonts (2)

What you can and cannot bring back from Vietnam can be confusing. Getting knowledgeable about what U.S. Customs allows into the country will make it a quick decision to buy that exotic meat mixture sausage that shopkeeper swears will be fine to bring back into the U.S.

There aren’t actually limits on how much stuff you can bring back from a trip abroad. The ax drops on how much stuff you can bring back into the country for free. Once you pass the $800 worth of goods per person, you start owing taxes on the items.

What can you bring back from Vietnam?
A travel visa to Vietnam is good anywhere from one to three months (depending on the type you obtain) and you can find a lot of good stuff to bring back from Vietnam.
The following is a list of what you can bring back into the U.S, remember $800 total limit per person (before you’re taxed). Current Customs regulations say you can bring back:
– 100 cigars or 200 cigarettes
– 1 liter of alcohol
– Baked foods are usually okay
– Hard cheeses are usually allowed
– Candy
– And this is a good one for Vietnam: roasted coffee beans and dried tea.

Antiques over 100-years old and artworks are exempt not part of the $800 limit so if you find some art that you must have – go for it!

Another way to get your stuff home is to mail it. Yes, mail it. The current regulations state that you can mail yourself up to $200 worth of goods per day, as long as the packaging is marked: “for personal use.”
You can also mail an additional $100 worth of stuff to family or friends as long as the packages are designated, “unsolicited gift.”

Either way, you must list the contents of any package on the outside wrapping, and you cannot mail alcohol, perfume (because it has alcohol in it), or tobacco products worth more than $5.

What can’t a tourist bring back from Vietnam?
The following items will be confiscated:
-plants
-fresh fruits
-fresh vegetables
-meat
Pretty much any freshly prepared foods you attempt to bring in won’t make it if found by customs. You can bring seeds in with you for flowers or vegetables, but not trees. There are some rules to follow, you will need to obtain a phytosanitary certificate of inspection from Vietnam, and you will need to declare them. More information can be found at Aphis.

This thread at TripAdvisor has a lot of ideas for what to buy when you’re in Vietnam. Also Huffington Post had a great article for the truly unique shopper visiting Vietnam.

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