When I was in Lithuania on the seaside near the end of my trip I had to go south. I could go all the way back to Kaunas or Vilnius and cross to Poland from there, but that's an unnecessarily long way to go. All because there is a little bit of Russia in between the two countries, which is wedged into the seaside between the two EU countries. Usually, getting a Russian visa is a lengthy and expensive process, but the Kaliningrad region is an exception. And I was lucky as the new e-visa scheme was introduced just when I needed it.
It seemed like not many people go to Kaliningrad that much, even though its location is well-suited for visiting. I felt I was kind of a trailblazer for exploring that route.
While Russia is huge, I've only explored this tiny part of it. But I was pleasantly surprised. In the current situation this country is usually painted as the arch enemy of the West. But when you actually go there you'll see that people here are just like everywhere else.
I entered and left the country by bus, and ghe crossings were definitely longer and more resembled the airport experience. We had to get off the bus and go into a building, then they locked the doors. Passport and visa control was the first step, it took ~5 minutes per person, overall around 30. Then baggage control, the usual x-ray conveyor belt thing. Nobody had to actually open their bags. After everybody went through, we got on to the bus and that was it.
Somebody had problems with passport control, but after some additional checking was let through. The officers weren't overly friendly, but not unnecessarily stark either.
The Lithuanian-Russian crossing was faster, as the Lithuanians did not bother much. A border guard collected the passports and after a short while the driver returned them to us.
The Russian-Polish border was strangely a lot more involved. Not only the Russians checked the passports and the baggage, but then on the Polish side we had to get off the bus again to get our passports checked. And even though I technically went home, it took more time for the Polish officer to check my passport than her Russian counterpart when I entered Russia. But overall it took maybe 45 minutes and we crossed without problems.
The visa process was entirely electronic, and I think it's enough to show the document on a phone but I printed it and I highly recommend doing that. It was just so much easier to hand over the paper along with the passport and not having problems with electronic things.
During the stay in Russia there is a "migration card" you need to keep with you. They give it when you enter the country and take it when you leave. Fortunately, it fits into the passport itself, so it's not something extra you need to keep with you.
I spent only 3 days in Russia, so I didn't bother buying a local SIM. I've heard it's possible, you need to show your passport but otherwise it works the same as everywhere else.
Finding WiFi here is surprisingly difficult here. There is a law that requires everybody to be identifiable when using the Internet, which in practice means you need to register with your mobile phone number. And it makes "free WiFi" so much more difficult. There was only one cafe where it worked without registration.
Even the hostel WiFi didn't just work as it required the registration. But there was a separate, protected network that did not require it. And to get access it was enough to just ask at the reception and they revealed the password.
They use Rubels, no surprise here. I met a couple in Lithuania coming from Kaliningrad and they had some leftover cash I could buy. This means I didn't need to use ATMs here, but I'd be surprised if it were any different than in other places.
It's Russia and everything is written with the Cyrillic alphabet, just like in Ukraine. It helped me immensely that I memorized the letters in advance.
Kaliningrad was the only place I've been, as this is the center of the Kaliningrad region.