How tricky is it to visit the former Soviet Union? The short answer is "very". In the olden days of the USSR, getting a visa wasn't a bundle of fun, but at least when you finally got one it covered you for your entire itinerary around the Soviet Union.

Every visitor to Russia needs a visa. The Russian Consulate is at 5 Kensington Palace Gardens, London W8 4QP (tel 0171-229 8027; fax 0171- 229 3215). It opens only 10am-12.30pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. You need to have travel arrangements booked to get a visa, and to supply evidence of this from a tour operator based in Russia. To avoid the hassle, you can get your visa organised by a specialist tour operator.

Getting there: Flights to Moscow or St Petersburg cost about pounds 300 return through discount agents such as Regent Holidays (0117-921 1711) and IMS Travel (0171-224 4678). If you want to fly direct to Samarkand, the best contact is Uzbekistan Airways, 72 Wigmore Street, London W1H 9DL (0171- 935 4775), or a specialist tour operator.