|Country Information & Lifestyle|
A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an Enigma
Winston Churchill said "Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma". Today a visit to Russia is an encounter with an undiscovered land.
The eastern mass of Russia is located in Northern Asia (that part west of the Urals is included with Europe), bordering the Arctic Ocean, between Europe and the North Pacific Ocean.
The climate is varied, through humid continental climate in much of European Russia to sub-arctic in Siberia, to a tundra climate in the polar north. Winters vary from cool along Black Sea coast to frigid in Siberia; summers vary from warm in the steppes to cool along Arctic coast.
Russia's terrain is also varied, consisting of a steppes in the south, broad plain with low hills west of the Urals; vast coniferous forest and tundra in Siberia; and uplands and mountains along southern border regions.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union visitors have a fresh opportunity to explore a vast array of exciting and ancient cultures, from the glittering imperial Russia of St.Petersburg to the timeless village life of Siberia and Irkutsk. One of the most notable features of present day Russia is a renewed celebration of the wealth of its past and its potential for the future.
Throwing off the blanket of communist uniformity, Russia today is a nation of enormous diversity and tremendous vitality. It is as if the cultural traditions of a century ago have re-awakened with a new found strength - ancient cathedrals are being rebuilt and restored, colourful markets hum with activity once again and literature and the arts are quickly regaining the creative renown they enjoyed decades ago. A new Russia is now in full bloom.
For most westerners, Russia is associated with its European cities--Moscow, St.Petersburg and Murmansk. This is the heartland of Imperial Russia, and these great and ancient cities often become the focus for most tourists. However there is much more to Russia, a country that spans eleven time zones and two continents, ending less than 50 miles from North America. Within this vast expanse lie the largest freshwater lake in the world, rivers and forests teeming with fish and wildlife, awe inspiring volcanoes, and towering mountains. Russia is the largest country on earth, with enormous tracts of land that have been opened to travellers only in the last few years.
Just as Russia's rich cultural heritage has once more come to life, its natural heritage too is a new country waiting to be discovered. Travel to remote areas has become easier than ever before. The Great Russian Arctic, Russia's territory reaches up toward the pole, giving it a broad belt of land lying within the Arctic Circle. The awe-inspiring landscapes of the far north - northern Siberia and Kamchatka in particular have some of the richest and most beautiful terrain in the country, mountains, lakes, rivers, all abundant in wildlife.
The northeastern part of the country has gained international renown for its excellent fishing, hunting and expedition travel. Traditional horse-drawn sleigh remains a common mode of transport in many parts of Siberia and the Far East, and in northern towns dog sled races provide the backdrop for great festivities. It is possible to go trekking through nature preserves ruled by bears and moose, or hike the slopes of active volcanoes. A more leisurely way to travel is on an ice-breaker from the port of Murmansk, however you visit the Great Russian North will be an unforgettable experience.
Russia's Trans-Siberian Railway has long been an almost mythical experience. It is the longest continuous rail line on earth, each run clattering along in an epic journey of almost six thousand miles over one third of the globe. For most of its history, the Trans-Siberian journey has been an experience of almost continuous movement, seven days or more of unabated train travel through the vast expanse of Russia. A great part of the pleasure of such a trip is simply sitting back and watching the land go by. Travellers can enjoy stopovers in many of the cities and towns along the route.
Travel along the Trans-Siberian Railway is usually undertaken from west to east, though it is quite possible to go in the opposite direction. Starting at Moscow and passing through Yaroslavl on the Volga, Ekaterinburg in the Urals, Irkutsk near Lake Baikal's southern extremity, and then Khabarovsk to Vladivostok where it is possible to continue by ferry to Niiqata on the west coast of Japan. The Trans-Siberian trains stop several times a day and it is possible to arrange a stopover in many of the major destinations along the route.
Yaroslavl is one of Russia's oldest cities and most beautiful destinations along the railway. The first major stop in Asian Russia is Ekaterinburg founded in 1721 by Catherine the Great. The city is of great historical interest as it is here in a house that once stood on Liebknecht ulitsa, that Tsar Nicholas ll and his family were executed on the morning of July 17th 1918. Although the house no longer exists, its site is marked by a plain wooden cross.
Krasnoyarsk is one of the older towns in Siberia, founded in 1628 as a trading post along the Yenisei River. After passing over the Yenesei you leave the steppe and plunge into the taiga, the great forest that extends over most of Russia.
Irkutsk is the region's most important city and is in close proximity to Lake Baikal. Ulan Ude is the centre of the Buddhist Buryat culture where a stop could entail visiting the restored Tibetan Buddhist monastery which now serves as the centre of Buddhism in Russia.
As the vast evergreen forests extend southward toward Mongolia, the ground rises and the terrain becomes more varied. Situated in a region of surpassing beauty is Lake Baikal, its forested shores surmounted by the jagged, snow-clad peaks of the Barguzin Mountains. In the winter the lake freezes over, with ice so thick that the Trans-Siberian railway was briefly run over its surface. A tour by sleigh is amazing and in the summer the crystalline blue waters are transparent to a depth of forty meters, and the shores are ringed with the brilliant colours of seasonal wildflowers. Bear, elk, lynx and sables abound in the surrounding forests and in the lake are seals and salmon.
Khabarovsk is a pleasant city with wide, tree-lined boulevards, a popular beach, and an interesting museum of ethnography and local history. Vladivostok is a lively, attractive city with a wealth of attractions and as always a strikingly impressive harbour.
St.Petersburg is Russia's imperial crown, a city of haunting magnificence, an imperial capital that seems to have been built as a monument to its own passing. Less than three centuries have passed since Peter the Great began building his grand city on the Gulf of Finland, but it is difficult to visit its vast, crystalline squares and palaces without feeling the enormity of the gulf that separates that time from our own.
All of which, of course, makes St.Petersburg more evocative of Russia's past than any place except perhaps the Moscow Kremlin. The enigmatic homeliness of Peter's cottage and the city's placid canals may contrast with the brooding grandeur of the Winter Palace, but they share with it a graceful stillness that is difficult to forget.
The Winter Palace is undoubtedly the most famous building of imperial St.Petersburg, not only as the residence of the Tsars and the backdrop for the 1905 and 1917 Revolutions, but also as the home of the Hermitage, the world's largest museum of art.
'The Golden Ring' is one of the oldest Russian routes and it goes to the north-east of Moscow and forms a circle. There are many interesting ancient Russian cities and towns along the way, full of history and unique Russian architecture.
Vladmir, an Old Russian town, is the first town of the Golden Ring, 179 km to the east of Moscow. Vladmir used to be the capital of Russia in the 12th century and there are many interesting sights, like old churches, monasteries and museums.
Suzdal is one of the most ancient Russian towns 38 km north of Vladmir. Small and picturesque, Suzdal is a very seducing, green, hilly town where walking around is a real pleasure. There are a lot of old monasteries and churches kept intact and the town is one of the main Orthodox Church religious centres in Russia. The atmosphere is as if nothing has changed since the 19th century, with fairy tale domes on the convents, goats, chicken and cows graze freely next to the Kremlin and monasteries.
As you approach Kostroma across the bridge, you enter the ancient city centre just on the shore of the Volga River. All the streets, like a spider net, converge on the central attraction area, where most of the shops are installed under imposing white stone trade arcades. The charm of the ancient trading city remains, and as you take an early morning, or evening walk along the river, you will see the Ipatiev�s Monastery on the other side of the Volga. Next to the monastery is a museum of wooden architecture with Old Russian izbas(wooden houses) and churches.
Rostov Velikiy is one of the oldest Russian towns located on the 'Nero' lake. There are hardly any cars, only a few people, old buildings, the Kremlin, and authentic Russian architecture. At a bar a group of men will be singing Russian folk songs, and it feels and sounds like a peaceful life in a Russian village. Next to the walls of the Kremlin is a busy shopping street, and at the back are paths through pretty gardens leading to the calm lake.
Pereslavl-Zalesskiy is an Old Russian provincial town, famous for its many monasteries, old churches, the first boat built by little Peter the Great, and Pleshcheevo Lake National Park. Listvyanka is a settlement on Baikal Lake, very close to Irkutsk and Circum-Baikal and quite touristy. Olkhon Island is a beautiful island near the warmest bay of Baikal Lake, with picturesque walks and friendly people; it is also a local center of Shamanism.
Okhon Island is situated in the middle of the lake and is covered by grass and aromatic plants on the side facing the coast (steppe), and by small pine trees (taiga) on the side facing the middle of the lake. The island is quite remote, and is separated from the main land � there are no telephone lines, no power lines, cell phones don't work there. The island can only be accessed by boat or air.
Peschanaya village is an abandoned place, and in the Soviet times there used to be a fish factory where prisoners worked. Nowadays, there is only a bridge and two houses left from it, and the rest is covered by the sand. It's a very mysterious, nice, and spooky place.
The small settlement of Arshan is 120 km away from the lake spread at the very foot of high Sayan Mountains in Tunka valley. Arshan is a world of mountain spirits and legends and is a mysterious place. Rapid rivers running on the bottoms of steep rocky canyons will tell you the stories of those times when Genghis-Khan army was riding their horses in a valley. Boiling waterfalls will tell you stories about gold wash in their foamy flows. You can explore the area almost as far as Mongolia.
Vladivostok is the biggest Russian port city and the final stop of the Trans-Siberian, a great stop-over on the way to Japan. China, the Koreas, and Japan are nearby, much nearer than even Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia. Moscow is a full nine hours away by air. But despite the Japanese cars clogging the streets, Vladivostok remains distinctly Russian. It also happens to be one of Russia�s greatest wandering cities.
Only 15 years ago Vladivostok was a closed city. Even Soviets needed permission to visit. Now it is fascinating to observe the city as it evolves into the future. Vlad is undeniably Russia, but economic ties to Asian neighbors are alluring, even while the great populations of those neighbors cause anxiety. With its location and all its advantages, Vladivostok is sure to prosper sooner or later. Maybe soon Vlad will rule the East.
Kamchatka is known as the magic land of volcanoes and geysers. Kamchatka peninsula can be reached by air only and the glaciers are only accessible by helicopter. Half of the territory of the peninsula is still controlled by the Army. However, nowadays most the main tourist sights: volcanoes, hot springs, valley of geysers are open for the foreign tourists.
Right now you have the unique possibility to explore Kamchatka, this land is a true phenomenon. One can feel the timeless power of the nature there, in the thousands years old volcanoes and the pulsating hot springs. Here you can go fishing, hunting, mountaineering, bathe in the hot springs, swim in the cold Pacific Ocean at the famous Black Sand beach, watch the whales on a journey from the port and explore this unique nature. The fauna of bobcats, sables, minks, wolfs, foxes, brown bears and many other animals can be found at Kamchatka.
The capital of Tatarstan republic, Kazan, is an unusual and very attractive city and is the Muslim capital of Russia. Famous for its Kremlin, declared a World Heritage Site, and its university, Kazan is dotted with mosques and has a deep sense of history and mystique to it; a touch of the east mixed with the characteristic flavor of any mid-sized Russian town.
A bustling southern Russian city situated on a bend in the Volga, Samara has the feel of a beach resort. There could not be a more perfect place for swimming in the Volga in any Russian city, with a seemingly endless riverbank that in summer is full of people enjoying the sun and sand in a festive atmosphere. But Samara is not just about the beach. It is also an alluring, intriguing city that is a pleasure to explore.
One of Samara�s greatest tourist attractions is Stalin�s bunker. Samara�s women also have a reputation as among the most beautiful in Russia. The best way is to just wander the streets and in doing so you�ll come across many charming, old, wooden houses, some fantastic architecture, serene parks, shady courtyards populated by old men and stray dogs and market stalls selling all manner of weird and wonderful things. And, of course, the blue, inviting waters of the Volga will never be too far out of the picture.
Novgorod region is located in the north-west of Russia situated on the Volkhov River which divides the city into two parts - Trade Side and Sophia Side. Walk around the beautiful, calm ancient town, see beautiful old churches and monasteries, swim in front of the Kremlin or at Ilmen Lake, and drink traditional Russian drink - "Medovukha" - in the restaurant inside the Kremlin. Visit small provincial towns and villages in the region see how most of Russia lives.
There are many forests in Novgorod region; they take around 60% of the territory. Novgorod region is probably one of the most opened regions in Russia to the foreigners and foreign capital. The local government deliberately makes the investment climate easier, offering tax exemptions to the foreign companies who want to invest in the region. That's why around 50% of overall output in the region gives the companies with the foreign capital.
Vologda is a little gem in the north-east of Russia, called the Gate to the North, because very important ways connecting central Russia with the north and the Urals pass through here. Vologda is the most charming and interesting city to visit after St. Petersburg in the whole northwest region. The city in winter covered in snow is stunningly beautiful, nowhere else is like the Vologda land. When all Vologodian temples start to chime to the vespers, there is such pacification, harmony and stillness spreading in the air that it will definitely make you fall to thinking about something eternal and elevated.
The Altay Mountains in Western Siberia are truly one of nature's most marvelous gems. The Altay eco-region covers vast 845,000 square kilometer area at the junction of four countries: Russia (largest part), Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. Altay is a land where myths and legends are incarnated into reality. It's one of those rare corners on the earth where nature decided to show everything it was capable of. Broad and boundless views of steppes, luxuriant varieties of taiga thickets, modest charm of deserts, severe splendor of snowy peaks, laconic beauty of tundra - the diversity of landscapes here is so rich, it is as if you are turning over pages of a geographical atlas!
Stretching for nearly 2000 km from north-west to south-east, Altai Mountains form a natural border between the arid steppes of Mongolia and the rich taiga of Southern Siberia. There are a lot of rivers making rafting very popular, along with hiking, trekking and horse riding. The wildlife vary from big mammals such as bear, lynx, Siberian stag, even reindeer and snow leopard above the tree line, camel and yak are a good Mongolian touch to the picture of the Russian Altai.
The modern population is a mixture of indigenous Altais and Russian settlers, some of the latter still leading in their villages the life of Old Believers, with strict rules and very much isolated from civilization. There are few remote villages in Altai where you can see wool being spun on a hand and hear traditional Altai throat singing. Katun river starts its way near the highest point of Altai mountains and goes down through pristine alpine scenery, with a number of remote Altai villages along the way to Ob' river, that crosses the west Siberia from North to South and brings its waters to Karskoe more, in the ocean.
Aktru glacier is a beautiful and the most accessible of Altay's glaciers. It is a remote area, pristine and clean, located about 500 km along Chuyski trakt, which leads to Mongolia. Beluha Mountain is considered to be a sacred place. Local people believe that Belovodie (the region around Beluha) is where the new civilization will start. However strange it may sound, but historical researches prove that many civilizations started their way from this region. It is hard to access Beluha by car, the nearest village is Tungur, where there's a good alpinist base, and Beluha is within 3 days walk (or 2 days horse-riding) from there.
The Cordon of Chelush is a lonely place on the shore of the amazing highland lake, not far from the mouth of a mountain river. It is only possible to get there by water or by helicopter. Uchar Waterfall was discovered only about 20 years ago, so not many people have had a chance to see it yet.
Krasnoyarsk is the second largest city in Siberia surrounded by mountains and located 4065 kilometers from Moscow along the Trans-Siberian railway. Stolby national park is 20 minutes from the city center where you can go rafting, trekking and mountaineering.
Tuva republic is one of the few regions in Russia that has retained its ethnical spirit: it is the center of Shamanism, unique ethnic cultural center and the "motherland" of throat-singing. The region is completely unspoiled by industry and there are very few roads, which makes Tuva region not easily accessible, but very unique, authentic, and preserved. Most of the landscape is defined by mountains and taiga forests, which makes Tuva very attractive for active tourists.
Of course visiting the capital, Moscow, must surely be the highlight of a Russian experience. Moscow is a vast and vibrant city a potent symbol of two mighty imperial cultures - that of medieval Muscovy and that of the Soviet Union. Moscow is famous as one of the greenest capitals in the world, with over 100 parks within the city limits, not to mention countless gardens, boulevards and squares.
Some of Moscow's most beautiful sights can be found in the suburban estates of the 19th century aristocracy, like Uzkoe and Kuskovo, which have since been subsumed by the ever-expanding city and are now easily accessible by public transport from the center. There are a number of options for children, including skating and ice sculptures in Gorky Park.
Red Square remains, as it has been for centuries, the heart and soul of Russia. Few places in the world bear the weight of history to the extent that Moscow's central square does. The Kremlin is at once fascinating and foreboding, a mixture of lavish opulence and austere secrecy, and its eclectic mix of architecture reflects these paradoxes and seismic cultural shifts.
16th Century St. Basil's Cathedral - one of the most famous pieces of architecture in the world, Lenin's Mausoleum Red Square is rich in symbols of Russia's turbulent and intriguing past. Directly opposite the Mausoleum, on the eastern side of the square, lies Russia's most famous shopping mall - the State Department Store - GUM.
Moscow is the home of the famous Bolshoi Ballet Company and is one of the greatest theaters in the world, with its proud traditions and unforgettable atmosphere. An evening at the Bolshoi really is an essential part of a visit to Moscow.