Russia conjures to mind images of tall, beautiful women in fur hats and coats; stoic vodka drinking men huddled over a small table casting furtive looks over their shoulders; packs of wolves howling in snow laden forests; gulags and communist purges; fairy tale palaces and a landscape broad, wide and stark enough to deplete and destroy the German army in WWII.
It is exactly these rich and stark images that make Russia an incredible tourist destination. Russia is one of the BRICS nations, an up and coming economy predicted to soon be a global lead player. This translates into an energy in Russian cities that is difficult to beat, the taste of success and the smell of new wealth permeates the city streets. At the same time Russian cities are ancient, and history is at every street corner.
In St Petersburg you can visit the Cathedral where tombs of Russian Kings stretch all the way back to Peter the Great. Sip a skinny cappuccino and admire Russia’s contemporary artists in an edgy Moscow coffee shop, and then pop over to the perfectly preserved home of Tolstoy to see the skin of a bear he shot himself still stored under the piano he played.
Why should I go to Russia?
If you are interested in art, architecture, history and culture there should be no need for argument as to why Russia is an excellent tourist destination. A trip around St. Petersburg will take you to the Winter Palace; the Church of the Spilt Blood where Alexander II was mortally wounded; and a range of contemporary art exhibitions boldly addressing the legacy of communism in Russian society today.
Russia, however, has a great deal more to offer, the Lonely Planet says it best when they describe the “diverse landscapes of icy tundra and sun kissed beaches, dense silver birch and fir forests and deep and mysterious lakes, snow-capped mountains and swaying grasslands – those famous steppes. Factor in ancient fortresses, luxurious palaces, swirly spired churches and lost in time wooden villages and you’ll begin to see why Russia is simply amazing.”
Russia is so much more than just the cities – the country, the landscapes, the regions all offer a different travel experience. So much so that seasoned travellers to Russia recommend you think of this land mass with its population of nearly 150 million as many different countries, all offering a different travel experience.
When should I go to Russia?
Conventional wisdom may well recommend avoiding the Russian winters, and for those with a real phobia of cold this is no doubt good advice. Russian winters are brutal, summers can be beautiful, but Phoebe Taplin, who lived in Moscow for five years writing for guide books on the city, highly recommends a visit in winter. In this time you can avoid summer crowds and have “the chance to explore the relatively empty streets, full of shining snow crystals, seasonal ice rinks and over decorated trees.”
To Taplin, Russia and Moscow in particular offers a very specific beauty in the winter time: “gold domes against blue and white, or cottages under frosty trees are all part of Moscow’s wintry charm.”
What should I do in Russia?
Russia has much to offer visitors to her lands, and a list of what to do and see in Russia could easily stretch into an encyclopaedic volume in four parts. For the sake of brevity, we will just list a few key locations
Approximately 150 museums
Preserved homes of celebrities like Chekhov, Tolstoy and Pushkin
Ride the metro
Visit the colourful markets
The Winter Palace (which forms part of a range of palaces which makes up the Heritage Museum)
The Church of the Spilt Blood
Cathedral of Tombs
Kalingrad – near the Baltic Sea this is an ancient city with striking scenery.
Visit the charming villages along the Volga River for folk art and good honest country fair.
Ural Mountain Range
Elista: A little Buddhist enclave in Russia.
Russia still strikes fear into the heart of many, especially those who lived through the cold war and the terror that time elicited. The country has however come a long way since its communist days, so too since its days of royal families and executions. All that history remains imprinted in the towns and cities, and beyond that, lies a natural beauty too vast and too powerful to bow to the vagaries of its human inhabitants.
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