Recently updated on October 6th, 2022 at 04:31 pm
Think of Russia and what do you see? Stunning architecture? Wide-open spaces? A journey of discovery through time? Russia is the largest country on earth, a land of wonder and opportunities yet to be discovered. Russia is my home.
I had to start with my hometown, the most beautiful place in the country (of course!). If you travel around Russia and then visit Saint-Petersburg, you will most likely be shocked. Everything is different. Architecture is different, people are different, activities are different.
St. Petersburg is rightfully considered one of the most beautiful European cities. The secret of its charm lies in the harmonious combination of architectural styles, the soft climate, and the liberal and open-minded mindset of the locals. The historical centre of St. Petersburg is called a museum in the open air with hundreds of palaces, cathedrals and monuments scattered around. We call it the cultural capital of Russia – the birthplace of Russian ballet, the home to the Hermitage and the Russian Museum, the iconic gathering place for some of the world’s most well-known composers… Some say ‘You move to Moscow for work, and to Saint-Petersburg for the soul’. I could not be more proud to call this city my home.
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Believed to date back eight-and-a-half centuries, the first references of Moscow appeared in chronicles from 1147. Built on the sweeping curve of the Moskva River, from its humble beginnings as a hunting village it grew steadily into a fortress city, later becoming the central point of the whole Russian state.
Russia’s most intense human aspirations, be they artistic, religious or political, have found their most passionate expression in Moscow. The reflection of these aspirations can be seen in the beautiful architecture created over the centuries – The Kremlin, Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral.
Moscow has grown rapidly over recent decades, and now comprises high-rise suburbs surrounding a relatively compact historic centre. Today’s Moscow, home to over 12 million people, is a dynamically changing and eclectic city whose history and present day are deeply intertwined. It’s a cultural centre of global value, comprising more than 70 theatres, the best known being the Bolshoi Theatre.
The richest collections of paintings, graphic art and sculpture are gathered in nearly 100 museums. Among them are the Tretyakov Picture Gallery and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. There are also a great number of concert halls, cinemas and exhibition pavilions in the city.
But Russia is not just these two majestic cities. There are more than 145 million citizens in the country. They represent over 160 nationalities. 35 different languages which are considered official languages in various regions and over 100 minority languages spoken in Russia today, alongside Russian. Even though in the Russian language we don’t really have accents like in Germany or England, for example, the variations in cultures differ widely. And so does nature, architecture, mindsets, religion and customs. Here are some of the regions I am dreaming of visiting myself one day.
The Volga, often called the main artery of Russia, is the longest river in Europe. It is the cultural, tourist, economic and transportation centre of the region. Starting in the heart of European Russia, it carries its waters through the whole central region of the country to the south and runs into the Caspian Sea. A considerable part of the river runs through the Republic of Tatarstan, the centre of Islam in Russia, where some of the most interesting architectural structures can be found.
The Golden Ring
The Golden Ring is the symbolic ring of ancient Russian towns situated to the north-west of Moscow, with its well preserved and unique monuments of ancient Russian architecture of the 12-17th centuries. Sergiev Posad and Alexandrov, Kostroma and Pereslavl-Zalessky, Uglich and Ivanovo, Yaroslavl and Rostov the Great, Suzdal and Vladimir – each of these towns is a real Russian gem. Nowadays they are often referred to as ‘open-air museums’. Cathedrals and churches, convents and fine art museums, as well as truly Russian experiences that allow you to meet the locals and taste the delicious national food, enchant visitors with their beauty and richness.
Black Sea & Caucasus
The Black Sea coastline and its sub-tropical climate, Pitsunda pine, juniper and pistachio tree forests, warm summer days and gentle winters, contrasts sharply with the glaciers and alpine ski resorts of the Northern Caucasus. The area is well-known for its numerous hot springs and spa towns, the largest being Kislovodsk and Pyatigorsk. The beautiful double-peaked Elbrus is the pride of the Caucasus Mountains; at 5,642m it is Russia’s highest peak. All members of my family have done a hike up to the peak, and I dream that one day I will do it too.
Lake Baikal is the pearl of Eastern Siberia. It is the world’s deepest and oldest lake. Approximately 25% of all fresh water on Earth is contained in Lake Baikal. Over 1,850 species of animals, fish and insects and 850 varieties of plant life are found here, many of which are endemic. The best known Baikal inhabitants are sturgeon, grayling and whitefish, but the tastiest is omul, a sea fish of the salmon family, which has a unique flavour.
Over 300 rivers flow into Lake Baikal, but the Angara River is the only one that takes its source from the lake. At Angara’s source, near the village of Listvyanka, the tip of a huge rock can be seen rising out of the water.
The climate of Baikal and the Baikal territory is truly unique. The lake’s huge water mass gives it the climate and certain features of the seashore. The temperature differences between the Baikal depression and the surrounding territories of Eastern Siberia are quite significant.
Speaking of Siberia, this region is larger than the USA but with only one-tenth of its population. Stretching from the borders of Europe in the Ural mountains, to Yakutia in the east, and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to China and Mongolia in the South, it is a truly remarkable place. The Siberian landscape is very diverse, with seemingly endless plains and high mountain ranges. Siberia has many great cities, each with its own unique history and intense cultural life. The most well-known are Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Irkutsk with its unique Lake Baikal.
Keen to visit Russia for yourself? Book Wonders of St Petersburg and Moscow with Trafalgar to discover all that the city has to offer.
Been to Russia before? Share your travel tips and highlights in the comments below.