Russia is a world of its own, covering one-sixth of the land on the globe. However, the European part takes up less than one-third of the whole territory; the rest – dominated by scarcely inhabited areas of Siberia – is usually considered as Asia. One of the most unique countries in the world, with distinctive culture and an extremely dramatic history, Russia is a land of contrasts which can hardly be labelled or described. No one can claim to know Russia – it takes a lifetime to explore it. But it’s still well worth trying out as a holiday option.
One of the world’s greatest empires, for a long time it was part of the gruesome Soviet Union. It remains a powerful state, highly influencing global economics and policies; however, some people consider it a colossus with feet of clay. It is the richest and the poorest country at the same time. Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world, but some thousands of kilometres to the east you can buy a tank or any armoured vehicle for a bottle of vodka. Its gas provides the energy for nearly half of Europe, and its gold mines produce the equivalent of South Africa’s, but many of its citizens suffer from poverty and disease.
From the tourist’s point of view, there are two essential cities to visit: the former capital, St Petersburg, and the present one, Moscow. Each of them is a legend of its own. Moscow, a huge city which also serves as the main economic, financial and political centre of Russia, is hard to describe as ‘beautiful’, but its multi-faceted character is truly unique. The gem of Russian architecture is the Kremlin, a fairy-tale complex of Orthodox churches with gilded onion-shaped cupolas, palaces, the state Armoury with its breathtaking diamond collection, all surrounded by fortified walls. You should also see Red Square, known from James Bond films, the gargantuan empty area surrounded by the Cathedral of St Basil, the famous Mausoleum of Lenin and the State Museum of History. It served as a site for military parades during the times of the Tsar Empire, the Soviet Union and today. Moscow also boasts excellent museums such as the Tretyakov Gallery or Pushkin Museum. If you’re interested in shopping, head for the picturesque street of Old Arbat, with its souvenirs and art objects, as well as nice cafes.
St Petersburg is another treasure which cannot be missed. Nicknamed the ‘Venice of the North’, it is in fact much gloomier than the Italian city, with its fogs, humid climate, short summers and long winters. On the other hand, it has a very special atmosphere which is incomparable with any other city. You shouldn’t miss the Hermitage Museum in the Winter Palace, Alexander Nevskiy Monastery, Catherine Palace and Peter and Paul Fortress. St Petersburg is known as an outdoor museum of architecture, where even strolling down the street with no special purpose you’ll find excellent examples of fine buildings. Tourists flock to St Petersburg to see the famous white nights, which are combined with a festival and opening the drawbridges over the Neva River. This phenomenon lasts from early June to early July. The other interesting towns of Russia are also worth a visit; it’s a good idea to go to Nizhny Novgorod, Vladimir, Suzdal, Rostov or Yaroslavl.
Russia is a country of rich and unique culture and world famous literature, with such authors as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Gogol. It also has very original and colourful folklore, and excellent cuisine. Russian caviar is widely appreciated, but it’s also interesting to taste solyanka, pelmeni, or bliny, as well as traditional Russian drinks like the popular vodka.
Russian people are very friendly and hospitable, and love to party. A visit to this country can be a fascinating adventure which will give you at least a slight idea of how exotic and unparalleled to any other country it is. Especially the large cities have good flight connections to the major cities of Europe, United States and other continents.