Where does one begin to unravel the mystery that shrouds Russia? To start, here are some things you already know about it… and some things you probably don’t.
St Basil’s Cathedral
Its iconic multi-coloured domes are the postcard face of Moscow. It is often confused with the Kremlin, the brick coloured complex which makes up the heart of the city. Stroll over to the adjoining red square, whose cobbles have been run over by centuries of Russia’s political history, before exploring the unfamiliar trinkets of Izmaylovo market. Hear Tchaikovsky come alive at the Russian ballet at the glittering Bolshoi Theatre.
In most of our minds, Russia is always frozen under a silent bed of snow. Indeed, the country is known for its harsh winters, but they’re not all that miserable. Altai, where Russia borders Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia, lures adventurists in with its snowcapped mountains ideal for skiing and hiking. However, summer in Russia is an equally, if not better time to visit- Head to eastern Siberia to take a dip in Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world. Its crystal waters are said to have healing powers and are pure enough to drink. In June is the Tun-Payram, the Opening-of-Summer-Pastures festival, a spirited whirl of food, sport and dress.
The classic way to see Russia. Hop on at Vladivostok, the easternmost end, and explore the places along the route at your own pleasure. See the world’s largest Lenin’s head at Ulan-Ude, drop by Ivolginsky Datsan (Russia’s preeminent Buddhist monastery) and view the old yurts in its Ethnographic museum. Lake Baikal, as mentioned above, makes for a scenic stop to give your legs a good stretch, and Yekaterinburg is a bustling city where you can treat your inner child to the delights of the Russian circus.
The sinister villain in Anastasia was, in real life, a monk with an unusual epiphany: that sexual sin, followed by repentance, could bring people close to God. Thus began a ministry of drunken orgies that made him extremely unpopular. He was eventually assassinated, but today you can view his preserved penis in the Museum of Erotica in St Petersburg. Whilst you’re at it, this bohemian city has much more to offer- Spend a day amongst the treasures of the State Hermitage Museum, take a boat across the river to explore the Peter & Paul Fortress, popping by the St Isaac’s Cathedral before retiring in Stroganoff Steak House next door.)
Within Russia, a combination of long-distance and commuter trains allow you to access most of the tourist destinations, although certain gaps can only be filled by bus, and flying is more advisable if you’re pressed for time. Taxis are available but best avoided if on a budget.
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