Destination: Russia

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WHY VISIT RUSSIA

Historically rich, politically controversial, Russia is an amazing destination and not leave you unmoved.

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Moscow of course is a must: political capital, it is also attractive for its medieval roots, and its sites become mythical, Red Square and the Kremlin, but also the Mayakovsky museum or zoo.

The other city where you can not ignore is St. Petersburg, Russian cultural capital, which includes its canals and palaces, as at the time of the tsars, and offers of places like the legendary Peter and Paul Fortress and the Nevsky Prospekt.

In the far east, Vladivostok has recently opened to foreigners and is the center of a nature reserve where there are tigers and bears and leopards.

Quite to the south, visit Sochi, a resort on the edge of the Black Sea, enjoying a subtropical climate of warm waters that attract tourists from Russia and abroad, as well as spas and the surrounding hills dotted with dachas.

Not very far from Moscow, Novgorod dated 9th century teems with wonders, despite the devastation of the Nazis: the icons of the Palace of Facets, the historical museum, many churches, including that of the Transfiguration of the Savior with beautiful Byzantine frescoes.

Another curiosity not to be missed, the Trans-Siberian you will also travel from one end to another in this wonderful country for a distance of nearly a thousand miles for 6 days, making you go through huge forests of birch and pines and endless steppes, then along Lake Baikal and go to Irkutsk, a city very attractive and multicultural.

The Volga Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, with its many museums and monuments of World War II, also traces a line of journey worthy of your attention to visit the center of the country.

Whatever your background, you’ll be struck by the diversity of wealth in Russia, but also conquered by the famous Russian soul, responsible in turn of extreme joy and melancholy tenacity.

WHAT TO SEE IN RUSSIA

Main places to visit in Russia are:

  • Moscow
  • Saint Petersburg
  • Suzdal
  • Lake Baikal
  • Veliky Novgorod
  • Nizhny Novgorod
  • Irkutsk
  • Kazan
  • Vladivostok
  • Yekaterinburg
  • Yaroslav
  • Suzdal
  • Voronezh
  • Samara
  • Ekaterinburg
  • Sochi
  • Kizhi Island
  • Karelia
  • Volga River
  • Kaliningrad
  • Kamchatka Peninsula
  • Altai Mountains
  • Mount Elbrus and Caucasus Mountain
  • The Golden Ring
  • Trans-Siberian Railway

WHEN TO GO TO RUSSIA

The best period to visit Russia is from May to September.

The largest country in the world, Russia offers a climate with temperatures that get colder as you go from the South to the North and from the West to East as it turns into a more continental climate.

Winters are very cold; more so in Moscow than St. Petersburg with less snowfall in the latest. In spring, melting snow creates almost permanent mud everywhere in the country. At St. Petersburg, nights in June are clear as in all regions situated in the North because the sun doesn’t really set. So, when planning to visit Russia, avoid the muddy spring and crowded July and August.

Autumn gives you the opportunity to admire a beautiful side of nature with its changing colors, and winter even though very cold has an undeniable charm: The snow is present but the cities are alive and vodka is flowing!

Following a list of typical festivals and celebrations of Russia.

January

January 6/7: Russian Orthodox Christmas: Along with other religious celebrations, Christmas was banned in Russia after the 1917 Revolution and was only openly observed again in 1992. The Russian Orthodox church – and almost all Russians – celebrate Christmas (the birth of Jesus) on 7 January. It’s mainly a religious occasion, when families gather together to attend church services on Christmas Eve (6 January) and then go home to feast on a special ‘holy supper’, which includes a dish called kutiya, a porridge with raisins. Some people attend all-night vigils at church; others just go on Christmas morning.

January 25: Tatyana’s Day: Tatyana’s Day is often called Russian Students Day. When Elisabeth Empress of Russia signed a decree to establish Moscow State University on 25 January 1755 – the saint’s day of 3rd-century Christian martyr St Tatyana – St Tatyana became the patron saint of students. Most university towns have St Tatyana celebrations, holding balls and choosing the best Tatyana from the students.

International Festival of Snow and Ice Sculpture, Krasnoyarsk. The Magic Ice of Siberia is an international competition that takes place on the banks of the Yenisei River in Krasnoyarsk, the third-largest city in Siberia. Teams of sculptors, architects, and artists from Russia and beyond create massive frozen artworks to compete in two categories: snow and ice.
www.admkrsk.ru

February

Maslenitsa Festival: Seven weeks before Easter are the week-long Maslenitsa festivities – Russia’s pancake week. They combine the pagan tradition of marking the end of winter and the beginning of spring with the Christian tradition of feasting and merrymaking before Lent. Each day there are different activities: making Maslenitsa dolls from straw and old clothes, making and eating lots of pancakes (blinis), sledging, playing on seesaws, singing, fist fights, visiting the in-laws, exchanging gifts, feasting and drinking tea or vodka. The Maslenitsadolls are burned on the final day and people jump over bonfires.

March-April

Easter: Celebrations start the night before Easter Sunday. Churches are filled with lights and at dawn the bells ring out to announce that Easter has arrived. Everyone paints boiled eggs in bright colours and has a traditional feast. Typical Easter foods are round sweet bread and Easter cake served with sweetened curds, butter and raisins.

International Women’s Day: March 8. Symbolising women’s equality, most people in Russia refer to International Women’s Day just as ‘the 8th of March’ and it’s a day when women’s achievements – both personal and professional – are celebrated. People have time off work, workplaces organise celebrations, and everyone gives gifts such as flowers and chocolates to the important women in their lives and wishes them ‘a happy 8 March’.

Golden Mask Theatre Festival, Moscow. (goldenmask.ru) The Golden Mask Theatre Festival, established in 1993, is an all-Russian theatre festival and competition and covers all genres from drama to modern dance and puppet theatre.

May

White Nights Festival, St Petersburg: due to St Petersburg’s northerly location the sun never fully sets in St Petersburg between May and mid-June. You can talk a walk at midnight and still see the sun on the horizon. This provides the romantic backdrop for the annual White Nights Festival, an arts festival with music and dance by Russian and international stars. The Mariinsky Theatre has a program of more than 175 operas, ballets, and classical concerts – and tickets get snapped up fast. There are carnivals, too, the best being in the suburb of Peterhof where actors dress up in historical costume from the time of Peter the Great and re-enact historical events. mariinsky.ru

Victory Day: May 9. Victory Day celebrates the end of World War II and it’s celebrated with parades, spectacular fireworks, and displays of military strength. The most impressive event is held in Moscow’s Red Square, where soldiers, tanks, missiles, and other military equipment are on display on the ground and military planes fly overhead. Military memorials all over Russia are spruced up, and there are displays in museums.

June

White Nights Festival, St Petersburg: due to St Petersburg’s northerly location the sun never fully sets in St Petersburg between May and mid-June. You can talk a walk at midnight and still see the sun on the horizon. This provides the romantic backdrop for the annual White Nights Festival, an arts festival with music and dance by Russian and international stars. The Mariinsky Theatre has a program of more than 175 operas, ballets, and classical concerts – and tickets get snapped up fast. There are carnivals, too, the best being in the suburb of Peterhof where actors dress up in historical costume from the time of Peter the Great and re-enact historical events. mariinsky.ru

Moscow International Film Festival: The very first Moscow International Film Festival (MIFF) was held in 1935 when the jury was headed up by world-renowned film-maker Sergei Eisenstein (of Battleship Potemkin fame). It became a regular event on the cultural calendar in 1959. More than 200 films from 50 different countries are screened, with the best picture winning the Golden George.
moscowfilmfestival.ru

Taste of Moscow: Each year a selection of Moscow’s top restaurants open their doors for three days of masterclasses and tasting sessions, open to all the family (there’s usually a special entertainment zone with a children’s menu). There are also zones dedicated to different types of food and drink, DJs, and music to create a party atmosphere. Around 200 different masterclasses are on offer, for both Russian and international foods.
tastefestival.ru

Scarlet Sails, St Petersburg (late June). The White Nights Festival culminates with Scarlet Sails, the largest annual pubic gathering in Russia with more than a million people watching a mock pirate battle on the River Neva, a firework show, and a tall ship with sails the color of blood. The event celebrates the end of the school year.

Wild Mint Folk Festival: This large, open-air world folk music festival takes place in the Ethnomir complex in Moscow every summer. Over several days, Russian and international musicians perform a variety of folk-based genres – afrobeat, ethno-jazz, raga, Russian folk – and there are food stalls, markets, and body and soul workshops.
mintmusic.ru

July

White Nights Festival, St Petersburg: due to St Petersburg’s northerly location the sun never fully sets in St Petersburg between May and mid-June. You can talk a walk at midnight and still see the sun on the horizon. This provides the romantic backdrop for the annual White Nights Festival, an arts festival with music and dance by Russian and international stars. The Mariinsky Theatre has a program of more than 175 operas, ballets and classical concerts – and tickets get snapped up fast. There are carnivals, too, the best being in the suburb of Peterhof where actors dress up in historical costume from the time of Peter the Great and re-enact historical events. mariinsky.ru

Ivan Kupalo Day: (July 6/7) This is a summer solstice celebration related to John the Baptist (Ivan means ‘John’ and kupala is related to a Slavic word for ‘bathing’) as July 6/7 is June 23/24 in the Julian calendar used by the Orthodox church. Girls wear flower or herb wreaths on their heads, and in the evening the wreaths are decorated with burning candles and set afloat; the girl whose wreath travels the farthest will have the happiest year ahead and the candle that burns the longest means a long life. People light bonfires and jump over them for good luck. Some seek a special flowering fern said to direct the finder towards the treasure. There are fireworks, of course.

Nashestvie, Moscow: This big, open-air rock festival focuses on Russian rock bands. Nashestvie is organized by Russian rock station Nashe Radio (the station responsible for Russian’s major rock music chart ‘Chart Dozen’). The festival’s name means ‘invasion’ in Russian but many people call the festival the ‘Russian Woodstock’. It’s a good place to see both established and up-and-coming musicians from around Russia and neighboring states.
nashestviefest.ru

Afisha Picnic, Moscow: (End July) This may just be a one-day event but it’s one of the oldest and best-known music festivals in Russia. It’s held in the grounds of Kolomenskoye, a former Tsar’s estate on the banks of the Moscow River. It attracts big Russian and international names, like Kaiser Chiefs, Courtney Love, Jamiroquai and Madness.
picnic.afisha.ru

November

Day of Accord and Reconciliation, Moscow: (Early November) There’s a big parade in Red Square and many other events, usually around the Kremlin, to celebrate the communist revolution in 1917/1918.

December

Russian Winter Festival: (Mid-December to mid-January) All Russian cities have Winter Festivals celebrating the best of Russian culture but the biggest and best is in Moscow. This is a huge annual event with activities all around the city decked with thousands of fairy lights. In Izmailovo Park you can watch performances of folk songs and dances, ice skate, sledge or take a ride in one of the three-horse sleighs called troikas. Gorky Park is famous for its magnificent ice sculptures. In Revolution Square you can buy crafts, eat warm pancakes or bagels spread with jam or honey, listen to a balalaika concert or watch a fashion show.

New Year: As Christmas was banned for many years in Russia, many of the Christmas traditions were diverted to the New Year celebrations on New Years’ Eve on 31 December. So people decorate New Year trees instead of Christmas trees and Ded Moroz (Father Frost), accompanied by his grand-daughter Snegurochka (Snow Maiden), delivers presents instead of Father Christmas. Families enjoy feasts, listen to the President’s New Year Speech and the Kremlin clock strikes midnight. Many Russians also celebrate a second New Year on 13/14 January or Old New Year, a tradition dating back to the old Julian calendar. Concerts, carnivals and street fairs – and a large ice rink in Red Square – are part of the fun.

HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH RUSSIA

Moscow is connected to the principal cities of the world by daily flights, but getting there by train is also possible from Paris, Berlin or Helsinki and Prague. To travel in the country, of course, the train is your best choice, in particular the famous Trans Siberian that will take you up to Siberia, even Mongolia or Peking! Flying is also an interesting choice even if sometimes the comfort level is low for certain destinations. Renting a car is also a possible solution, both reasonable prices, and road quality. In the principal cities, the underground is both practical and cheap.

by plane, the main airports are:

by train

by car

GENERAL INFORMATION ON RUSSIA

health tips & vaccination: drink only bottled water and avoid ice.

local currency: Russian Ruble

local time zone: GMT+1-11 (2-12)

electricity: type C and type F (220-230V 50 Hz)

mobile phone operators:

WHAT TO DO IN RUSSIA

typical food in Russia

  • Beef Stroganoff: pieces of sautéed beef in sauce, with smetana (sour cream)
  • Bliny: large pancakes
  • Borscht: soup made of broth, beetroot, and tomatoes with vegetables (onions, cabbage, tomato, carrots, and celery).
  • Kotleta po Kievskiy: french-inspired chicken cutlet with butter sauce as a filling
  • Coulibiac:  fish (usually salmon or sturgeon) loaf, with rice, hard-boiled eggs, mushrooms, and dill
  • Dressed herring: diced, salted herring covered with layers of grated, boiled vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beetroots), chopped onions, and mayonnaise
  • Golubtsy: cooked cabbage leaves wrapped around a variety of fillings
  • Guriev porridge: porridge dish prepared from semolina and milk with the addition of nuts (hazelnut, walnuts, almonds), kaimak (creamy foams) and dried fruits
  • Kasha: porridge made of buckwheat, millet, oat, wheat or semolina
  • Kissel: fruit dessert of sweetened juice, thickened with arrowroot, cornstarch or potato starch
  • Knish: baked or fried potato dumpling made of flaky dough
  • Kholodets or studen: meat jelly
  • Kvas: a fermented non-alcoholic beverage made from black or regular rye bread or dough
  • Medovukha: honey-based drink
  • Mors: soft drink prepared from berries, mainly from lingonberry or cranberry
  • Mimosa salad: salad, whose main ingredients are cheese, eggs, canned fish, onion, and mayonnaise
  • Okroshka: cold soup of mostly raw vegetables like cucumbers, spring onions, boiled potatoes, with eggs, and a cooked meat such as beef, veal, sausages, or ham with kvas, topped with sour cream
  • Oladyi: small thick pancakes
  • Olivier salad: diced potatoes, eggs, chicken or bologna, sweet peas, and pickles with a mayonnaise dressing
  • Paskha: Tvorog (farmer’s cheese) plus heavy cream, butter, sugar, vanilla, etc., usually molded in the form of a truncated pyramid
  • Pelmeni: dumplings filled with a meat wrapped in thin, pasta dough
  • Pirozhki: small stuffed buns made of either yeast dough or short pastry, filled with different fillings
  • Pozharsky cutlet: breaded ground chicken patty
  • Rassolnik: soup made from pickled cucumbers, pearl barley, and pork or beef kidneys
  • Sbiten: honey-based drink
  • Shchi: cabbage soup that can be based on sauerkraut
  • Solyanka: thick, piquant soup that combines components from shchi (cabbage, smetana) and rassolnik (pickle water and cucumbers), spices such as olives, capers, tomatoes, lemons, lemon juice, kvass, salted and pickled mushrooms
  • Sorrel soup: water or broth, sorrel leaves, salt, sometimes with whole eggs or egg yolks, potatoes, carrots, parsley root, and rice
  • Syrniki: fried pancakes made of quark, usually topped with sour cream, varenye, jam, honey, or apple sauce
  • Ukha: clear soup, made from various types of fish
  • Vatrushka: pastry with a ring of dough and sweet farmer’s cheese in the middle
  • Veal Orlov: braised loin of veal, thinly sliced, filled with a thin layer of pureed mushrooms and onions between each slice, topped with bechamel sauce and cheese
  • Vinegret: diced boiled vegetables (beetroots, potatoes, carrots), chopped onions, and sauerkraut and/or pickled cucumbers

souvenirs from Russia

  • Matryoshka nesting dolls
  • Khohloma-style wooden spoons
  • Palekh-style lacquered boxes
  • Pavlov shawls and scarfs
  • Orenburg knitted shawls
  • Vologda laces
  • Faberge egg replica
  • Birchbark crafts
  • Bogorodsk wooden toys
  • Flax table-clothes and napkins
  • Soviet memorabilia
  • Valenki, felt boots
  • gold jewels
  • Budenovka, is a hat used as the uniform of the Soviet troops from 1918 until 1940
  • Ushanka, a traditional Russian fur hat that has ear flaps that might be tied at the chin to protect ears and neck from the cold or fixed at the back of the head
  • Rostov enamels
  • Zhostovo hand-painted metal trays
  • Krasnaya Moskva perfume
  • furs
  • Orthodox icons
  • Samovar, the heated metal container traditionally used to heat and boil water for tea
  • Podstakannik, tea-glass holder
  • Gzhel porcelain
  • Telnyashka, striped blue and white underskirt
  • Balalaika, wooden triangular base guitar
  • Dymkovo or Filimonovo clay toys
  • amber and semi-precious stones
  • Cheburashka plush
  • red or black caviar
  • honey from Siberia
  • Vodka

SIMPLE DICTIONARY

Hello: Здравствуйте (Zdravstvuyte)

Goodbye: до свидания (do svidaniya)

How are you?: Как дела? (Kak delà?)

Thank you: спасибо (spasibo)

What is your name?: Как вас зовут? (Kak vas zovut?)

How much is it?: Сколько стоит? (Skol’ko stoit?)

Sorry: Извините (Izvinite)

Sources:

Source: http://www.thebesttimetovisit.com/
Source: http://www.roughguides.com/
Source: http://www.worldtravelguide.net

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