Russia is the world’s largest country by landmass, and is part of the East Asia-Pacific region, Central Asia, the Caucasus and Europe.
And yet, despite its huge size, we have somehow managed to miss it – taking the trans siberian railway is one of those journeys every traveler dreams of taking, one of those journeys we associate with exotic adventure.
But sitting on a train for an entire week without getting off seems a bit too much, and what’s the point of traveling through the entire Russia without actually stepping off the train to embrace it?
We have been thinking of taking this journey next year, and here are 5 of the places we would like to visit along the way…
Few places are as iconic than St. Basil’s Cathedral with its colorful onion domes that makes it look more fairy-tale like than the Walt Disney Castle itself -and the red square with the GUM department store and the Kremlin’s red brick walls and 18 towers.
First mentioned in 1024, Suzdal is one of the oldest cities in Russia, and being protected from development, the medieval architecture, rural atmosphere and fairy tale setting is still well preserved, with more churches per capita than any other city in Russia.
Suzdal is part of the “Golden Ring”, a ring of cities northeast of Moscow which preserves the memory of the most important and significant events in Russian history.
These towns are like open-air museums, and among the most picturesque in Russia – we would love to get a glimpse of what seems to be the idyllic picture of Russian village life.
Formed almost 50 million years ago, Lake Baikal is the oldest and deepest lake on the planet, containing 20% of the earth’s fresh surface water.
Except around Baikalsk and Selenga Delta, the water is completely safe to drink due to the filtering action of the different types of sponge that live in its depths – the deep blue lake surrounded by sharp mountains looks absolutely stunning, and we would love to explore the area.
While visiting this village might only be possible when buying russian train tickets, we would love to get a better insight into the lives and culture of the Buryats – the Buryats are the largest of the Siberian minority groups, where Shamanism and Buddhists traditions come together.
While we don’t normally listen to others complaining about places, when we get a lot of recommendations about how awesome a place is we definitely believe that there must be some truth in what they say.
We’ve heard from many people about how great Irkutsk is, from how cute the town is with traditional Siberian wooden cabins to how friendly the locals there are and how relaxed the vibe is in the city.
Can’t wait to see it for ourselves!
Have you traveled on the Trans Siberian Railway?
If so, what places would you recommend, and if not, what places do you dream of visiting?
Interesting Things To Do In Russia
Russia is such a vast country, and there is much more to it than just jumping on the Trans-Siberian Railway and passing through it – there are festivals, traditions, delicious food and historic cities to explore all over the country.
Here are some things to do when visiting Russia…Attend The Pancake Festival
This festival, also known as Maslenitsa, is held every year during the last week of the Great Lent, marking the end of winter and welcoming the coming spring.
It’s a time for celebrations, traditions and of course lots of indulging in food – especially Blini (Russian pancakes).
In fact, these pancakes are an essential part of the Maslenitsa festival.
Symbolizing the sun, the people once believed that by eating a pancake, they absorbed a part of the sun’s energy.
During the festival they host all sorts of events, from the more usual things like theater, puppet shows and music performances, to traditional events like troika rides, “storming” a snow fort and even fist-fighting (a popular and traditional event, it might sound a bit absurd but it’s all in good fun).
This festival is not usually an event people attend on their Russia Tours, so if you’re traveling through the country when the festival is on you’re in luck!
Caviar & Vodka Tasting
Russians are known to happily drink vodka at any time of the day, and add a spoon on caviar on everything – they even use it as topping on their pancakes!
But the best way to pair caviar is to simply have it together with a shot of vodka – in Moscow and St Petersburg there are many places that offer vodka and caviar tasting.
Travel The Golden Ring
The Golden Ring are some beautiful historic cities that together form a circle on the map and are some of the most popular destinations on tours to Russia.
The towns have played a big part in Russian history, from its early periods to later when the country’s independence was at stake – along with its history, these towns have not only preserved the architecture but their local traditions as well, a life which is completely different from the cities.
Visit A Winter Festival
Winter in Russia can be absolutely beautiful, and are made even better by its many winter festivals held across the country – Moscow’s winter festival is one of the biggest, running from mid-December to mid-January, full of performances, traditional food and incredible ice sculptures.
Enjoy A Russian Tea Ceremony
While most people associate vodka as the typical drink for Russia, tea is also an old traditional drink in the country.
Even though tea was brought in from China (during the 16th century), Russia has developed its own unique traditions surrounding this drink.
Typical Russian tea is a combination of two or three types and flavors – these different teas are brewed dark and in separate pots.
When mixed together in the cup, additional hot water is added to dilute the mixture.
What are your best tips of things to do when traveling through Russia?
How Russia’s Art Scene Is Changing
Russia’s Art Scene the artistic gap of the Soviet Union has had a lingering impact on its people – although the traditionally Russian turrets and frills of rococo architecture are gradually replacing the Stalinist constructivism of its buildings, few people associate Russia with its thriving arts scene or with the creative liberty of its people.
In fact, for many, the only recent access they have had to the country has been through media reports about Pussy Riot and the heavy-handed ruling of its orthodox oligarchy – whilst Russian literature and ballet remain world class pursuits, cultural stereotypes are gradually shifting to reveal an unexpected artisan counterculture beneath.
Forget the vodka and the Faberge eggs; forget the Cossack hats and the sugar plum fairy, forget every blinkered Russian association you’ve ever had – Russia is changing.
Thanks, in part, to the underground social lens of the internet and its ability to give the unrepresented a platform for expression, Russian creatives are emerging in their thousands and their talents are an emblem of things to come.
Russia’s Art Scene Creative Russia
The western parts of Russia have started adopting the European penchant for urban minimalism – whilst a vast majority of the east is still uninhabitable tundra.
This makes the momentum of cultural movements a very trying task indeed – particularly when the provinces are traditionally regarded as creative deserts, until recently – and indeed, until the offending Pussy Riot protests – there has been little interest in the artistic endeavours of Russians or of Muscovites.
Despite a new wave of bars and restaurants mixing Shoreditch eclecticism with Scandinavian simplicity, this effort to break away from the bleakness of the soviet era is rarely recognized.
And yet, when Pussy Riot threw open an alternative window, a global interest was born.
And as the Calvert Journal beautifully illustrates, Russian’s are taking full advantage of the spotlight.
From Yekaterinburg, an industrial city with a critically regarded contemporary dub scene in the Urals, to the artists and designers taking over ex-communist factories; new festivals of architecture, art and photography are helping to regenerate the creative community.
Artur Lomakin, creator of the label Forget Me Not, finds inspiration in the grey anonymity of Moscow’s suburbs, whilst street artist Timofei Radya uses the city of Yekaterinburg as his canvas.
Ultra-cool projects like PPCM (Ping Pong Club Moscow) are progressively countering the culture of the Soviet era by reviving a sport that was once banned.
“We’re cool in every sense of the word,” says Daria Yastrubitskaya, co-founder of the Ping-Pong club.
“We’re just having a good time and we want people to have a good time with us.
If you want to play, play – if you want to hang out, hang out – that’s all we’re about.”
For young Muscovites, especially those into alternative music, the last few decades have been a barren landscape in terms of nightlife.
Despite a brief underground grunge clique that emerged in the 90’s, you’re more likely to find outdated DJs mixing the Fratellis with Brimful of Asha than any kind of cutting-edge music scene – thankfully, that’s all about to change.
What started out as a group of friends throwing house parties in southwest Moscow, RAD is quickly becoming an electronic collective that is, above all else, passionate about Russia.
The whole identity of RAD’s releases was an attempt to play with Russianness, make the most of it: every release came with a collage made from real Soviet newspapers, says Zaynetdinov, a RAD DJ.
And that’s the beauty of this new found creativity – Russian art and music has always been molded by its tumultuous heritage and this ever-increasing originality is a testament to its progression.
In times of compulsory conformity, innovation and experimental are forcibly evacuated.
But now, with an alternative window propped firmly open by balaclava-clad feminists, Russia is finally able to stretch its creative bones.
A Miniature Guide to Moscow
Where to Stay:
Godzilla is Moscow’s largest and best-known hostel.
It was the first independent hostel to open in Moscow and has been featured in The New York Times, Newsweek and The Daily Telegraph. Shared rooms start at $16 a night.
What to See:
Check out the metro.
Whilst this might not sound like the most riveting of excursions, some of Moscow’s metro stations need to be seen to be believed.
Novoslobodskaya, Mayakovskaya, Novokuznetskaya and Kievskaya are highly recommended.
Where to Eat:
Enjoy the urban-rustic delights of Moscow’s first supper club.
Stay Hungry is situated in a stately apartment and every meal is prepared by a different chef.
Whilst the menu is important, its chief concern is to unite like-minded individuals and encourage new friendships.
Where to Go:
Organise a hire car or jump on the train and visit Sergiyev Posad. Situated on the Golden Ring just 70 km north east of Moscow, this city is dominated by the Trinity Monastery of St Sergius Lavra – one of the largest and most important monasteries in Russia.