A lot can happen in 300 years: the wholesale erasure of a country’s former pattern of existence, for instance, along with the inevitable modernisation that the unrelenting advance of “progress” brings – for better and for worse. The relevance of this is only felt by you, the traveller, if you give a damn about that which is lost or saved.
The legions of paperback reading hotel-pool dwellers may not give a hoot about ongoing restoration and preservation projects (if there are any) in the old town next to their temporary sun trap. Do the stag party booze cruisers concern themselves with the welfare of Prague’s medieval astronomical clock? It’s doubtful. The sobering realisation is that they don’t have to, none of them do. No one (unless it’s within their professional remit) is obliged to care about any of these issues. It’s quite simply not their problem – and they’ll all be heading home soon anyway. The sunny hotels are a temporary reprieve from reality: uniform concrete blocks built in a bay because it was beautiful, until someone built some uniform concrete blocks in it.
If you are heading to Russia via this site then there is a good chance that you are travelling to collide with another culture – in the best possible way. There are no cut price booze cruises or hammering club nights on sale, so I’ll guess that you are interested in something more. Could it be an authentic taste of another culture?
“Authentic” is a questionable term. Just when did the authentic version of Russia exist anyway? In the days of Kievan Russ? Under the Mongol Yoke? Through the age of the Tsars? During the era of the Soviet Union? It’s worth pointing out that you will be taking a trip into a country where one of the principle constants has been, paradoxically, change. Even, to the point of rendering established “truths” redundant; -as a contributor to Russia Beyond The Headlines remarked:-
“I think the biggest mistake is believing anything that anyone tells you before you get here,” says Canadian Joe MacInnes. “Most advice you hear will be trickle down rumors from 10-15 years ago and that was a very different time. The Moscow I discovered bears no resemblance to what I was told to expect.” Well, it certainly makes things diverse.
It’s interesting to note that somehow, through all of this, every way of life (within reason) remains valid. From traditional country life to the rigours of modern cities. To the indigenous peoples of Siberia or in old ways and values that survive in new settings. All of it. A contact from Ekaterinburg informed me that those who “go rural” are making a respected life choice, they haven’t merely failed to “make waves” in the city. They simply don’t have to. It’s just another way of life.
An associate working out of Moscow once remarked on the bizarre juxtaposition of 1950’s style, three wheel tractors juddering nonchalantly shoulder to shoulder with gleaming black BMWs on the country’s roads. Also that for every mile you head out into the countryside, you seemingly head back an additional year in time. Well, that was his impression. In any case, the past won’t quite go away. Perhaps it shouldn’t.
It has much to do with the pride of a nation that treasures and respects its traditions, history and culture in a way that we often don’t, when it comes to matters of our own heritage. Historically, Russia has undoubtedly weathered much: the Mongols, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin and more. It’s survival in the face of adversity bolsters that pride: something that you’d better not challenge or fool with. Nor with the deeply held traditions and practices of Orthodoxy, you’ll quickly come unstuck.
Next time we’ll look at some Russian trip destinations that are as authentic as you are likely to find.
[Photo by xusenru]