Here is another round-up of destinations worthy of consideration whilst visiting Russia, itself a vast amalgam of turbulent historical and cultural influences. It’s interesting to witness the product of such machinations – the mix that pours out of the historical grinder! A resolute pragmatism and a vast scattering of diverse landmarks comprisestatione the most obvious manifs, but these are just the beginning. The following text is adapted via a Russian-to-English translation and was originally written by a colleague as part of a larger work. Although the author prefers to remain nameless, you can find the original (translated) work and a lot more on Live Journal.
*Please note, the text refers to the fascinating Grecian settlement ruins (and UNESCO heritage site) of Chersonese in Crimea, however as I present this in June 2018, the UK government advises against absolutely all travel to Crimea, regardless of purpose. With that in mind, let’s begin.
“If you are interested in archeology, pay attention to such ancient towns as Chersonese – (Crimea; see above*) and Arkaim (South Ural district). There are also many locations of archaeological interest in Ryazan, Vladimir and the Nizhniy Novgorod regions. To the South of Nizhny Novgorod, downstream of the Volga river is the meeting point of Europe and Asia; the ancient city of Kazan, – capital of the Republic of Tatarstan and unofficially regarded as the third capital of Russia (after Moscow and St. Petersburg). Here Russian and Tatar cultures intertwine, complementing each other in a blend of architectural beauty that is embodied by Kazan Kremlin itself with its synthesis of Russian and Tatar styles. A visitor to these streets will hear both Russian and Tatar speech amidst amazing, ancient mosques and temples dedicated to Islam and Russian Orthodoxy. The city is characterised by astounding vistas and an Oriental fairy-tale atmosphere but it also embraces modernity and regularly hosts many contemporary, international sports and other events. The best time to visit Kazan is late May till early June when the Tatar Sabantuy holiday is held, featuring many events, competitions and other festive treats in and around the city. Throughout the year, a visitor may enjoy many traditional restaurants and cafes offering Tatar and Russian cuisine. It should be noted that the former offers little for vegetarians, relying heavily on its meat and fat content. A variety of pies and pasties are also available as well as a tempting selection of sweets and deserts.
Consider visiting such ancient Russian towns as Veliky Ustyug, traditional home of Grandfather Frost (aka “Ded Moroz”, the Russian Santa Claus) and Kostroma; one of the Golden Ring cities wherein resides Grandfather Frost’s counterpart, Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden (or so the fable goes).” Both characters have there own respective residences or “Terem” where traditional events, games and dances take place for the enjoyment of visiting guests. Ded Moroz invites visitors to participate in the New Year Tree decorations and contribute to the annual fairy tale; written by his 12 brothers (each representing a month of the year). Snegurochka, herself is present at her abode as well as other famous characters from Russian folk tales, traditional toys, Christmas trees and ice rooms. There is also a small hotel on her premises where you may relax and enjoy the traditional Russian pleasures of good food, the Russian bath or ‘banya‘ and more.
Beauty in wood
Kizhma village is an ancient settlement in the Arkhangelsk region with amazing wooden architecture in the Northern Russian style and Kizhi island on lake Onega (in the Karelia region) houses the truly stunning wooden church complex of “Kizhi Pogost”. The city of Petrozavodsk resides on the lakeside and is reachable via a six hour (or thereabouts) train ride, heading North East from St. Petersburg.”
I’ll interject here, to say that you may wish to verify that Kizhi Pogost will not be under repair during your visit – otherwise you will be presented with a mesh of modern scaffolding rather than a stunning wooden structure. Let’s continue:
Down in the Ethnopark
“Family-friendly ethnological parks and science museums are located within Moscow and its extended vicinity. In summer, not far from the capitol (the Kaluga region), you can visit “Ethnomir” park, actually a small town with a global theme consisting of multiple ethnic blocks, each one devoted to a separate nation. The initial exhibit depicts a scene from daily life in an ancient Russian settlement, where other indigenous peoples of Siberia are also represented. The contrast of other cultures and locations subsequently follows.
You can stay in Ethnomir overnight night or for several days. With this extra time, you can dive into the lives of a variety of cultures, become acquainted with ancient traditions, and become acquainted with folk art and crafts.
Closer to Moscow (in small town of Khotkovo), there is “Nomad” (Kochevnik), another ethnic park displaying the housing and daily lives of various nomadic (yes) Russian/Siberian peoples as well similar homes/existences from across the outside world. Here, you will also find excursions and cultural workshops, plus: camel, reindeer and dog-team rides. Whilst in the vicinity of Khotkovo, you can also visit the Abramtsevo estate (and artists colony) to sample the architecture of the late 18th century, including a museum dedicated to the author Sergei Aksakov.
In a Lavra
As an added bonus, the town of Sergiev Posad is close by with cultural treasures of its own. Here lies the Holy Trinity-Sergius Monastery and museums containing Russian folk art and crafts. This is another ancient Russian town worthy of an overnight stay (or longer) whether in a hotel or at even at the nearby monastery (where its traditional food may also be enjoyed). It’s best to book excursions around the ‘Lavra’ in advance by phoning the pilgrim centre of ‘Troitse-Sergiev Lavra’ in Moscow itself.” A little convoluted perhaps, but worth the effort in advance, -to ensure that you secure a place, especially considering these words from Inacircle:-
“…(it is) the largest male orthodox monastery in Russia. This is the most significant landmark of the city, that attracts thousands of pilgrims and tourists. During Orthodox religious holidays the influx increases by several times.” Conveniently, though; Sergiev Posad is reachable by car, bus or train.”
I’ll end with a note here to add that the term “Lavra” is common to Orthodox traditions and refers to a monastery that consists of a cluster of buildings, cells and (often) cave complexes with (usually) a main church or other key structure at the heart of the group. So, now you know.