Wonders… and scares of the East – Russia
Every person in the Western world must have grown up with the image of a common, societal enemy – the Soviet Union. That fear proved to be unfounded, as the Communist system imploded more than two decades ago, leaving the door open for outsiders to discover the incredibly interesting culture and natural wonders of the vastest country in the world – Russia.
Contemporary Russia is characterized by a mix of classical (and sometimes Western-influenced) architecture, music, literature – you name it! -, communist legacy (especially in social mentalities) and stunning natural wonders. Any tour of Russia should start in the capital, Moscow. It’s the biggest city in Europe and one of the biggest in the world – and, at the same time, one of the most expensive, congested and polluted urban settlements. Monumental communist apartment blocks riddle Moscow, while new infrastructure projects built in recent years have changed the face of the city. The world-famous Red Square is the main attraction in Moscow – the vast open space guarded by the Kremlin, Lenin’s Mausoleum, the Tzum (Moscow’s high-end department store) and Saint Basil’s Cathedral (the one with the colored rooftop) –, attracting millions of tourists every year.
3 hours by bullet train to the North, you’ll find the Westernized, old city of Saint Petersburg. Former capital of the Russian Empire, it hasn’t suffered as many transformations as Moscow during communist times, maintaining its classical atmosphere. While boat trips on the city’s canals are relaxing and sometimes eve fun, the Peterhof, the former residence of the Tsars, is the main tourist attraction – nicknamed the Versailles of Russia, it’s riddled with paintings, luxurious gardens, gold-platted walls and many other jewels the rulers decided to integrate into their home (consider these among the reasons for the existence of the Communist movement).
But Russia is not just these two cities – there’s much more to explore in this vast country. Sochi, the small town bordering the Black Sea where the most recent Winter Olympics were organized has attracted increasing numbers of visitors in recent years – mostly from Russia or Belarus, truth be told.
But the best way to experience Russia’s great outdoors is to book a trip on the Tran Siberian – running from Moscow to Vladivostok – , crossing the country from West to East, in an incredible adventure. It takes around two weeks to make the 10 thousand kilometer journey, but trust me, it’s worth it! On the way you can take a sneak peak at places like Siberia or the world’s deepest lake, Baikal, ending your journey close to China, in the remote port of Vladivostok. Imagine the stories you could tell afterwards!