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About Russia


BY REASON RUSSIA CAN'T BE GOT...

These words were uttered by Fyodor Tutchev, a Russian poet, in the 19th century; but you could rather agree with him even today. Russia is inscrutable. She may only be sensed. But for that you should come into Russia, see Russia, travel around Russia...

Our country is huge, her area is more than 17,000,000 square kilometers. It's not so simple to imagine this sort of dimensions, especially for Europeans. Mornings in the East, on the peninsula of Chukotka, start nine hours earlier than in Moscow. A railroad journey from the western borders to the Pacific Ocean coast takes about a week, and by air - ten hours. During the flight your plane will pass above tundra and taiga, steppes and deserts. The nature in Russia is wonderful, in many cases unique. That is why there are 25 national parks and 84 reserves in the country. More than half of the country's territory is occupied by forests. The birch is seen as the most romantic tree in Russia and has become in a way her symbol.

There are about 150 million people in the country, 13 towns and cities with more than a million inhabitants - the largest of which are Moscow and St Petersburg. 80 per cent of the whole population is ethnic Russians (Slavs). More than a hundred different peoples or ethnic groups speak their own languages, but everybody knows Russian as well. 60% of Russians are atheists. Most believers are Orthodox Christians.

Just in Russia flows the largest river in Europe - Volga. But it is by far inferior to many Siberian rivers: the Ob, Yenisey, Lena, Amur. Staying in Russia you can visit the largest lake in the world - Caspian. The water in it is salty and it is called a sea, despite the fact that it is not connected with the World Ocean. The deepest freshwater lake is also in Russia - the famous lake of Baikal. And the highest mountain of Europe is in Russia, in the Caucasus.

Russia is the coldest country in the world; in most regions a winter lasts for four-five months, and in the North - ten. Even in Moscow, which is situated in the middle belt, frosts about 30 degrees are rather frequent. That is why Russians wear famous fur hats called "ushanka" protecting one's ears ("ushi"); foreign tourists gladly buy these hats as souvenirs. For the majority of the guests from abroad, huge snowdrifts in the streets of Russian towns seem a sort of exotics: they have only seen such quantities of snow at mountain-skiing resorts. But for the Russian their severe climate is a problem, a very serious one even if habitual: Much effort and money is spent on heating houses and stripping streets and roads of ice and snow, and one must have a lot of warm clothes. But the summer in most of Russia is amiable - warm and sunny.

Foreigners sometimes repeat an old joke: there are no roads in Russia - only directions. Sure, there are territories in our boundless country where you will not see not only any roads but even population. Even though very much has been changing recently in the settled regions - roads have been or are being built - gigantic distances can still be felt. For example, letters might travel for weeks; and even the Express-Post works not so fast as in Europe.

Foreigners have lots of wrong stereotypes about Russian life. Maybe they have been started by the French novelist Alexander Dumas-Senior who happened to travel about Russia. In one of his books, the author of the Three Musketeers described how he had had a rest "under a branchy cranberry-plant ". It's not clear how he managed to crawl under it, since it is not a tree but a tiny bush and grows only on marshes. Since those old days, "branchy cranberry" has formidably established itself in the Russian language as a synonym for incompetence and superficiality of judgment.

It is hardly worth saying today that contemporary life in Russia has very little to do with playing the balalaika amidst matrioshkas and samovars, or wild rushing in sleighs driven by troika (three horses harnessed abreast) along the streets where bears supposedly wander. All these stories are just myths for naive tourists. Especially much is told about Russian hard drinking. Well, undiluted vodka - chilled but without ice - has been a favourite alcoholic drink in Russia since times immemorial; but it can be explained by our severe climate: having been frozen in winter, you will have such a drink as gladly as we do. And though the Russian do know how to go on the spree, there is an old proverb: "Drink you may - but don't forget your business".

The Russian are a reading nation. Foreigners get very surprised when they see passengers having books in their hands in the metro or a trolleybus. There are always lots of people in bookshops and around book stales in the streets. But foreign languages are still badly known in Russia - an aftermath of the closed Soviet society during the totalitarian years. Certainly, the young generation is actively mastering languages, especially English, but you will hardly be able communicate with older people in any other language but Russian.

The most widespread Russian surnames are Kuznetsov, Ivanov, Petrov, Smirnov and Popov. First names - Elena and Alexey. There are more women in Russia than men. Russian brides are famous in the whole world not only for their looks but also for their household skills. Many foreigners come to Russia with the special aim of finding beautiful Slav wives and taking them away to their homes.

"The Russian harness slowly, but they ride fast." It's interesting to mention that these words, characterizing the Russian style pretty accurately, were said by the prominent German politician Otto von Bismark about one hundred and fifty years ago. The Russian are a talented nation. We are proud of our famous fellow-countrymen. Russia gave the world Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov. Five Russian authors - Bunin, Sholokhov, Pasternak, Solzhenitsin and Brodsky - were awarded with the Nobel Prize in literature. The music by Russian composers is played throughout the world - Chaikovsky, Rakhmaninov, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Shnitke... Malevich and Kandinsky - representatives of so called Russian avant-guard - became famous for their innovations in painting.

Discoveries and achievements by Russian scientists in chemistry, nuclear physics and aviation - it's common knowledge. Some invention priorities are regarded in Russia in a way different from the generally accepted. For example, foreigners get genuinely surprised when they learn that Russians consider themselves inventors of the first steam locomotive, electric-bulb or radio. Nevertheless, there are lots of things where Russian priorities are of no doubt.

In 1961, Russia (then the USSR) first sent a man into the space. Russian tanks, battle air-crafts and famous Kalashnikov tommy-guns are definitely the best in the world; as well as the Russian classical ballet is. The names of Anna Pavlova, Galina Ulanova, Maya Plisetskaya, Rudolf Nuriev and Mikhail Baryshnikov are known to each and every educated person. As obvious are the achievements of Russia in sports: traditionally high places in team scores at the Olympic Games, world records and titles of our swimmers, weight-lifters, gymnasts, figure-skaters... Among the world champions in chess there are more Russians than all the others altogether.

In this edition, we only tell about a few cities or areas, which could be of interest for guests from abroad. Actually, there are boundless opportunities for recreation in our country: lots of places to go to and lots of sights to see. Recently, the appearance of many towns, monuments and museum exhibitions has changed beyond recognition. In the Volga cities of Kazan' or Samara, in the northern ones of Pskov or Novgorod-the-Great, in small towns of Suzdal', Torzhok, Velikiy Ust'ug, Izborsk or Myshkin - everywhere you will find cathedrals reconstructed, historical centres renovated and new objects of note built.

And Russia is a real gift for an adventurer. No other country will show you such a great variety of reserved nature, or an animal that has never heard a shot, or so many different peoples with their peculiar culture and traditions. Kamchatka, Baikal, the Sayan mountains, the Volga delta, the Russian North... But after all there are also tours to the North Pole, and to the Commodore Islands, and to the mysterious tableland Putorana in the catchment basin of the Lower Tunguska in Siberia...

And all this land - great, boundless, beautiful and incomparable - is our Russia. Just Russia.

(Articles presented with the consent of the Russian Union of travel industry, catalogue Just Russia)

MOSCOW

This city is very popular with foreign guests visiting our country. Moscow is the capital of Russia. It is believed that the city is eight and a half centuries old. The first record of it in the chronicles is dated by the year 1147, and its history starts with a legend about how the Prince Yury Dolgoruky ("Long-armed"), who is considered the founder of the city, invited his neighbor - a Prince as well - to a council; and in honor of the event "there was a powerful dinner" in Moscow. A monument to Yury Dolgoruky stands in one of the central squares, opposite the Moscow city hall.

Many centuries ago the city was built on seven hills. It is rather difficult to discern them now, with the only exception of Borovitsky Hill where one of the twenty Kremlin towers stands. The Kremlin (in translation from Greek the word means "a steep hill) and the Red Square definitely are the main Moscow sights, symbols of the whole Russia.

The intricate towers and walls of the Moscow Kremlin were built to a design of Italian architects. Russian Government work in the Kremlin, so tourists are only allowed to the part of its territory where the cathedrals are located, the oldest Russian museum of the Armoury Chamber, and the Diamond Fund with its unique collection of precious stones and jewelry.

In the Kremlin, close to the 81-meter tall Bell-Tower of Ivan the Great - once the highest building in Russia - the Tsar-Bell is on display, the largest bell in the world. Its weight is 202 tons and height 6.14 meters. It has never rung: soon after being founded it broke during a fire in 1737, and a huge chunk, which came off, lies next to it now. Not far from the bell, there is the 40-ton Tsar-Cannon - a masterpiece of the 16th century foundry, which also has never been used for its purpose.

Moscow is a real megapolis: more than 40 km from North to South, more than 30 - from East to West. Including the suburbs, it has more than 10 million inhabitants, which makes it the fifth largest city in the world. Besides, every day there are more than one million visitors in Moscow, and certainly a big part of them are tourists. Those who get to the Russian capital on business - or en route - try to linger here for one or two days to have a look at the city.

There are 5 airports, 9 railway stations and 2 river-boat ones in Moscow. The length of the underground lines exceeds 200 kilometers; to more than 200 metro stations, new ones are continuously added. The palace-halls of the metro stations, which are among the most beautiful in the world, were built about fifty years ago: the first line was opened in 1935. "Mayakovskaya" and "Komsomol'skaya" are considered the best of them.

The bridges across the Moskva and Yauza rivers are adornments of the city, especially in the evening when they are illuminated in a showy way. The longest of them (2 km) is the Metro-bridge in the Luzhniki, and the smallest one across the Yauza is only 20 meters long. The elegant single-arch Krymskiy Bridge is perhaps the most beautiful one in Moscow. Bridges are constantly built or reconstructed in the city; sometimes they are even moved up- or down-stream by means of barges.

The architecture silhouette of the city is quite recognizable due to the seven high-rise buildings constructed in the late 40s - early 50s by a direct command of Stalin. The most famous of them is the University of Moscow building on the Vorobyovy Hills. The other "lanky ones" are occupied by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, some hotels, offices, or are just dwellings. The pompous Moscow sky-scrapers with their steeples and sculptures have been arising contradictory appraisals since they were built, but now Moscow without them is just as unimaginable as Paris without the Eiffel Tower.

There are more than 60 museums in the capital; the most popular of which are the Kremlin, the Pushkin Museum of Art with its unique collection of impressionist and modernist paintings, the Tretyakov Gallery.

There used to be nearly five hundred Orthodox churches in Moscow. Now about 150 functionate and another 100 are in the process of renovating. The most impressive are St Basil's Cathedral in Red Square, rebuilt Christ the Savior Cathedral, and the complex of the Novodevichy (New Maidens) Convent.

Among the scores of Moscow theatres, the most famous is the Bolshoi (Grand). Introduction to the Russian classical ballet is a must of any tour programme. The Moscow circuses are also popular with foreign guests; there are two ones in the city, both of them performing permanently.

At the highest point of Moscow - Vorobyovy Hills - there is a sight-ground from which you can see the panorama of the Moskva river bend and the Big Arena of the Luzhniki Stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games were held in 1980.

Since the early 90s, when Mikhail Gorbachev started the "Perestroika" in Russia, Moscow has been sweepingly transforming into a modern European capital. A construction boom is in full swing. Hundreds of buildings are being reconstructed or renovated; new trade, recreation and business centers are being built, as well as bridges and traffic interchanges.

New nightclubs, casinos, and dozens of restaurants spring up in Moscow every year. As in any major capital, you can find here the cuisine of virtually every country in the world. But, quite naturally, foreign guests are mostly interested in traditional Russian dishes: borsch, bliny, solianka, kulebiaka, pel'meni and - sure! - black caviar.

In Moscow itself and around it there are many very interesting estates - Kolomenskoe, Arkhangelskoe, Kuskovo, Ostankino - more than worth visiting. And from Moscow starts a most interesting tour around small ancient Russian towns - the Golden Ring.

(Articles presented with the consent of the Russian Union of travel industry, catalogue Just Russia)

SAINT PETERSBURG

The most European of all Russian towns and cities celebrated its 300 anniversary in 2003. St. Petersburg was founded by the most famous Russian Tsar Peter I (the Great) and named in honor of the apostle Peter (the keeper of the keys to the gates of Paradise) under whose protection was the Emperor himself.

Tsar Peter is one of the key figures in the history of Russia. Real reformer, a man of tremendous will and energy, extremely intelligent but at the same time cruel and merciless, he could handle oars and ship cordage, knew how to hammer iron, built shipyards, ruled the state He managed to transform the patriarchal Moscovia into the European Russia. In his innovations, the Tsar was extremely severe: on pain of punishment, he forced the boyars (noblemen) to shave their beards and to wear European-style clothes, ordered to dress up New-Year fur-trees all around the country, and raised drinking coffee to the rank of a state necessity. His stature matched his other talents - the Russian Emperor stood six feet six tall.

In the City Emblem of St. Petersburg there are two anchors: for the sea and river. Peter the Great believed that just anchors were the keys for Paradise. That is how he wanted to call his new city initially.

The Venice of North, Northern Palmira, Paradise, The City of White Nights, Petropolis, Petrograd - all these are different names of the largest northern city in the world. From 1924 to 1991 it was called Leningrad, after the name of the first communist leader of Russia Vladimir Lenin.

St. Petersburg started with the Peter & Paul Fortress. The foundation of it was laid on May 16, 1703, and this date is considered the birthday of the city. Peter the Great chose the location quite well: from the small island (750 by 360 meters) between the channels of the Neva river in its broadest part, the fortress commanded the waterway along the river; so the route into Russia from the Baltic sea and the city itself were safely protected against any invaders by its mighty bulwarks. At midday sharp, a cannon shoots on one of the Peter & Paul Fortress' bastions and the people collate their clocks or watches with the report of the shot; this tradition has been kept since 1736.

From the very beginning the city was destined to become the new capital of Russia. Having won from Swedes the northern lands and gotten the way out to the Baltic sea, - having "hacked a window open on Europe" by the words of Russian poet Alexandr Pushkin, - Peter I decided to build his new city in the image and likeness of Amsterdam. One of the Neva's islands, where the Admiralty shipyard used to be located, even now is still called the New Holland. Thousands and thousands of peasants and craftsmen were driven together from all over Russia to the dismal marshy terrain of the Neva delta. 100,000 workers died during only the first 10 years of building the fortress-city. Dozens of canals were dug, bridges and dams were built. The best architects, sculptors, artists and engineers were invited from all around Europe - Italy, France, Holland, Germany Nevertheless, the northern capital of Russia acquired its own face, its own unique "Peresburgian" style.

St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Even though the capital of the state returned to Moscow in 1918, "Peter" retained its status as the second capital. The city has more than 5,000,000 inhabitants, who are considered "the most intellectual Russians". Maybe because of the fact that they are lucky to live in a real city-museum.

Like Venice, St. Petersburg is spread across a lot of big and small islands. Their number has been continuously decreasing because of the work of the town-planners who fill up the river channels impeding the city life. There were about 150 islands at the beginning of 19 century, 101 a hundred years ago, and now there are only 42.

Today, on the territory of the city there are 93 rivers, canals or brooks, and more than a hundred lakes or ponds. But the water surrounding, so much beautifying any city, is a constant source of troubles for St Petersburg. Strong winds from the Gulf of Finland often drive the Neva water back into its mouth, flooding the residential areas. Floods of extremely dangerous extent alone have occurred 65 times! The most disastrous ones with lots of casualties happened in 1777, 1824 and 1924. In 1955 Neva's waves assaulted the city again, but then luckily nobody died. At the same time a daring project of hydraulics engineering arose - to build a giant dam across the Gulf to protect the city of St Petersburg against the sea. So far the project has been realized only partially - mostly due to environmentalists' objections and the lack of funds - but the floods became weaker.

What is the symbol of St Petersburg? There is no common opinion. It might be the Bronze Horseman - the monument to the founder of the city Peter I on the Senate Square, or the Alexander's Column erected on the Palace Square in honor of the victory in the war against Napoleon Bonapart in 1812-1814, or the "Needle" of the Admiralty tower with a golden ship on the top, or the Rostral Columns on Strelka (spit) Point on Vasilievsky Island, or the famous "Mariinsky" ballet

A peculiar calling card of the city is also its season of white nights, when the pulled apart bridges across the Neva are pretty visible against the background of the light sky. Those who get to St Petersburg from the end of May to the middle of July - for more than 50 days when the sun almost doesn't set behind the skyline - they can admire the wonderful panoramas of the city at night, walking along numerous stone embankments.

There are 342 bridges in the city now, 21 of which are pulled apart at night. The longest one is Alexander Nevsky bridge (905.7 m), the broadest - Siniy (Blue) across the Moika river (97.3 m). One of the most beautiful bridges across the Neva - Troitskiy (completed in 1903) - was designed by the world famous French engineer Eiffel, the author of the tower in Paris named in his honor. You just can't help admiring the fine structure of Bank chain bridge decorated with gilded-winged griffins, or the horse statues by Peter Klodt on Anichkov bridge.

During the World War II, being blockaded by the enemy, the city of Leningrad experienced the most difficult period of its history, which lasted for 900 days. The horrible winters of 1941 and 1942 with their frosts and starvation, artillery shelling and Luftwaffe bombardment called the lives of more than 640,000 citizens. In commemoration of that, touching and majestic memorials have been erected on Piskariovskoie and Serafimovskoie cemeteries.

Leningrad citizens who survived the blockade recall that when the sacks with sand protecting the Bronze Horseman against the enemy's shells had been removed - somebody drew with chalk a medal "For Defence of Leningrad" on Peter the Great's chest.

The main street of St Petersburg is 4.5 kilometer long Nevskiy Prospekt. A walk along Nevskiy is a sort of life-asserting rite for many inhabitants of the city. Everything is smart, fashionable and elegant here, always.

The Hermitage belongs to the largest museums in the world. You just can't miss visiting it; though the same with the Russian Museum, gigantic the St. Isaac Cathedral (101.5 m high), Letniy Sad (Summer Garden) with its famous tracery iron grill, the Peter & Paul Fortress where many Russian Monarchs are burried.

There are also some exotic museums. In the Kunstkamera (in translation from German "Rarity Chamber") some freak babies have been kept preserved in alcohol since the Great Peter's days. The Tsar often said: I want people to see and learn. In the first years, the visitors didn't have to pay anything; on the contrary, they were given a treat, for which special funds were earmarked from the Treasury.

Across the Neva from the Winter Palace, a real navy cruiser from the beginning of the past century has been moored for several decades. A blank shot from the prow cannon of the cruiser Avrora in November 1917 signaled seizing power in Russia by the communists led by Lenin. There are more than 14,000 displays at the Museum of Bread, which is situated across the street from the Museum of Arctic and Antarctic.

Those interested in Russian literature surely know that St. Petersburg is the city of Pushkin and Dostoevsky. Here started his poetic career the Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Brodsky. Composers Rakhmaninov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich - were peterburgians as well.

Beautiful and romantic are the suburbia of St Petersburg, hardly inferior to those of Paris or Berlin. Try to get to a yearly Fountain Festival in the Peterhof at the end of May, walk along the shady alleys of Gatchina, Pavlovsk, Oranienbaum And in one of the halls of the luxurious atherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo (King's Village) you will hear a dramatic story about the unique Amber Room, stolen by the fascists during the War, and see the process of its minute reconstruction.

Unlike Moscow, St Petersburg is calm and non-fussy. Unfortunately, sunny days are not as frequent here as overcast or rainy; but petersburgians - adoring their city - find some charm even in that. And you can see their point: it is just impossible not to fall in love with St. Petersburg!

(Articles presented with the consent of the Russian Union of travel industry, catalogue Just Russia)

THE GOLDEN RING OF RUSSIA

The Golden Ring is a chain of small ancient towns situated to the North and East of Moscow. It is the most popular tourist route through the Russian provinces. Depending on the time available, you can choose short - one or two days - trip to the main points: Sergiev Posad or Vladimir and Suzdal'. But if you would like to examine thoroughly all the towns of the Golden Ring - and there are more than twenty of them - it will take you nearly a fortnight.

The Golden Ring is not only a collection of architecture masterpieces and charming landscapes of the middle Russia. It is also an opportunity to get acquainted with the life of Russian provinces, unhurried and calm, not spoiled by the bustle of big cities. For example, nobody in a small town gets surprised or upset if a herd of cattle blocks the traffic along the central street.

The tour around the Golden Ring starts in Moscow. Buses go northwards along the old Yaroslavsky Highway. In about 70 kilometers from Moscow Sergiev Posad is situated, famous for its Troitse-Sergiev Lavra ("a major monastery" in Greek). The Monastery was founded in the fourteenth century by Sergei of Radonezh, who was canonized during his life. For a long time, Sergiev Posad was the spiritual life centre of the country, sort of Russian Vatican. In the city, there are a monastery, a theological seminary and the Art Museum-reserve displaying the Orthodox history of Russia.

Many legends are connected with the town of Aleksandrov (100 km from Moscow). Once upon a time, they say, there lived Nikitka Kholop (Bond-slave) who was the first man in history to try to take off: he tied to his arms a pair of wings made of wood - and jumped off the Cathedral roof. The track of the famous Tsar's Liberia - library of Ivan the Horrible - was lost just here, in the old Aleksandrovskaya Sloboda (Suburb). An enormous by 16th century scales collection of antique Greek parchments, Latin chronographs and Jewish manuscripts admired by the scholars - contemporaries of the Moscow Tsar - vanished without leaving a trace. Even today, the mysterious Liberia provokes ardent interest of treasure-hunters and detective writers.

Suzdal' will greet you with tolling of bells. It is the most fabulous place of the Golden Ring. This museum city has hardly changed for the past two and a half centuries. More than 200 architecture monuments of the past millenium are concentrated here: the Kremlin, trading rows, several monasteries, lots of big and small churches. And on every corner "medovukha" is sold, an ancient Russian drink, sort of honey beer.

Another charming small town on the Volga - Myshkin (Mous'). Cruise motor ships sailing from Moscow to St Petersburg or vice versa make a stop here. There is a legend explaining the origin of the town's name: Prince Yukhotsky lay down on the river bank to have a rest after a hunt and fell asleep but was woken up by a mouse which ran across his face. When he opened his eyes, he saw a poisonous snake approaching him. In honor of the small rodent that saved his life, the Prince commanded to build a chapel on the place. Nowadays, the town's inhabitants wisely use its unusual name: they invented and established the only Mouse Museum in the world - an amusing collection of all sorts of images of this small grey animal. Besides, there is The Smirnovs Museum here dedicated to the native of the neighbourhood Peter Smirnov, creator of the famous vodka. And quite recently another museum has been opened - the Museum of Valenki, traditional Russian winter footwear (sort of felt boots).

Pereyaslavl' Zalessky looks as if there was more old ancient churches than hotels, cafes and shops altogether. Quiet Plescheevo Lake is considered the cradle of the Russian Navy: just here it was that 300 years ago the young Russian Tsar who later on became Peter the Great mastered the art of sailing. The small boat of the Russian Emperor miraculously survived and now is an exhibit in one of museums.

Plescheevo Lake is famous for its most uncommon "Pereyaslavl' herring" or "riapushka" of the salmons family. The fish is a relict sea one and probably got into the fresh water of the lake before the ice age. Russian Tsars used to like it very much, so it was called "Tsar herring". The fish is in the city emblem of Pereyaslavl' Zalessky.

Rostov Veliky (Rostov-the-Great) is the oldest city of the north-east Rus': it is first mentioned in chronicles in 862. It is situated by the lake whose name - Nero - means "muddy, silty". On its bottom there is a thick layer of silt, up to 20 meters, which is used for fertilizing fields. The towers of the Rostov Kremlin impressing with their white-stone architecture are reflected in the lake's water.

In the restaurants of Rostov you will find the whole range of genuine Russian cuisine. A real Slav meal is a long chain of various dishes: aspic and baked fish, piglet stuffed with boiled buckwheat, game, brews and skillies, fish-soup from three sorts of fish and poultry and saffron - you name it! And the embellishment of the table - an enormous "kurnik": a pie made of pancakes, chicken, mushrooms and rice.

Completing the circle rout of the Golden Ring we get to Vladimir, once the capital of the Russian state. Now it is a big industrial centre but it is worth visiting at least to see the frescoes by the great Russian icon-painter Andrei Rublev in the Uspensky (Dormition) Cathedral, and majestic Golden Gates.

In a few kilometers from Vladimir, there is a masterpiece of the old Russian architecture - the Church of Protection on the Nerli river. It was built in 1164 on an artificial height in the midst of a water-meadow by the junction of the Kliaz'ma and Nerl' rivers. There is a legend that in the 18th century the white-stone church was about to be demolished, because too few people came to it, but by the will of the Blessed Virgin the church is dedicated to a sun ray suddenly reflected from the golden dome and blinded the workers; and so the church survived.

Along the whole Golden Ring, there are settlements where masters of folk arts have been living for centuries. And today crystal ware is produced in Gus' Khrustal'ny (Crystal Goose), painted wooden caskets in Palekh, painted metal trays in Zhostovo, big and brightly ornamented shawls in Pavlovsky Posad, enamel jewelry in Rostov. You will hardly find a traveler who could overcome the temptation to take along at least one traditional Russian souvenir to remember the far-away country.

(Articles presented with the consent of the Russian Union of travel industry, catalogue Just Russia)

SIBERIA

Siberia is rather an image than a geographical concept. Everywhere reaching to the East beyond the Ural Mountains, the whole northern part of the Asian continent is considered by most people -especially foreigners - as Siberia. For those who have never been there, all this huge space - the cities, forests, seas, rivers, lakes and bogs -merge into one stereotype: snow, frost, huge distances, wildness

And actually Siberia is various and many-sided. To divide it into regions is rather arbitrary. Western and East Siberia, Altai, Tuva and Khakassia, the Sayans and Transbaikalia, Yakutia The most northern part of Asia is also related to Siberia although it might be included into the Far North region together with its western, European sector. 7 thousand kilometers from west to east, 3.5 thousand kilometers from north to south. 10 thousand square kilometers, almost 20 Frances by its area - that is Siberia!

The first Europeans to reach Siberia were Russian coast-dwellers from the White Sea. The first Russian cities there became Obdorsk, Tyumen and Tobolsk, evolved from the fortresses built after expeditions of the Cossack ataman Yermak in the second half of 16th century.

The territory is very rich and in many respects not yet mastered by man. Three centuries ago the Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov foretold that "Russian power with Siberia will increase". There are plentiful reserves of gas and petroleum here, gold and diamonds, wood, furs, wildlife, fish, and cleanest fresh water; on the mighty rivers, largest in the world power stations were constructed. In general, everything is huge in Siberia: the rivers - Ob', Irtysh, Yenisei, Angara, Lena; the mountains - Altai and Sayany; the lakes - Baikal and Teletskoe. Through Siberia runs a significant part of the Trans-Siberian Railway constructed in the end of 19th - beginning of 20th centuries, whose length is 9332 kilometers.

The Siberian frosts also are an object of note in a sense. At times they reach 40-50 degrees. And "just" 25-30 degrees is quite a normal winter temperature for the local inhabitants, they do not notice it. But summer in the south of Siberia is rather hot, up to +30. It is possible to swim, though the water in reservoirs frequently remains cool: even in July it gets warmed only to 17-18 degrees. But there are artificial "seas" here - storage ponds of numerous hydroelectric power stations. The large cities - Omsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk - are in the southern part of Siberia.

The main sight of Krasnoyarsk Region - Poles, a unique reserve in the spurs of the East Sayan. The outcrops of volcanic rocks here have formed about 80 groups of cliffs up to 100 meters heigh. Some have names according to their outlines - Old Man, Old Woman, Golden Eagle, Feathers, Fortress. Mountain- and rock-climbers are fond of this place. And here in Krasnoyarsk, a fascinating boat route starts - down the Yenisei, to the Far North, up to Dudinka and Dixon.

Mountain Altai is particularly attractive. Its main reference point is Lake Teletskoe. The local people call it Gold Lake. This area is very popular with all sorts of tourists: ramblers, rafters, skiers, climbers, fans of horse-riding. Some difficult water routes where you can check your endurance and courage go down the rivers Katun', Bashkaus, Chuya, Chulymshan. Climbing the highest point of the Altai, mountain Belukha(4056 meters) is considered very prestigious. In Mountain Shoria, near to the town of Mezhdurechensk (Between-the-rivers), mountain-skiing slopes are equipped.

Amidst the vast spaces of taiga, the mysterious plateau Putorana is hidden - the highest part of the Central-Siberian Upland Region. "Putorana" in the language of the local inhabitants - Evenks - means "the country of lakes with abrupt coasts". The plateau is dissected by deep valleys, up to 1000 meters, forming lakes. From the highest point - the mountain called Kamen' (Rock)- the view opens for hundreds of kilometers. The water streams rush down the steep sides of valleys in chains of waterfalls. Certainly, there are no roads here so tourists get to this place only by helicopters, flying over hundreds of kilometers.

The reindeer has been and remains the greatest worth for the natives of the North. It is ridden and harnessed into sledge, from its fell clothes and footwear are sewed and yarangas (tent-houses) built, and meat of the deer remains the basic food for the northern people as it was hundreds of years ago.

In Southern Siberia, on the banks of the river Yenisei and its confluents, the small peoples live: Khakases, Tuvinians, Buryats. There are about 80 thousand Khakases and less than 200 thousand Tuvinians. Some representatives of these peoples are masters of the unique art of throat singing. The singers do not utter any words, but in the sounds they produce by their throats you can hear now the whole orchestra music, now the clatter of horses hooves, now some hoarse groans of an animal. This art is taught since childhood, and not everybody can master it. It is interesting that the throat singing is performed only by men.

Buryatiya, located to the south and east of Lake Baikal, is the centre of Buddhism in Russia. There are about thirty temples - datsans. As any steppe nomadic people, the Buryats have always had a real cult of the horse. The owner of a herd always knows each horse "by sight". A steed-friend is the main character of Buryat tales and legends. Highly appreciated is the healing power of mare milk - koumiss.

In the neighbour Tuva, there is the geographical centre of Asia designated with a specific mark. There are few roads here and they are rather rough. But the fantastic nature of the region attracts travelers.

Lake Baikal is a gem of the East Siberia. Nearly a quarter of the global fresh water stock is concentrated in it, and the water is most transparent and clean. A white disk of 30 centimeters in diameter is seen through the Baikal water even on the depth of 40 meters! The lake is at the height of almost 500 meters above the sea level, it is 636 kilometers long and has the width from 20 up to 80 kilometers. There are 1850 species of animals and 850 ones of plants in Baikal, and many of them are met only here. The most famous Baikal fishes are sturgeon, umber, white-fish, viviparous golom'anka But the delicious omul is prized higher than any of them.

There is plenty of sunny days on Baikal, more than on the resorts of the southern seas. But in autumn storms are frequent, with vigorous winds. The lake gets freezed only in the second half of January, and completely free of ice only in May. The Baikal ice is extremely clean, as well as the water; it forms huge transparent fields so that on the shoal you can see the bottom and the underwater inhabitants of the lake.

More than three hundred rivers run into Baikal, and only one flows out of it - the Angara. On the spot of its source - at the settlement of Listv'anka in 70 kilometers from the large city of Irkutsk - a rock raises above the water, to which a beautiful legend is related: Father-Baykal has thrown a fragment of a rock at his disobedient daughter - the beautiful Angara - who despite his interdictions had moved apart the mountains surrounding the lake and left to join her fiance the Yenisei.

Baikal is a real magnet for tourists. The majority come in summer which is pretty warm here. At the end of July - beginning of August, the water at the coast gets warm as well. It is best to travel on Baikal on a small ship, having the opportunity to change the route at one's own discretion, to call into picturesque bays and straits, to do fishing or sunbathing. Such travels keep becoming more and more popular recently.

Not so long ago, one more kind of exotic tourism originated in Russia - travel to the Northern Pole. A group is taken from Moscow by plane to the Spitsbergen Archipelago, and then by helicopters to a camp on the ice at the very Northern Pole. Here the tourists will spend some days, and they have no time to get bored: they ride dog-sledges or snow-scooters, ramble across the ice hummocks, rise above the boundless white lfields on a balloon. There is even a polar sauna and some amusements in the camp. And as soon as suitable weather occurs, a short rush by helicopter is performed to the spot with geographical coordinates 90'00'' and 00'00''. Happy travellers have the opportunity of calling their relatives and friends through the satellite phone and the pleasure of getting photographed on the most northern point of the Earth.

(Articles presented with the consent of the Russian Union of travel industry, catalogue Just Russia)


Mosco, Copirignt 2001-2004