Winston Churchill once described Russia as ”a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. Something almost as true today, as of 100 years ago. Once you got a grip of the country, it throws you back into a fog of Cyrillic letters, deep rooted traditions, and a sober Russian irony. But if traveling is about exploring the unknown, Russia is the biggest playground in the world.
1 Moscow. So, what’s beyond the stereotypic Moscow – the Red Square, Kremlin, and Tverskaya Street? Almost too much to grasp. As one of the most modern capitals of Europe, Moscow welcomes you with a live-fast-die-young mentality. A never ending string of happenings, wrapped up in a post-Soviet setting. Soak up the daily café life at Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, go for picknick at Patriarch’s Pond, and have an unforgetable ride in the mother of all USSR metros.
2 The Golden Ring. Just east of Moscow, in the cultural heartland of Russia, is a string of cities collectively nicknamed the Golden Ring. A series of medieval towns where the 20th century just hasn’t arrived yet, at least not to the small Kremlins, the colourful monasteries, and the wooden house facades. Resist the Moscow day tours and base your stay in Vladimir, perfect for visiting the open-air museum of Suzdal. Or take the train to Yaroslavl, picking up the charmingly Sergiyev Posad and Rostov-Veliky on the way.
3 Nizhny Novgorod. Go here to unfold Russian street life in its rawest form, far away from any Trans-Siberian backpacker or sightseeing tourists looking for the next attraction. A place not trying to be something it’s not. Just pure and simple Russian. Soak up the atmosphere as you walk around the cityscape featuring Soviet styled residential living, Brutalist architecture, and a waving hand from Vladimir Lenin.
4 Kazan. As the capital of Tatarstan, Kazan represent an neglected, yet important part of Russia. The Muslim population. But there is so much more to the city than the Kazan Kremlin and its Kul-Sharif Mosque. A cultural vibe that sets it apart from neighbouring cities. A place that keeps on surprising, not only with its eclectic cocktail bars, summer jazz festivals, and world class falafel, but with its life in general.
5 Samara. If Moscow would had fallen during World War II, Samara was to become the new capital of the Soviet Union. That’s the reason you find a 37 meter deep, fully equipped bunker in the city. The air raid shelter, simply known as Stalin’s Bunker, is open for visitors, showcasing the legacy of the USSR. A heritage that has come to characterize the entire city, from large Soviet monuments to the patriotic ornaments of the metro system.
6 Yekaterinburg. Cross the Europe-Asia borderline and you end up in Yekaterinburg, the last stop before Siberia. This is where the Russian Empire came to an end in 1918, when the Romanov family was brought to the basement of a merchant’s house and shot by the Bolsheviks. Although the house has been removed, you can still visit the exact place of the execution in the underground section of the Church of All Saints. A horrible, yet important part of Russian history.
All images © 2021 Erik Ekberger.
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