Oh yes, it's very big! As big as it gets in fact. Covering a staggering 17 million square kilometers, Russia tops the list of biggest countries in the world - nearly double the size of its nearest competitor, Canada, and covering an eighth of the earth's land surface. For the bulk of the 70 years that Russia was the seat of power for the U.S.S.R., the country was kept well-hidden from outsiders, in global purdah behind the Iron Curtain. It wasn't until 1985, when then-leader Mikhail Gorbachev began to pull the curtain back and let people in. And now, 20 years after the fall of the Communist republic, due in part to its rich cultural heritage and wide range of natural beauty - as well as the legendary mystery that still shrouds much of the country - Russia is one of the most visited countries in the world. The country draws visitors with promises of cultural and natural tourism opportunities, and it never fails to live up to those promises. From the western end of the country which dances on the meeting point of two continents to the eastern side which dips its toes in the Sea of Japan, Russia has so much to offer that it would take hundreds of thousands of words to describe it all and a lifetime to experience it. Whether your trip sees you focus on specific areas or takes on you a longer journey - such as the 9,300 km route of the Trans-Siberian Railway - any visit to Russia will leave visitors with an impression that is, in all likelihood, different than the one they arrived with. ~ Samantha McDonald-Amara
Intimidating, grim and dour yet crammed with the glamour of a thousand West End openings, Moscow means many things to many people. The truth, of course, is that Moscow manages to be all these things and more to everyone who manages to spend time here. From the gleaming neon of Tvserkaya Street - one of the busiest and best known streets of the city - to the drab out reaches of the Strogino district, Moscow is a city of never ending contrasts. And no where are these contrasts more evident than in the clash between old and new, the functional and the extravagant. Moscow is an ancient town that today is a veritable megacity. The bustling metropolis serves as a major hub for political, economic and cultural activity, and is a significant travel destination, and rightfully so.
Years before I even thought about heading east to the biggest country in the world, my language tutor had me read a text in Russian. The text was about a large wooden church built on an island called Kizhi somewhere in the north of the country. According to the text, a builder constructed this church, looked at his finished result and threw his hammer into the lake saying that his days as a builder were over since he would never again build anything as beautiful. Although the text was quite difficult for my level at the time, I understood enough to be intrigued and interested in finding out more about the place. Kizhi wasn't on any world map, nor was it on any of the more detailed maps of Russia that I checked. It wasn't until I actually decided to go there that I found out exactly where it is.
I currently live in Vladivostok, which sits on the far southeastern rim of Russia, in Primorskiy Krai ('Krai' is similar in idea to a state or province). As part of my position as an English language examiner, I often travel throughout the Russian Far East (RFE) and Siberia. During my time here, I have been to Irkutsk and its grand Lake Baikal; Yekaterinburg, where the Romanovs met their fate; and, Petropavlavsk-Kamchatskiy, surrounded by gorgeous volcanoes. However, none of those intriguing places has managed to hold my imagination nearly as much as Yakutsk, the coldest city of its size in the world.
As is the case for many other travelers, desolation and bitter cold hold a particular interest for me. Why else would anyone really want to visit Antarctica? (which I do, by the way) Yakutsk, both very isolated and very cold, was therefore high on my list of places to see. So when the opportunity to go there arose, I embraced it.I took off from Vladivostok in late October, woefully unprepared for what awaited me. Although I am drawn to cold places and I was confident that I understood what sub-zero weather meant, I stupidly packed only semi-wintery clothes for the five-day trip. Clearly, I had no idea what such temperatures in October, in Yakutsk, meant.