Winston Churchill famously described Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. He was right too. The vast country, which spans two continents and 11 timezones, is packed full of surprises waiting for foreigners to discover.
If you take a trip to Russia, here are some things you might find surprising.
It’s Not All Grey
Many people in the west picture Russian towns and cities as grey concrete jungles, with miles and miles of tower blocks and gloomy streets. This stereotype comes from Soviet architecture, which created standardized designs for housing to keep costs low and allow builders to construct vast numbers of apartments in record time.
You’ll see that in reality, these grey tower blocks are broken up by vast colorful buildings, parks and monuments. In the city center of Moscow, you’ll see the bright red walls of the Kremlin and the State Historical Museum, the expansive green of Gorky Park, and the beautiful pavilions of VDNKh. While in St Petersburg, you’ll see turquoise, blue and gold on the outsides of many buildings.
It’s Not Snowing All the Time
It gets cold in Russia, that’s true. In eastern Siberia, the temperatures can regularly drop below -50 degrees Celsius in winter. Even in more western parts of the country, temperatures of -30 and -40 degrees are not unusual.
That doesn’t mean it’s cold and snowing all the time. Large parts of Russia have a continental climate. This means that they have very cold winters but also enjoy hot summers where the mercury can shoot above 30 degrees Celsius.
In June to August, you’ll see thousands of Muscovites catching rays along the banks of the Moskva river and in the parks, whilst from December to February every day is a snow day.
There are some exceptions though. Russia’s vast size means that it stretches from the Black Sea to the North Pole. With geography like this, there are parts of the country that do remain permanently blanketed in snow. It’s just not the majority.
It’s Possible to Ski in a Beach Resort
This varied geography creates other quirks. One of these is Sochi, a city in the south of Russia where it’s possible to both ski on natural snow and swim in the warm sea.
The city is a popular tourist destination among Russians and those from neighboring Eastern European and Central Asian countries. Many flock there in the summer to sunbathe, swim, and for many other traditional seaside activities.
It’s a major sporting destination too, having hosted the Winter Olympics in 2014 and some matches from the 2018 FIFA World Cup. There’s also plenty of annual sporting events too, including a round of the PokerStars European Poker Tour and the FIA Formula 1 World Championship.
It’s a Modern Country
In the cities, at least, Russia is as modern as any other European country. You’ll find fast mobile internet, efficient public transport, and even tall skyscrapers.
As you walk the streets of Moscow, you’ll see crowds of people talking on the latest iPhones, listening to music through wireless headphones, and paying for everything using contactless cards.
They buy their clothes from stores like Zara, H&M, and Gap. In major cities like Moscow and St Petersburg, you’ll find just as many designer boutiques as in London or Paris. They don’t stop at their clothes either, many drive Porsche, Mercedes, Audis and Infinitis, although you’ll still see plenty of Ladas on the roads too.
You’re also just as likely to find a McDonalds or Starbucks in Moscow as you are in New York.
Russian Food is Delicious
You may have heard that Russians like to eat a lot of root vegetables. This is true. Beetroot, potatoes, onions and carrots are all staples in the country. This doesn’t mean Russian food is boring.
Traditional Russian dishes are similar to the cuisine found in other Eastern European countries, including lots of meat, bread, and pickled vegetables. Russians also love soups and salads as well as delicious cakes and other sweet desserts.
If these don’t sound like your thing, Georgian cuisine is popular in the cities too. You’ll find restaurants serving up dishes like chakhokhbili, a chicken stew that’s bursting with flavor from a mix of herbs and spices.
Seeing is believing. Add Russia to your list of must-visit destinations and find out for yourself.