From Russia With Love
Life is just a collection of experiences – one by one collected and compiled to create the narrative of our life’s journey. In the end, the limited time we get on this Earth is our most precious commodity and how we choose to spend that time defines us and our stories we leave behind.
In the era of social media, wanderlust and the phenomenon of FOMO (‘fear of missing out’) have inspired a whole new generation to explore the globe and tick off items from their newly minted ‘bucket lists’.
For the more adventurous out there, few places in the world could provide more authentic once-in-a-lifetime experiences than the great nation of Russia. Vast, wild and filled with the remnants of a complicated Imperial and Soviet past – there is no country like it and the opportunities for exploration are endless.
From the bling of Moscow’s billionaires to the frosty wilderness of Siberia – DDW explores the 10 most incredible life experiences to do in Russia today:
1. Ride the Trans-Siberian Railway
Crossing 8 of the 11 time zones Russia occupies, 16 rivers and going through 87 cities and towns, the Trans-Siberian railway is a truly spectacular way to take in some of the most jaw-dropping parts of the world. Unlike any other journey on Earth, this is the longest single train route on the planet covering 9,258km (6,152 miles) and taking seven full days.
Hallowed as the greatest rail trip on earth, passengers are carried from Moscow to the far east city of Vladivostok. Along the way – those on board can witness the majesty of the Ural Mountains, the vast Gobi Desert and the snowy peaks and tundra of Siberia.
Those that can’t get enough of the rail can continue their adventure, changing at Vladivostock and jumping on the Trans-Mongolian railway to Beijing. Don’t forget your copy of Dostoyevsky and a bottle of Russia’s finest vodka to keep you company.
2. Ride a Dogsled in Siberia
If sitting on a train for a week is not your idea of a great time – why not fly into Siberia’s Platon Oyunsky Yakutsk International Airport and join an adventure sledding with man’s best friend.
Dog sledding is one of the most exhilarating modes of transportation known to man. Tracing its origins back to 2000 BC, this practice began with the Tungusic people, native to the region who originally used the technique to move supplies quickly in the harsh winter months.
Today, you can join this centuries-old tradition and experience the rush of living out in the forest, camping under the stars and sledding through the untouched Siberian landscape with your local guide.
3. Fly a MiG Fighter Jet
In the Cold War the only thing the US military feared more than nuclear retaliation from the Soviet power was their seemingly invincible MiG jets. Renown for their speed and manoeuvrability these fighter jets are considered some of the finest military aircraft ever designed.
Luckily for us, we can now indulge our inner speed-demons and do the once thought impossible – fly at supersonic speeds in a MiG, as a civilian. There’s only one place on earth where one can scratch this particular itch and that is the SOKOL Airfield near the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod.
Get yourself on the waitlist and prepare for an experience like no other alongside trained fighter pilots that will take you through rolls, loops and dives. Certainly not one for the faint-hearted.
4. Relax in a Traditional Banya
You have been travelling, sledding and flying at supersonic speeds – now you need to relax … Russian style. Nothing is more authentic or traditional than a trip to a traditional bathhouse, or Banya. As any Russian will tell you – this is the best way to spend a lazy afternoon or to recover from a long night of vodka fuelled frivolity.
A quintessential part of Russian culture for centuries, Banyas offer a series of steam rooms and extremely warm saunas interspersed with freezing cold plunge pools and ‘ venik massages’ – an invigorating treatment that involves being beaten with a bundle of birch, oak and eucalyptus leaves, releasing the plants’ essential oils.
No trip to Russia is complete without it and we promise – it is far more pleasant than it sounds!
5. Explore a Soviet bunker
No trip to ‘Mother Russia’ would be complete without exploring its complicated past. As a country that was prepped for bottle at any time for decades – there are innumerable remnants of the war littered all over its landscape.
One of the many monuments to this era is the once-secret Stalin-era bunkers underneath the city of Moscow. Originally intended to protect a select few during the Cold War from potential nuclear fallout, this 75,000 square foot facility was covertly constructed 65 metres below street level during the 1950s.
It wasn’t actually until the 90s that the bunker became public knowledge and fortunately for curious travellers and history buffs, it now plays host to the world-famous Cold War Museum.
6. Play a round of golf on Lake Baikal
While teeing off on a frozen lake may seem like a terrible idea, this has become something of a tradition for golfers in Russia. Every year competitors gather near Listvyanka, a small settlement 70 KM from Irkutsk to play a round on Baikal’s frozen surface. Bunkers are traded for mounds of snow, as you try and navigate the icy plains, surrounded by stunning misty mountain peaks.
Declared a World Heritage Site in 1996, the incredible natural landscape certainly offers up a change of pace for those feeling uninspired by the usual green fairways back home. This year the lake is hosting the annual World Ice Golf Championship – this is one date not to miss.
7. Be one with nature at the Kola Peninsula
Endless mountain ranges, dense forests and desolate tundra – the Kola Peninsula offers a truly breathtaking exposure to mother nature.
Situated north of the Arctic Circle, north of Norway, the Peninsula offers one of the most incredibly unique environments on Earth. In winter, its evenings are blanketed by the Aurora Borealis for two whole months, whilst in summer night casts over the land as it is illuminated by the polar sun.
Known for its Stone labyrinths, Pagan rock paintings dating back 2000 years, shipwrecks, Beluga whales and the Khibiny mountains – the Kola peninsula is as mysterious as it is mesmerisingly gorgeous.
Some of the Saami population still live here, completely isolated from civilisation and a trip here offers a fascinating insight into this ancient way of living.
8. Exploring Volcanoes on the Kamchatka Peninsula
Taking you from one extreme peninsula to another – the Kamchatka Peninsula is situated in the Far Eastern tip of Russia. Home to the largest volcano in the Northern hemisphere, Kamchatka is a must for those who like their adventures a little more dangerous.
Aptly known as The Land of Fire and Ice, the fearsome terrain consists of around 160 volcanoes, 29 of which remain active and 90 geysers. Largely untouched by civilisation, with only a few thousand tourists making the trip each year, this remote, largely uncovered region remains in pristine condition and boasts a staggering amount of wildlife.
More than 15,000 brown bears call the area home, along with whales, reindeer, foxes, wolves and sea eagles; a visit here is an unrivalled way to witness a long list of stunning animals in a genuinely spectacular environment.
9. Visit the Coldest Village on Earth
Far into the depths of eastern Siberia – closer to the Arctic Circle than its nearest city – lies the remote village of Oymyakon. Known to be the coldest permanently inhabited place on earth, this village of 500 inhabitants sees temperatures regularly dipping between -35C and -65C (even dropping to a staggering record low of 96 degrees below Fahrenheit in 1924).
If there was ever a place that embodies Russia’s extremes it is definitely here… Thrill seekers and adventurers brave enough o venture to Oymyakon are encouraged to layer-up.
10. Train to Become an Astronaut
Live the ultimate childhood dream and learn how to become a real-life astronaut. The Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City near Moscow offers visitors the chance to learn under real life astronauts at a fully functioning space training centre.
From survival skills to mission control training, you will get the chance to work in the exact same simulators and situations that real astronauts in training went through before being fired into space. This may even come in handy to those that are waiting for Elon Musk’s SpaceX to take flight.
Russia is truly a fascinating place. Whatever you seek, odds are you will be able to find a larger and more lavish version of it on Russian soil. A hugely misunderstood country, it is easy to overlook and stereotype from the outside – but for anyone looking to step out of your comfort zone, the world’s largest country provides the most incredible diversity – and adventure – to enjoy.
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