Saturday, 10 January 2015

Red Square, Sixty Below and Mammoths: Winter Destinations in Russia

Every year, tourist agencies seem to offer more and more exotic destinations for winter travel; to see tropical islands, to dive to the ocean bottom or take a helicopter tour above jungle. Yet for every ‘sun-seeker’ there are those who embrace winter. I am going to tell you about some winter destinations in Russia that you probably never heard before.

To get acquainted with the modern Russian winter traditions, Moscow is a good place to start. On the city tours, visitors can explore the old architecture; see ancient buildings beneath a bright blue sky, visit well known art and historical museums, and greet the New Year listening to bells of the main clock in Red Square. Moscow offers an immensely rich collection of cultural attractions at one place. Even seeing all the museums of Kremlin might take weeks but there are also Tretyakov’s Art Gallery, the many historical districts, dozens of other exhibitions, museums, theatres and concert halls, as well as beautiful parks with sparkling snow and modern shopping centers.

Moscow in December. Photo by Anton Mironov

If you travel with children or want to buy world famous Russian crafts, you will be delighted to visit Velikij Ustug and Kostroma.

Velikij Ustug (translated as "Ustug the Great") is a small town near Moscow. As old as Moscow herself, it was founded in 1147. At that time, the city was one of the prominent Russian political, trade and crafts centres. Nowadays, it became a home of Ded Moroz, a Russian “brother” of Santa Claus.

After a walk through the town and getting acquainted with ancient Russian history and architecture, visitors go to an old pine forest where the house of Ded Moroz stands. Built in the Old Russian style, it welcomes the guests with its warmth. After tour around the house and spending time with Ded Moroz himself, children can do some traditional crafts, taste Old Russian meals, and send a letter with the seal of Ded Moroz to friends and relatives.

There is much more interesting things to see around the house. At The Patch of Fairy Tales in the forest, children meet characters from Russian legends and myths, slide down big and small ice slides, ride horses, skate or ski, and look at the caribou and elk at the wildlife centre.
The weather might be chilly but a cup of hot Russian tea with pancakes and merry games will keep everybody warm.

The estates of Ded Moroz (a model). Photo by Tatiana Bukhanova

Another ancient Russian town, Kostroma, founded in twelfth century, sits on the Golden Ring of Russia that includes some prominent medieval towns around Moscow. Being a big craft centre, Kostroma attracts tourists from around the world. The main winter feature of Kostroma is the Snegurochka’s Home.

Snegurochka's house in Kostroma. Photo by Tatiana Bukhanova

As a fairy tale says, Snegurochka (“Snow Girl”) is a granddaughter of Ded Moroz, and a child of Winter and Spring. She might appear as a little child, about 4-5 years old, or as a nearly full-grown woman but she is always kind and merry. She gladly helps her Grandfather at his home but has her own residency.

Snegurochka’s Home has the Ice Room made of pure ice from the lakes. The temperature there is always -14C but visitors are offered warm coats, tea, and cold drinks served in the glasses made of ice.

At Kostroma, visitors can see the only elk farm in Russia and buy famous linen that is greatly valued in the world.

The elk farm in Kostroma. Photo by Tatiana Bukhanova

For the keenest adventurers who are not afraid of extreme temperatures, the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk and city of Yakutsk will be life-long memory.

Verkhoyansk, one of the smallest towns in Russia  located on the river Yana in Yakutiya (Eastern Siberia), holds an official title of “The Cold Pole” of the Northern hemisphere. The lowest temperature here, −67. 8 °C (-90°F), was measured in the February of 1892. The weather station where that bone chilling record was observed is still open for the visitors. The town’s museum “Cold Pole” tells about weather in the north and about the work of polar and weather scientists in some of the most inaccessible places in Siberia.

Not far from here, the small village Tomtor is located. There the courageous can venture into the ice cave where the Yakutian god of cold and winter, Chyyschan lives.
Some can argue that nobody sane would go to Verkhoyansk in winter but for others it can be once-at-a-life-time adventure.

Attention! Before your travel, plan your trip very carefully. The town is often hardly accessible in harsh weather and getting back might be even more problematic. Get an experienced guide. Ask locals what they wear and dress accordingly. Your life will depend on it because the temperature might easily drop below -50C.

If you would like to combine the icy breathe of a Siberian winter with big city attractions, Yakutsk, the capital of Saha-Yakutiya region in eastern Siberia, is a perfect place.

Yakutsk is the coldest large city in the world with an average year temperature just -10°C (-14°F). The coldest winter temperature however is higher than in Verhoyansk: a “balmy” -64°C (-83.2°F).
In spite of the deep cold, Yakutsk is a welcoming vibrant city with many winter activities to try. The theater, art and music shows, traditional winter events and festivals, and national food keep the guests occupied until spring.

In Yakutsk, you can visit the only museum in the world dedicated to woolly mammoths. At the museum, you can see a model of a mammoth calf, called Dima, found in 1977. The remains itself is currently on loan at the zoological museum in St Petersburg.

For hundreds of years huge amount of mammoth remains preserved in permafrost have been found at Saha-Yakutija region. In fact, there have been so many of them that local people have used the mammoth’s bones for carving. Now all the bones are given to scientists but at the Museum of History and Culture of Northern Nations, you can still see the exquisitely carved tools, jewelry, and household items.

Another unique place to see in Yakutsk is the Museum of Diamonds.  Most Russian diamonds, for jewelry as well as for industry, are dug up in Saha-Yakutiya. Many of the breath-taking treasures of the Russian tsars came from here. The museum tells about the history and ways of mining the diamonds, their polishing, and use for technical purposes and in jewelry.

These are just a few interesting winter destinations in Russia. Visiting that beautiful country, remember that Russian people celebrate New Year twice, 14 days apart. If you did not have time to see all the attractions before December 31st, you can easily repeat a New Year’s celebration in the middle of January.

Ded Moroz and Snegurochka - the symbols of Russian New Year (Ekaterinburg, Russia). Photo by S. Chemezov


No comments:

Post a Comment

The blog is bilingual!

Posts in English is labeled "English," see "Labels" on the left (they are different from the Russian posts)

Посты на русском языке отмечен
ы словом Russian, см Lables слева (могут отличаться от постов на английском языке)