Russia is famous for its long, fascinating, and complex history, leaving behind various monuments still attracting thousands of visitors every year. It is also famous for its natural wonders and unique landscapes. Russia is home to many species of wildlife that cannot be found anywhere else.
“Taiga” is a forest of the cold, subarctic region, also the collective term used for the northern forests of Russia, especially Siberia. The word means “land of the little sticks” in Russian. The world’s largest taiga is in Russia, covering 5,800 kilometres (3,600 miles).
The taiga is filled with wildlife. Common in the area are the red squirrel (Scurius vulgaris), Siberian chipmunk (Eutamias sibiricus), arctic hare (Lepus timidus), lynx (Felis lynx), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), Siberian weasel (Mustela sibirica), ermine (Mustela erminea), wolverine (Gulo gulo), and sable (Martes zibellinus). Historically, the small, carnivorous sable was hunted for its dark brown or black fur. Sable fur has been a highly valued item since the early Middle Ages and was treasured by the Russian nobility. It formed the bulk of the tribute paid to the tsarist regime after the Russian invasion of Siberia.
The larger mammals seen in the taiga are the elk (Alces alces) and brown bear (Ursus arctos).
Lake Baikal is the largest, deepest, and oldest freshwater lake in the world. It contains nearly a quarter of the world’s fresh surface water, more water than all of the Great Lakes of North America combined. It has a depth of 1.6 kilometres (around a mile) and is considered the world’s oldest lake at 25 to 30 million years old. This is a popular stop for tourists riding the Trans-Siberian Railway. In summer, they can swim in the lake’s clear waters (so clear that from the surface you can see to 40 metres or 130 feet), or go ice fishing in winter on the lake’s frozen surface. They can also take the Circumbaikal Railway, which offers a scenic and leisurely ride around the lake.
Lake Baikal is a zoologist’s and botanist’s dream–it is home to more than 1,700 species of plants and animals, 80% of them endemic to the area. Baikal’s commercial fish is the endemic omul (Coregonus migratorius), a white fish belonging to the salmon family. It is often sold smoked, a local delicacy.
Stolby National Park
The Stolby National Park (Nature Sanctuary) is located 10 kilometres south of the city of Krasnoyarsk. Founded in 1925 by locals, Stolby (“pillars”) derives its name from the unusual shapes of its rock formations mostly of sedimentary and volcanic origin, dating back to the Cambrian Period, making the rocks more than 600 million years old.
The Kremlin, with its roots as a medieval city-fortress, the seat of the Orthodox Church, and now the centre of political power of present-day Russia, is a sight to behold. Enclosed by high walls and heavily guarded, the best way to see it is during a boat cruise on the Moscow River. An entrance ticket (through the Kutafya tower) will give you access to the numerous monuments and church-museums within the Kremlin walls.
The Red Square is outside the eastern wall of the Kremlin, and used to separate the Kremlin from Kitay-gorod, a centre of commercial activity in medieval Moscow. Red Square is also called Krasnaya ploshchad; while in modern Russian, krasnaya translates to “red”, in Old Russian, krasnaya is the word for “beautiful”. And the Red Square indeed is beautiful, surrounded by monuments of historical importance.
Nicholas and the tsarist regime fell in the February 1917 revolution. The fallen tsar and his family (Tsarina Alexandra and their five children, along with three servants and the family physician, Dr Yevgeny Botkin) were detained following Nicholas’s forced abdication, and were killed by firing squad in Yekaterinburg by their Bolshevik captors in 1918.
The Russian Orthodox church, Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints, was erected on the spot where the murders occurred, the basement where the family was slain becoming part of the church structure.
Nevsky Prospekt is St Petersburg’s central artery. It takes its name from Alexander Nevsky Lavra (a lavra is a monastery consisting of cells for hermits) which was founded to commemorate Prince (and later Saint) Alexander Nevsky for defeating the Swedes. Being the main thoroughfare of the city, palaces, shops, cafes, and cathedrals sprouted along Nevsky Prospekt, and walking its entire length (4 kilometres from Admiralty to the monastery) can be a magical experience.