Russia

Even though the USSR collapsed, and so did much of the old, soviet-era lifestyle, Russia emerged again to be a major world power, especially under the Putin-Medvedev power duo. The largest country in the world, Russia has always been strengthened and saved precisely by that—its sheer size (and terrible winter cold!!) made it impossible for Napoleon and Hitler to conquer it. But putting aside politics, Russia has changed very much since the fall of communism and the resultant fallout, giving it a boost towards modernization, at times surpassing some major Western European countries. While some clichés still remain, like boozing vodka and the inevitable below-zero frigid cold of the winter, Russia is a rather beautiful country of imposing mountain ranges, like the Urals, and of huge lakes, Pykal being the deepest on Earth. To the Far East is famed Siberia and the rugged tundra, and further is Kamchatka mirroring the great Alaskan outdoors and wildlife.

  • Moscow:  The capital and Russia’s largest city, Moscow is more like a major Western European city, but with a unique Russian style of traffic jams, rumbling, and a rather cosmopolitan air, all surrounded by its famed golden-domed temples, amazing public parks, like Gorky and Tsaritsyno Parks; and major landmarks like the Kremlin and hundreds of Soviet-era buildings, the most visited being Red Square and Lenin’s Mausoleum. The Bolshoi Theatre and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts are also major attractions. The city has undergone major changes from its communist past, and nowhere is this more reflected though than Tverskaya Street, Moscow’s most fashionable lane packed with shops, cafes, fine restaurants and stylish boutiques where anyone can indulge his/her fancies.
  • St. Petersburg: Built by Peter the Great in the early 18th century, this city was meant to be Russia’s entrance port into European waters, and also to be a rival to the ostentatious and rather outlandish displays of its major Western counterparts, London and Paris. And in so doing, Peter not only built a modern city in its time, but one that is marked by greatness and history. The city has rather much cultural and historical importance as evinced in its many sights, like the magnificent Hermitage, once the Tsar’s Winter Palace stormed by the Bolsheviks during Revolution of 1917, now one of the world’s most renowned museums, even surpassing the Louvre some dare say. Other major landmarks attesting to the greatness of this city is the imposing Bolsheokhtinsky Brigde; the impressive and colorful Church of the Saviour on Blood; the eclectic Singer House; and the city’s (and perhaps Russia’s) most impressive avenue, the Nevsky Prospect, lined with elegant rococo buildings, palaces, shops, fine restaurants, and other major landmarks like Stroganov Palace (don’t forget to try the dish!) and the colossal Kazan Cathedral.