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  1. Only a few Russian cities can boast a history that spans over a millennium. According to medieval chronicles, Veliky Novgorod (The Great New City) already existed in 859 AD. Thus it is Russia's most ancient city, the cradle of the Russian State, the spiritual and cultural center of the country. The citizens of Novgorod have always had something to boast about in front of their neighbors. People here, for example, never wore bast shoes (a sign of peasantry), they had leather boots instead; since the earliest time Novgorod's streets were paved with cobblestone; even the simple folk wrote letters on birch bark; and the city's princes were enthroned and dismissed at the citizen's will. Novgorod is the place where you can feel truly connected to Russia's past and surround yourself with its authentic atmosphere.

    The kremlin (or detinets, as it was called in ancient times) has always been the stronghold and the heart of Novgorod. The stone citadel was rebuilt in the 15th century, according to the time's fortification requirements. Shaped as an irregular oval, it stretches along the bank of the Volkhov River. The kremlin's might and its solid powerful presence are impressive even by the modern-day standards. Of the thirteen towers of the fortress, nine have been preserved to this day. The tallest one, called Kokui (41 meters or 135 feet), is open to visitors during the warmer season. A magnificent view of the city and its surroundings can be enjoyed from the top of the tower. The most important monuments of Novgorod are located in the kremlin. The main attraction is the Cathedral of St. Sophia that towers over five dozen of Novgorod's other temples and churches. St. Sophia, Russia's oldest stone temple, was erected in 1045-1050. A monument commemorating Russia's 1000th anniversary was built in the center of the kremlin in 1862; here representations of the most important events and personalities illustrate the country's history.

    Veliky Novgorod is the largest archeological center of contemporary Russia. In the past half-century almost 1000 of the famous birch bark letters dating back to 11th-17th centuries were unearthed here. Best of all, these documents were found in great condition. Because the early Novgorodians did not keep the letters, but discarded them after reading, these birch bark tablets were later discovered all over town during excavation. The characters were not written in ink, but were scratched into the surface of the bark with iron or bone styli. Several of these ancient birch bark letters, found very recently, contain profane language. Thus, the tradition of cursing, the so-called russkiy mat (Russian profane language), that most Russians faithfully follow today, dates back at least 1000 years.

    Traditional arts and crafts that prosper in the Novgorod Region also take their root in olden times. The ones that are especially famous are the Valdai bells and the Novgorod birch bark crafts. Products made of birch bark are light and delicate; they seem to carry the warmth of the skillful hands that have created them.

    In Vitoslavitsy, an open-air museum of wooden architecture near the city of Novgorod, many 16th-19th century churches, bell towers, houses, windmills, and barns, brought in from all over the region, were rebuilt and regained their liveliness. Tourists enjoy annual folk culture, bell music, and traditional craft festivals that take place here.

    The symbol of the town of Valdai is a little bell. When Novgorod was forced to recognize the rule of a Moscow prince, the main tower bell, used to call citizens to the central square, was taken off and shipped to Moscow on the prince's orders. Later, a beautiful legend came to be in the Novgorod Region. It proclaimed that near the town of Valdai the big tower bell, not wishing to leave the Novgorod Land, rolled off the sleigh, shattered and turned into countless little bells. From the moment of their miraculous birth, these bells were fated to wander the endless Russian roads, sometimes perturbing people's souls and sometimes soothing them, all the while waiting for the day when they would be able to return to Novgorod and once again unite as the big tower bell.

    In 1992 the unique 11th-17th century architectural monuments of Novgorod were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Novgorod Region with its rich history, its monuments of medieval architecture and unique museum collections, as well as its undisturbed picturesque landscapes and a favorable location (186 kilometers or 116 miles from Saint Petersburg), is a perfect place for tourism.

Veliky Novgorod's major historical landmarks are inside the Kremlin
The main attraction is the Cathedral of St. Sophia that towers over five dozen of Novgorod's other temples and churches
Veliky Novgorod. Church of St. Vlasiy (1407)
Birch bark crafts - Novgorod's souvenir. Pieces seem to retain the warmth of the skillful hands that created them
At the Vitoslavlitsy, museum of folk wooden architecture

  1. The city of Pskov is famous for its great history. It is situated close to the Russian border, at the confluence of the Velikaya and Pskova rivers. The town was first mentioned in manuscripts dating back to the year 903. However, the exact date of Pskov's founding is still unknown. For centuries, Pskov was a fortress protecting the territory of Russia from its western neighbors. It is in the town of Pskov that the first church sanctified in the name of the Holy Trinity was built. "Where the Trinity is, there Pskov is" goes the Russian proverb. The old town is situated on a rather high hill of limestone: it is here that the Pskov kremlin (or detinets), called Krom, was erected. On a clear day, the golden onion dome of the stone Cathedral of the Trinity can be seen as far as 30 to 40 kilometers (over 20 miles) away. The most important archaeological monument in Pskov is the so-called "cultural layer" concentrated within the kremlin walls. It reaches to a depth of 7 meters (23 feet) in some areas. Only 7 hectares out of 215 (17 acres out of 231) have been uncovered to this day, and archaeologists continue their excavations.

    Along the road from Pskov to Pechory, there is an old Russian town called Izborsk. A stone cross stands near the town. According to an old legend, this is the burial place of Truvor, one of the Varangian princes who ruled over Russia in the 9th century.

    The Pskov-Pechory Monastery of the Holy Assumption, located 70 kilometers (43 miles) to the west of Pskov (near the border between Russia and Estonia), should be noted as one of the most visited sights of the area. The monastery is famous for its catacombs, built into layers of brick and sand and divided into six portions, each 200-meter (660-foot) long. These catacombs contain over 300 tombs with the ashes of over 10,000 cenobites, and the remains of the representatives of many famous noble families are found there. Due to natural ventilation, constant air temperature of 5 C (41 F) is sustained inside the catacombs.

    The protected museum of Mikhailovskoye in the Pskov Region is the Mecca of Russian poetry lovers: Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837), one of the symbols of Russia, lived here. The Russians say: "Pushkin is our everything". The area is very picturesque, with the typical landscape of a Middle Russian town: the Sorot River, an old mill, a giant oak that is over 300 years old, shaded lanes, etc. Pushkin is buried amidst this beauty, at the top of a hill near the walls of the Svyatogorsk Monastery.
Incredible view of the Pskov kremlin from the Velikaya River
Ancient fortress of Izborsk (Pskov Region)
Pskov-Pechry Monastery of the Holy Assumption
The protected museum of Mikhailovskoye in the Pskov Region

  1. The Northwest of Russia is often called the land of the lakes. Europe's two largest lakes, the Ladoga and the Onega, are situated here. There are over 60,000 lakes and 27,000 rivers in the Republic of Karelia, the total area of which is 172,000 square kilometers (66,500 square miles) (which exceeds the area of Greece and is almost as large as Great Britain). Those rivers and lakes are rich with fish, including such valued species as salmon, and their banks are plentiful with berries and mushrooms. The natural landscape of this area, with its narrow bays and rocky skerries, forms knotted water labyrinths that are a real paradise for fishermen and fans of canoeing.

    Near Petrozavodsk, the capital of Karelia, there is Kivach, the tallest waterfall in Europe. In earlier days, the noise of water cascading from a height of 11 meters (36 feet) could be heard four to five kilometers (over three miles) away. These days, the power of the waterfall has somewhat lessened due to the dam on the Suna River, but it is still a spectacular sight. Loggers used to drift logs down the waterfall: some of them got caught in the torrents and swirls and became jammed there. Rafters had to dismantle this logjam; a rather dangerous enterprise that took many lives.

    Karelia is also famous for its seids, idols made of boulders and rocks and placed upon special pedestals. A real "pantheon' of thousands of such stone figures has been preserved on the islands east of the town of Kem. The biggest grouping of primitive man's petroglyphs, dating back to the fourth millennium BC, can be found here, as well as in the Vodlozero National Park, the largest of its kind in Europe.

    Most of the tourists coming through the northwestern part of Russia make special visits to the Kizhi and Valaam islands. The most beautiful site on Kizhi is the five-storey Church of the Transfiguration (1714), unique with its 22 cupolas. It was built of pine logs without a single nail, only axes and chisels were used to erect this masterpiece. It is said that Peter the Great himself drew the first architectural "map" of the church. Today, examples of wooden architecture from all over Karelia are gathered on the island of Kizhi.

    A monastery on the island of Valaam, founded in the 14th century, continues to live a life of its own, outside of civilization. The monks dried out the swamps and built an open channel drainage system. They also brought black fertile earth, using carts, from southern lands hundreds of miles away. In this way, this wild northern island was transformed into a garden where even fruit trees grow, despite the severity of the climate. Over 50,000 tourists visit Valaam every year, over half of them are foreigners.
Lakes of Karelia
Church of the Transfiguration on Kizhi Island (Lake Onega)
Petroglyphs of Karelia

  1. At the beginning of the last century Russia had over a thousand monasteries. The Solovetsky Monastery, located on small islands of the White Sea, almost at the Arctic Circle, was one of the most venerated monastic sites. Pilgrims in their shaky little boats would brave the harsh northern waters to reach the cherished hermitage. The Solovetsky Islands (or Solovki) have a sad legacy left by the 1920-30s when tens of thousands of Stalin's political prisoners were tormented within the walls of the monastery's chapels and cells. In recent years, however, the Solovetsky archipelago began to attract thousands of visitors; tourists are airlifted by helicopter to the new VIP hotels that are now available here.
The walls and towers of Solovetsky Monastery

  1. The Kaliningrad Region is often called ???the Amber Area.??? It took millions of years for nature to transform the resin from pine trees into bright yellow stones and for the waves of the Baltic Sea to bring them up to the coast. A large deposit of this "sunny stone" is found in the settlement town of Yantarny (the name means "made of amber" in Russian). 90% of the world amber reserves are found here, and the volume of annual amber production in the town reaches 600-800 tonnes. The Kaliningrad Amber Production Factory makes over 350 different articles from this semi-precious stone, including jewelry, panels, vases, figurines, souvenirs, etc. There is a museum in the city with a permanent display of amber jewelry and other artifacts that have been collected from ancient times until today.

    Also in this area is the Kurische Sandbar, a unique natural site. It is a continuous strip of sand dunes from a few hundred meters to several kilometers in width that stretches out into the Baltic Sea for 98 kilometers (61 miles). The dunes here are up to 68 meters (223 feet) high, which makes them the third highest in the world after those in Vietnam and Western France. Standing in the middle of these white dunes makes you feel as if you are in a vast desert. The sandbar is protected by the government. All movement through the dunes is restricted to just a few pathways, especially in areas prone to landslides. The sides of the dunes are strengthened with special fascines. The beauty of the dunes, along with the greenery of the forests, white sandy beaches, and boundless blue expanse of the Baltic Sea, attracts thousands of tourists to this area.

    Kaliningrad, formerly known as Konigsberg, is the main city on the western Baltic coast of Russia. It was the center of Eastern Prussia and the birthplace of the great philosopher Immanuel Kant. Well-preserved World War II fortifications are great for military tours and spy games. The medieval castles are perfect for stylized knight tournaments. In addition to beach tourism, traditional for the Baltic coast, other alternatives, such as therapeutic amber treatments, horseback riding, and rural tourism are becoming increasingly popular.

    The Kaliningrad Region is especially good for business tours and incentive programs. In the past few years, dozens of new modern hotels, equipped for conferences, seminars, and business meetings, have been built here. Also, recently many new condominiums, hostels, and health resorts have sprouted in the region. These accommodations range from economy to the most luxurious.
Kaliningrad (former Koenigsberg) - the westernmost city in Russianw_8.jpg
If you are lucky you can find such huge pieces of amber on the Baltic coast
Kurische Foreland, with its unique dunes, extends for 98 km (61 miles)

  1. One of the great Russian pastimes is berry- and mushroom-picking in the forest. The Vologda Region is a real paradise for berry and mushroom fans, as well as for hunters and fishermen. Sometimes there are bumper crops of berries, and one can gather over 52,000 tonnes of cranberries and foxberries, or over 30,000 tonnes of mushrooms. Elk, wild boar, squirrels, brown bears, blue and silver foxes dwell in the forests; wildfowl of the area include hazel hens, wood grouse and heath birds. The area is very rich in various species of fish as well. Vologda, the region's capital, is as old as Moscow, as it was founded in 1147. Its main monument is the Cathedral of St. Sophia built in the time of Ivan the Terrible. The people of Vologda have always had the gift of a quick wit, initiative, the ability to deal with a severe climate and willingness to settle vast, uncivilized territories. Many of the Russian pioneers of Siberia and Alaska were from the Vologda Region.

    The cycle of frescoes in the Cathedral of St. Pherapont Monastery (in the Vologda Region) are by Dionisius the Wise, the great master icon painter of the second half of the 16th century. These are the only original frescoes in Russia preserved untouched in their entirety since the Middle Ages. The frescoes turned 500 years old in 2002. They were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

    The city of Veliky Ustug is situated in the Vologda Region and is believed to be the birthplace of Ded Moroz, the Russian Santa Claus. The city is eight centuries old, and famous for its many skilled craftsmen who make exquisite articles of wood and birch bark, as well as fineries made of silver. The so-called ???House of Ded Moroz,??? a unique palace made of wood, has been recently built in the forest near Veliky Ustug. Comfortable cottages set up as hotel rooms and winter playgrounds are located nearby. In the city of Veliky Ustug is Ded Moroz's city residence, and a little shop selling books and New Year presents has been opened on the premises. In the ???throne room,??? anyone may take photographs with Ded Moroz and see folk craftsmen at work. There is also a special mail centre called the ???Ded Moroz Post Office.??? After all, he receives over 400,000 letters every year, not only from all over Russia, but also from abroad.
In the 18th century the Vologda Region's St. Cyrill Belozersky Monastery was one of the most formidable fortresses of Northern Russia
The famous frescoes of Dionysius in the Christmas Monastery of Ferapontovo (Vologda Region)
The Russian Santa Claus, or Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost), has a granddaughter, Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden). She helps him to distribute Christmas gifts to children


  1. The Kola Peninsula lies almost entirely above the Arctic Circle and thus has many unique features. More than half of its territory is uninhabited. Thousands of tourists are attracted to Murman (which is the native name for the Kola Peninsula) because of its unspoiled landscapes and unique natural features. In the summer, for instance, the sun never goes down below the horizon, and during the winter you can enjoy the mesmerizing light show of Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). You can ride the icebreaker ship to the North Pole or go canoeing down the temperamental and challenging rivers and get a chance to catch an Atlantic Salmon - a fish also known as "the Queen of northern rivers". You can ski down the snow covered slopes of the Khibiny Mountains, meet the Russian Santa Claus at the Lapland Nature Preserve, compete in the off-road Arctic trophy driving challenge through almost impassable tundra, and have a chance to experience the culture and life-style of the ancient northern people of Saami.

    Murmansk is the largest city and the largest port on the planet located above the Arctic Circle. It is situated on the hills on the shore of the Gulf of Kola that never freezes. Every March for the last 70 years the Festival of the North featuring competitions in all winter sports has been held here. It takes place in the Comfort Valley, a picturesque location protected from the wind from all four directions by the mountains. Over 2,000 athletes participate in these Arctic Olympic Games. Besides the traditional winter sports, the festival features more exotic kinds of competition - reindeer sleigh races and races of skiers pulled by reindeer.

    The Khibiny Mountains are called the Mineral Heaven. It is a relatively small range only about 40 km (25 miles) across with the highest point of 1,200 meters (4,000 feet). The high flat plateaus of the mountains are cut by deep ravines with massive glacial formations filled with snow all year round. However, the seemingly unimpressive height of the mountains can be deceiving: the weather conditions here can change very rapidly and create extremely difficult climbing condition. Besides the climbers, tourists, and students of mineralogy, Khibiny Mountains attract thousands of skiers. The most popular slopes are on the mountain Aikuaivenchorr near Kirovsk, a small town where, as locals like to say, children learn to ski before they learn to walk. Vast snowfields created by powerful snowstorms, treeless Khibiny Mountains with virtually boundless slopes, exotic Arctic location, low prices, as well as a very long skiing season make this northern-most Russian ski resort an excellent place to spend your vacation. The slopes are maintained in excellent condition till mid-May when air temperature sometimes rises up to +15-20 C (60-68 F).

    There are about 21,000 rivers on Murman. 74 of them are open to licensed fishing for the Atlantic Salmon. Fly-fishing here is especially popular among foreign fishermen. It is a very elegant way of fishing: one has to be able to spin and cast a thick line with a man-made fly 30-40 meters (100-130 feet), to the exact spot where the fish are. The weight of an Atlantic Salmon can reach 14 kg or 31 lbs, however, most of the fisherman release their catch after taking a picture with it.
Two-week long icebreaker tours to the North Pole take off from the port of Murmansk
During the Arctic Night the sun does not rise over the horizon but you can admire the magnificent Aurora Borealis
The weight of an Atlantic Salmon can reach 14 kg or 31 lbs
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