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Saint Petersburg

Brief History

Saint Petersburg was founded by tsar Peter the Great in 1703, soon becoming the imperial capital of Russia, till  the central government bodies were moved to Moscow in 1918. Built from nothing by westward-looking Peter the Great, St Petersburg was from its very beginning meant to be a display of imperial Russia’s growing status in the world. A number of European architects were employed to build its fabulous palaces and cathedrals, which explains why Saint Petersburg is often described as the most Westernised city in Russia, as well as its cultural capital.

Why you should stop there

Tons of reasons!

Reason #1: Well, especially if you’re coming from Europe, St. Petes is the best way for you to sort of “ease into” Russia. It’s like a transitional spot that will somehow soften the meeting with great Mother Russia.

Reason #2: Because, yeah, “Piter”, as the Russians call it, is indeed a stunningly beautiful city. And before you get off hating on it, cause I, too, am one of those people who instantly lower their expectations about places that are constantly praised so highly by everybody, as not to get disappointed, had to step back and say, “okay, I’m sorry Piter, you are actually very cool”. It’s something about its atmosphere, its eclecticism. Its mixture of styles from Neoclassic to Baroque to Art Nouveau to Soviet gets multiplied a thousand times through the waters of its canals and the Neva river that, I mean, how can such a place disappoint?

Reason #3: Not convinced yet? The bridges! Where will you get another chance to see bridges splitting up in the air like in some sort of action movie?! Come on.

Reason #4: St. Petes has a pretty cool underground and music scene, which with its White Nights in the summer makes the perfect Combo. (Also enjoy this type of music scene till you can, you won’t find it as you move eastward in Russia, so prepare yourself to get bombarded with Russian trashy hits. But don’t worry, I know it’s hard to believe it now but  you’ll even end up loving them, trust me).

Reason #5: Russians from St. Petes are usually keener on communicating in languages that are not Russian, so it might be a nice spot to practice the few Russian lines that you know without being looked at like you’re an alien.

Time Zone

UTC +3 (= Moscow time)

How to move around 

St. Petersburg has an extensive local public transport system, including trams, buses, trolleybuses and the Metro, which with its 5 lines represents a cheap and effective means to get around. The ticket should cost around 35 Rubles and what’s more, Metro stops ate also written in Latin characters (contrary to Moscow’s). Here is the Metro map. Beware that the metro closes around midnight till 5:45 in the morning, depending on the stops.

Still, if you’re not too lazy and the weather’s on your side, the best way to move around St. Petes is to use your feet and enjoy walking (and getting lost) through the canals and across the bridges.

At night the city gets divided in two by the Neva river, as all the main bridges are drawn up to let the boats head back to port, so remember to head back to your part of the city in time, or you may remain stuck till the early morning! Here is the schedule of the drawing up of the bridges.

One last thing, if you’re flying in from Pulkovo airport, no need to take taxis, buses # 39, 39A and Minibus K39 will take you to the city center (Moskovskaya metro station).

Then, there are about 5 train stations in Petersburg, if you’re going to Moscow, go to Moskovsky Station (Московский вокзал) (Metro: Ploshchad Vosstaniya  or Mayakovskaya).

What to see

The Hermitage Museum/Winter Palace. Founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great, it is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world. You can buy your ticket online or directly at the counter (remember to bring your ID), the entrance is located in the Winter Palace, accessible from the Courtyard. Remember that the museum is closed on Mondays and that entrance is free on the first Thursday of every month!

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. Located between Nevsky Prospekt and the Neva, it is St. Petersburg’s most elaborate church with a classic Russian Orthodox exterior and interior decorated with some 7000 sq m of mosaics. Officially called the Church of the Resurrection of Christ, its far more striking colloquial name references the assassination attempt on Tsar Alexander II here in 1881.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral (Isaakievskiy Sobor). Located near the Admiralty and built in 1818, It is the largest orthodox basilica and the third highest cupola cathedral in the world. Its golden dome dominates the St Petersburg skyline and its colonnade offers wonderful views of the city to those brave enough to climb some 300 steps. The cathedral was used as a museum of atheism in Soviet times and remains a museum today, with its obscenely lavish interior offering a collection of 19th-century art.

Kazan Cathedral (Kazanskiy Kafedralniy Sobor). Located on Nevsky Prospekt, this massive Russian Orthodox cathedral is especially interesting because it was modelled by Andrey Voronikhin after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Peter and Paul Fortress (Petropavlovskaya Repost)Housing a cathedral where the Romanovs are buried, a former prison and various exhibitions, this large defensive fortress on Zayachy Island is the original citadel founded by Peter the Great in 1703. If the weather is good, don’t miss out on the riverside “beach”.

Nevsky Prospekt. This 3-mile avenue, with its countless bars, cafes and restaurants is the center of the city’s social life.

Mariinsky TheatreIt’s an historic theatre of opera and ballet, opened in 1860, where many of the masterpieces of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov premiered.

Vasilyevsky Island. It is the largest island in St. Petersburg, located in the delta of the Neva River and it offers a wide selection of weird attractions, including a couple of 15th century sphinxes from Egypt and a museum of biological oddities (featuring “among others” the skeleton and heart of Peter the Great’s gigantic personal servant).

Out of the city – Excursions 

Half day tour of Peterhof (Petrodvorets). Peterhof is perhaps St Petersburg’s most famous and spectacular Imperial estate, so much that it’s often referred to as the “Russian Versailles”. To get there, you can take the train from Baltiisky train station (metro stop: Baltiiskaya) to Novyi Peterhof.

Half day tour of Tsarskoye Selo (in Pushkin)Tsarskoe Selo literally means “Tsar’s Village”, as it was the town hosting a summer residence of the imperial family, located about 20 kilometres south of Saint Petersburg. Catherine’s Palace is one of the best examples of Russian baroque and is also famous for housing the world famous Amber room, a complete chamber decoration of amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors. Local trains run from St. Petersburg’s Vitebskiy station (not the main hall, but the smaller hall for local trains to the right and around the corner as you face the main hall) to the Detskoe Selo station in Pushkin.

Eat Drink & Sleep

Sleep

Saint Petersburg has tons of nice and cheap hostels, however, like everywhere in Russia, you should try and be a bit more attentive when choosing your place to stay, as you could easily end up in a Soviet-style dormitory full of babushkas and middle-aged single construction workers. Here are some pretty cool (and cheap = below 15 EUR/night) hostels: ES-Hostel (Ulitsa Kolomenskaya, 25); Hostel Architektor (Nevskyi Prospekt 74-76); Babushka House (Vladimirskiy Prospekt 14A/30N); Art Hostel Kultura (Vosstaniya 24).

Drink

Dumskaya Street: best for bar crawling. In particular: Chirt Poberi! (Literally = Damn it) = Cheap cocktails in an ex-Soviet communal apartment ; Fidel = full of hipsters, awesome cheap beer and where you may end up meeting the randomest Russians ever ; Dacha = loud, fun and cheap! Newcomers and honorable frequenters – they are all friends here.

Eat

Anywhere, literally, St. Petersburg is full of cafes and restaurants of each type of cuisine. If you wanna have a taste of Russian food, avoid the tourist traps and go to whatever “stolovaya”, you’ll get cheap (really cheap) and original stuff, the kind the Russians actually eat.

Moscow

Moscow is the capital of Russia, the vibrant and electric heart of this amazing country, and the starting point of most Transsiberian trips.

Brief History

Moscow was founded in 1147 by Yury Dolgoruky, a general that stopped on the Moskva river on his way to Vladimir. In the XIV century, it became the capital of the Great Moscow Principality and of all Russian Lands, and the center of the Orthodox Church (from here Moscow’s desire to be the “Third Rome”). Subject to the Golden Horde, to which it had to pay tributes, in the late ‘400s Moscow managed to free itself from the Mongol domination and to extend its control until the Urals. Ivan the Terrible extended Moscow’s power to the Volga region and was crowned as the first Russian Tzar, marking the beginning of the Russian Empire. In 1712 Peter the Great moved the capital to Saint Petersburg, till  Moscow became once again the capital of Russia and of the whole USSR with the Bolshevik Revolution, which profundly changed the face of Moscow.

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Why you should stop here

Should I even answer this question? I guess not. Moving on.

How to get around

Easy: Metro. It has 12 lines, it’s open from 5:30 Am to 1:00 AM and is one of the world’s deepest, its deepest section reaching 74 meters underground at the Park Pobedy station. It is also famous for its beautiful architecture and decor (among the most interesting stations: Komsomolskaya, Kievskaya, Arbatskaya, Mayakovskaya etc.). Here is a map.

Another easy way to get around is by taxi. Gipsy taxi are very cheap, but you have to negotiate before getting into the taxi (always a half of what they say first), and pay attention that they are taking you to the correct destination. Don’t worry, in general they are safe, but it is better to keep an eye open at night, you never know…

 

What to see

The Kremlin. It is the center of Russian politics, but also of Russian life. The whole city of Moscow, as you can easily see from a map, was build around the Kremlin. Its red walls and multiple towers, with the Ivan the Great Bell Tower, are the main attraction of the city. It is surely worth spending a half day walking inside its walls, visiting the four main churches and the huge Armery Museum with the impressive Diamond Fund. The main entrance for visitors is located on the side of the Alexandrovsky gardens, through the Kutafya tower. It is open every day except Thursday.

Red Square, GUM and Saint Basil’s Cathedral. The most famous place in Moscow is definitely the Red Square. Its name derives from the ancient Russian word “krasnaya” that meant beautiful, and that now took the significance of red – and not, as many think, from the Communist period. A breathtaking view will open in front of you as you cross the arches of the Historical Museum, from Manezhii Square. On the right, the red walls of the Kremlin, with the beautiful recently restored Tower of Ivan the Great and Lenin’s mausoleum in front of the walls. On the left, the GUM (Glavnyi Universally Magazine, literally “main universal store”), a historical department store and now one of the most chic shopping malls in Moscow. In front of you, you will see the Cathedral of Saint Basil, with its colorful onions-tops and its bizarre interior.

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Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The new white Church was inagurated in 2000, after the Bolsheviks demolished the previous one to build a statue of Lenin that later turned into a public swimmingpool. You can visit the interior for free, or attend a two-three hours mass on Sundays.

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Gorky Park. It is the most fascinating park inside the city, and is delimited by the Moscow river on the left, going from Varabyovy Gory to the New Tretyakov Gallery up North. Every season different events take place in the park: skiing and ice-skating platforms are installed in the winter, while in the summer the park holds a beach and is the perfect place to sunbathe or have an ice-cream by the river.

Bolshoi Teatr. How can you visit Moscow without going to the most famous theater in the world? Tickets can be really expensive, but it is definitively worth it! Choose the show that suits you the most, and try some tricks to get a discount (heads up: students holding a Russian student card can get tickets for 100 Rubles at the 7PM show, just need to buy they from the ticket office which opens at 4PM on the same day of the show).

Eat, Drink & Sleep

Sleep

There are many cheap hostels in Moscow, and for 10-15 euro you can get one in the center. Anyway, since Moscow is very big, you will have to move around by public transports in any case, so you do not need to stay in the exact center of the city, you just need a hostel near a metro station. The inner part of the Koltso (the round metro) is considered to be the center of the city.

We suggest you to read the reviews of the hostels before booking, since in many Russian hostels you’ll find Russian people living there for months, so if you are looking for foreigners-friendly places, this is not the case.

Eat

Moscow is a very cosmopolitan city, and you will find plenty of places to eat, enough for any taste and from all around the world. Where to go depends on your budget.

  • Every shopping mall has a floor entirely dedicated to fast foods and restaurants – generally the last floor. Go there if you want a quick and cheap lunch, with a lot of choice. In the case of the Oxotnii Ryad mall (near the Red Square), it is situated in the lowest floor, at the end of the corridor.
  • Nice and cheap places, for those who want a real Soviet experience, are the “Stalovaya”, the canteens from the Soviet period, where you will find soups, meat, rice and sweets at cheap prices. One of them is in the GUM, last floor on the right, it is called “Stalovaya 41”.
  • An excellent kitchen is the Georgian one. You will find tons of Georgian restaurants around the city. One of them is “Kachapuri”, cheap, friendly and super tasty!

Drink

Well, Moscow is full of places to party. Other than the tons of bars in the around the city center, a very cool area is called Kranyi Oktryabr (=Red October), which is on an island on the Moskva River, very close to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. You’ll find loads of bars and clubs there. Our personal fave: Gipsy. Don’t miss out on it!

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Nizhny Novgorod

Brief History

Founded in 1221 by Grand Duke Yuri II of Vladimir at the confluence of two rivers, the Volga and the Oka, Nizhny Novgorod is today Russia’s 5th largest city by population. As one of the few cities that managed to escape Mongol devastation, Nizhny Novgorod became an important political hub during the Tatar period, competing with Moscow for the power in the region till 1392, when it was incorporated into the Muscovy. Still, its Kremlin, built in 1508-1511 under the supervision of Italian engineers, became one of the strongest Russian citadels and by the mid-19th century, Nizhny Novgorod had become the trade capital of the Russian Empire. The Soviet rule then broke all trade connections and turned Nizhny into an industrial center, renaming it Gorky in 1932. The old name was restored only after the fall of the USSR.

Why you should stop there

Located only 6 hours away from Moscow, you may easily think that there’s little point in stopping so early and decide to ride straight to Perm or Yekaterinburg for some much needed rest before continuing on to the Siberian steppes. Well, don’t let yourselves be deceived by practicalities, because Nizhny is actually worth seeing, and, honestly, it’s probably one of the most pleasant stops you’ll find on the Trassiberian, if not the best. Here is a list of pluses that set Nizhny apart from the average Russian city:

  1. It has a city center, which is not something to give for granted in Russia
  2. It’s quite pretty, there’s lots of historical buildings, monuments and typical wooden houses that are relatively well-kept. Rozhdestvenskaya Street for instance has remained almost untouched from the 18th century
  3. You get to see the Volga, the longest river in Europe
  4. It has one of the greatest Russian Kremlins, which overlooks both the Oka and the Volga rivers
  5. It’s an old city, so there’s lots of history and culture!

And okay, it ain’t Saint Petersburg, but its a good recharge of beauty and history before moving on to Siberian cities (yeah, we’ll talk about them later), so don’t miss it if you can!

Time Zone

UTC +3 (= Moscow time)

How to move around

The city is divided by the Oka river into two parts: the Upper city on the hill located on the right bank, were the historical part of Nizhny lays, and the Lower city, on the left bank, which is newer and mostly consists of industrial districts.

The Metro has two lines, both connected in Moskovskaya station, so coming by train from Moscow, you’ll be able to catch the metro directly from there. If you have to go to the city centre in the Upper city, take line 1 (Avrozavodskaya) from Moskovskaya, direction Park Kul’tury.

There is also lots of urban buses, yet the city center is quite small so you’ll most likely be able to walk to every sightseeing location.

What to see

The Kremlin: although there is no documented proof of it, a legend claims that the initial project was developed by non other than Leonardo da Vinci, due to the striking resemblance of his sketches with the actual kremlin schemes. Inside you’ll find the WWII monument with the ever-present eternal flame, a number of tanks and other military trucks, a reasonable art museum, souvenir shops and an orthodox church. Also, as it lays on top of a hill at the confluence between the two rivers, you’ll get to admire a beautiful view along the Volga.

Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street: it’s the main shopping street, with a wide pedestrian area that goes all the way from Gorky Square to the Kremlin. It’s definitely a good place for a walk as it is full of interesting and artsy buildings, including an Art-Nouveau clock tower next to the mighty Bank of Russia building. There’s also lots of cute little restaurants and cafes, which make it the right place to stop and eat.

The Cable Car: it connects Nizhny Novgorod with the town of Bor across the Volga River. This 3660 metres long ropeway with peaks at over 80 meters is a great way to get a view of the Volga from up high at a very small price, as it is mainly used by locals as everyday transport, and it takes only 13 minutes. Once in Bor, there’s not much to see, except for Russian suburban tristesse, so you might as well head back directly.

The Church of John the Baptist & the Monument of Minin and Prince Pozharsky. Minin was a simple butcher and when the Polish army invaded Russia, he Minin helped gather an army and together with Prince Dimitry Pozharsky was able to defeat the invaders. In Moscow you will find the original copy in front of Saint Baisil’s cathedral on Red Square, which was actually taken away from Nizhny and substituted with a copy.

A half-day excursion to Gorodets, an old town about 30 km from NN, also known as “Город Мастеров”, the Town of Masters. It is indeed famous for the craftsmanship of its inhabitants in woodcarving and other artful decorations of all sort of things for everyday use. The Town Museum, right in the centre of the village, will showcase all such arts. The building itself is quite interesting as it was build using an old technique of assembling wooden trunks without the help of nails. Also, don’t forget to try Ivan Chai with decorated praying biscuits at the Museum’s cafeteria!

Others: Upper Volga River Embarkment, Rozhdestvenskaya Street, Gorki Museum, Earmark (the Fair), Cathedral of Alexander Nevskiy, Pechersky Ascension Monastery, Church of the Nativity of Most Holy Mother of God etc. etc. etc.

Eat & Sleep

Eat: Bol’shaya Pokrovskaya Street is packed with all sorts of restaurants and cafes, from traditional Russian ones to international fast foods. A cute place is Biblioteka, it has nice atmosphere, a small terrace and good Italian food at reasonable price. 

Sleep: Yes Hostel (Kulibina 3, less than 10 EUR/night) ; Smile Hostel (ul. B. Pokrovskaya 4, very central, less than 10 EUR/night).

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Kazan

Brief history

Unlike other Russian cities, Kazan has a long history that dates back to at least a millennium. In 1000 AD Kazan was founded in the Volga Bulgaria, and soon became the capital of the region. Then, it was incorporated by the Golden Horde to become an independent khanate in 1438. The city later collapsed under the troops of Ivan the Terrible, that gave a new, Russian, face to the ancient city.

Why you should stop there

Kazan is a vibrant city, full of young people, bars, cafés and cultural attractions. It is the capital of the Tatar Authonomous Republic and an important University center, that had among its scholars Lev Tolstoy and Lenin. Its inhabitants are Tatars and Russians, making  Kazan a multi-ethnic city, where Mosques and Orthodox Churches coexist with each others and form a dynamic society of perfectly integrated ethnic groups and religions.

Time Zone

UTC +3 (= Moscow time)

What to see

The Kremlin. The beautiful white Kremlin alone is worth the trip here. It is part of the UNESCO world heritage and it contains both the main Mosque and the Cathedral of Kazan. In addition, you will have an amazing view of the surroundings of the city. At the opposite site of the hill, take a look at the modern and extravagant Agricultural Palace, with its strange tree at the entrance.

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The Ethnographic Museum. We don’t usually  suggest museums, but this one, in front of the Kremlin’s entrance, is interesting to understand the history of Kazan and its multi-ethnic population.

Ulitsa Baumana. It is the equivalent of Moscow’s Arbat, a long, pleasant street full of restaurants, shops and bars that is the center of the city’s nightlife.

Sleep

Okay places: Backpack Hostel Kazan (ul. Baumana 74, less than 10 EUR/night) ; Wings Hostel (ul. Chernyshevskogo 16, less than 10 EUR/night) ; Kazanskoe Podvorye (ul. Batman 68, about 10 EUR/night).

Perm

Brief History

Perm was founded by Peter the Great in 1723 and during the Soviet period it became an important military center under the name of Molotov. This city inspired – in a not properly positive sense – both Chekhov and Pasternak.

Why you should stop there

The city itself is nothing special, a usual Soviet-style city, but it’s a good base if you want to visit the attractions around it, such as the Perm-36 labor camp, the wooden architecture of Khokhlovka and the ice-cave in Kungur.

Time Zone

UTC +5 (= Moscow +2)

How to get around

Trams and buses operate from 5:30 to 12:30 AM, tickets can only be purchased from the driver or conductor.

What to see

The Museum of Contemporary Art “PERMM”. It contains the avanguarde art of Perm, in the effort to make the city a cultural center.

The Khokhlovka Architecture-Ethnographic Museum. 45 km from Perm you will find this collection of wooden buildings from the 19th and 20th century. Check the bus schedule in advance, since only a few buses go there every day.

Perm-36. This site was a labor camp for political dissidents during the Soviet period. Now, it has been turned into a museum of that dark side of Russian history. Before going there, check if it is still open, since as far as we know the museum was closed in June 2015.

Kungur ice-cave. You can explore the cave network of 1.5 km with unique ice formations, waterfalls and frozen rivers. Entrance every two hours, in guided tours.

Yekaterinburg

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Brief History

Lying at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, east of the Ural mountains, Yekaterinburg was founded in 1723 by Tsar Peter the Great, who named it after his wife Catherine I. Described as “the window on Asia”, the city was one of Russia’s first industrial hubs, prompted by its rich mines and abundant natural resources, including precious minerals. Yekaterinburg is also the place were the Russian monarchy came to and end for good, as Tsar Nikolay II and his family were assassinated by the Bolsheviks in the Ipatiev House on July 16, 1918. Another dramatic episode took place on May 1, 1950, when an American U2 spy plane was hit by a missile launched from the local military base, and, in order to defend its strategic industries, the city was closed and kept sealed from the world until 1990. In 1924, its name was changed to Sverdlovsk, in honor or the revolutionary leader Jakob Sverdlov, and restored to its original one only after the fall of the USSR.

Why you should stop there 

Well, first of all, if you’re coming straight from Moscow and your plan is to go directly to the Baikal, hell, you might need to stop in Yekaterinburg just for your own sake and avoid going crazy on a 4-day long train ride. Yekaterinburg represents a good option for breaking down your trip, it may actually be worth the (quick) stop.

  • It’s the 4th biggest city in Russia and it’s growing fast as you’ll find all sorts of tall modern-ish buildings and blah blah blah.. yeah, not that anybody is actually interested in this stuff apart from the Russians with their love for big shiny things… BUT: Yekaterinburg does lay in an interesting position, right at the gates to Asia, and no, you can’t actually see the Ural Mountains, but it’s nice to know that they’re somewhere over there and say “okay, bye bye Europe”. Plus, there’s a couple of Border Monuments where you can stop and take funny pictures to add some pathos to the trip.
  • Second, it is the place where the legendary Romanovs Assassination took place, and, I hate to break it to you and ruin the epic escape story but yes, princess Anastasia did die there too, and you can actually see her tombstone, together with that of the other family members, inside of the Church on the Blood. If you like history and want to know more about the murders, check this link.
  • Third… well, I don’t know if you’re into geology, but Yekaterinburg and the Ural region in general is famous for its precious minerals and gems, and even if you’re not into geology, it might be nice to buy yourself a nice green malachite souvenir or bring it has a present for someone. It’s also quite cheap so, why not.

Time Zone

UTC +5 (= Moscow +2)

How to get around

Yekaterinburg has a wide network of buses, minivans, trolleybuses and most importantly a subway that has three relatively short but useful lines. Coming in by train, you’ll arrive at Yekaterinburg-Passazhirsky Station and the closest metro stop is Ural’skaya, on the green line. If you need to go to the “city centre”, take that line, direction Botanicheskaya.

Map of the Metro here.

What to see

The Church on the Blood and the Romanovs Assassination Site. Ipatiev House, the original location of the murders, was demolished by order of President Yeltsin, for fear of gatherings of monarchists, and later between 2000 and 2003, the Church on the Blood was build on top of it, to commemorate the Romanovs. It’s located near Dinamo Metro station.

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The City Dam on the Iset River. It’s were the factory-city was founded and is now surrounded by a fairly nice pedestrian area. Near it you can also find the City Founders Monument, representing Vassiky Tatishev and Willem Hennin, who were also known as the “Fledging of Peter’s nest” as they established the city in 1723 as a metallurgical plan by the order of Peter the Great.

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Panorama view from the Visotsky Building. This business centre has some 53 floors and a terrace from where you can get a view of the entire city. It ain’t the Empire State Building, but still worth a visit.

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Europe-Asia Border Monument. There are two Europe-Asia border monuments, the Old one and the New one, both located along the same highway, the “New Moskovsky tract”. The New Border Monument lies some 17 Km away from the city, beside the highway road. It is relatively small, with a white line separating the East and the West. The basement of the monument consists of two stones, one from the extreme westpoint of Europe, at Cape Roca of Portugal, and the other at the extreme eastpoint of Asia, Cape Dezhnev of Russia.

As for the old Europe-Asia border, it lies 47 Km away from Yekaterinburg, near the small village of Pervouralsk. This is definitely bigger and was erected in 1837 to commemorate a visit by Tsar Aleksander II, who is said to have stopped there and opened a bottle of wine. This seem to have started a funny pastime by locals: drinking a glass of wine in Europe and another one in Asia. As if they needed the excuse. Anyway, the monument is immersed in nature, with tall pine trees all around it and a nice grassy area behind it, so it might be a nice a idea to pack your food and have lunch there. To reach it, you can take bus #150 from the Severny Bus Station to Pervouralsk, just remember to warn the driver to stop at the Monument, otherwise you’ll end up in a godforsaken village and, you don’t wanna end up there, unless you wanna experience the inner void and desolation of Russian utmost periphery. To head back to Yekaterinburg, just stand by the opposite side of the highway and wait for a bus to pick you up. I know, it seems shifty, but it works. Alternately, you can walk along the highway for about 1 km and you’ll get to Pervouralsk and find the local bus stop, but again, you don’t wanna do that.

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Others. Ganina Yama (Ganya’s pit), Ballet Opera House, and… that’s pretty much it. You can easily visit all this in one day.

Eat, Drink & Sleep 

Sleep: we stayed at Dostoevsky Hostel, on Radisheva 33, podezd 4, floor 10, which was quite okay, very clean a cheap.

Drink: Shtab Bar, ulitsa Malisheva 39. Cool, soviet-looking little place, drinks are really cheap and the atmosphere is awesome. It has a whole WWII theme going on and is full of locals.

Omsk

Brief History

Omsk was founded as a fortress in 1716 by a cossack unit led by Ivan Buchholz, to protect the expanding Russian frontier along the Om and Irtysh rivers against the Kyrgyz and Dzungar nomads of the steppes, and by 1850 it had become the capital of Western Siberia. With the construction of the Trans-siberian Railway, the city developed, becoming the gateway to Siberia and the Far East. During the White Army’s resistance against the Bolsheviks, Omsk was named “capital of Russia” in 1918-1919 by anti-Soviet Admiral Kolchak. Almost as a punishment for such “treachery”, the newly-established Soviet regime then preferred Novosibirsk as the administrative center of Western Siberia and ordered the transfer of administrative, cultural, and educational functions out of Omsk, which struggled to grow and stagnated at least until WWII, when it was made a major industrial center, leader in Soviet military production and later home of oil-refining complexes. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Omsk then experienced political instability and economic stagnation, mostly due to internal competition over the previously state-owned large local businesses.

Why you should stop there

Well, well, well, let me think about this one, why should one stop in this godforsaken, ugly, desolated shithole… still thinking.. Okay, I think I got it! Cause it’s the first major city in Siberia! Duh.

Still not enough? Stop here, and you’ll get to experience the loss and desolation of the real Russian city, that feeling of Nabokovian “toska” that no other place can give you better than Omsk. If you don’t know what “toska” means, check it out here.

Fine! Still not enough?! What can I say, the locals we met here were actually incredibly nice and pleasantly down-to-earth, welcoming, genuinely interested in why, why would any foreigner visit their town. It’s not something you can give for granted in Russia you know.

And alright, if you really don’t wanna stop there, don’t, it’s not like you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. But if you do have time and are eager to really understand the Russian mind and culture, it might be worth the “ostanovka”.

Still undecided? Here is a link with a bunch of images that will give you the right idea about this lovely town. The choice is yours.

Time Zone

UTC +6 (= Moscow +3)

How to get around 

There is no subway in Omsk, but plenty of buses and marshutki (minivans), running along the two main streets around which the city is structured: Karl Marx Street and Lenin Street (you don’t say!). Once you get to Tarskie Vorota, you can easily walk to wherever you want (or don’t want) to go: the Irtysh embarkment, the Cathedral, the parks (do not enter the grass, it’s full of ticks, some of which carry encephalitis), etc. etc.

What to see

Uspensky Cathedral. Probably one of the few spots in Omsk worth seeing, the church is really beautiful and original to a foreigner’s eye. It was rebuilt after the USSR collapse, as the original one was destroyed by the Bolsheviks.

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Lyubinsky prospekt. Right at the confluence between the Om and the Irtysh, it represents the historical part of the city and is lined up with somewhat old buildings of former residences, merchants and government establishments.

A bunch of statues: Lyuba, Plummer… not that they’re actually worth a watch, but if you happen to stumble of them, they might represent a reasonable pastime by taking funny pictures of them or with them, if you’re into this sort of things.

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Military Museum. If you’re interested in war stuff, especially WWI, the Afghan or Chechen conflict, it may be worth a visit.

Achairsky Monastery. It’s about at 40 minutes drive from the city, you can take a marshutka from the train station to get there, and one of its interesting features, apart from the fresh air, is a baptistery filled with warm mineral water flowing up from the ground. Believers claim the water has healing powers and flock to the monastery from the whole Omsk region. Any visitor is free to soak in, and you may find it pleasant, as the water stays warm at 36 degrees even in the cold Siberian winters, when everything else gets frozen.

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Tomsk. You could take the overnight train and explore this old commercial capital, which is way more charming than Omsk, with is cute wooden houses, high terrain and vibrant youthful atmosphere of Siberia’s oldest universities. As the main transportation routes originally bypassed it, the town remained quite small, avoiding the typical Soviet development, and retaining its unique character.

Other: nope, that’s pretty much it.

Eat, Drink and Sleep

Sleep: We stayed at Dostoyevsky Hostel (22 Pavlova Street), located near the train station. Cheap, clean and had great youthful atmosphere. Totally recommended.

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Eat: Any “stolovaya”, a.k.a. the local canteens, are all over the city center, and the prices are so ridiculously cheap it would be a shame not to save money you could otherwise usefully spend on much needed alcohol. Also, they’ll give you a taste of what Russians actually eat. And it honestly ain’t that bad.

Drink: don’t really know about that one, we didn’t go clubbing or anything, but there’s plenty of 24/7 liquor stores if you feel like you can’t take the Siberian “toska” any more and really need a bottle of vodka to make your night meaningful.

Novosibirsk

Brief History

Novosibirsk, originally Novonikolayevsk in honor of both St. Nicholas and Tsar Nicholas II, was founded in 1893 and is now the third most populous city in Russia. During the Stalin period, it became a large industrial centre and its rapid industrialization earned it the nickname of the “Chicago of Siberia”.

Why you should stop there

Why, why… that’s a tough one.. well, literally, once you pass Omsk on your way to the Baikal, it’s a lot about flipping a coin when picking your next stop if you wanna break down your train ride. Novosibirsk or Krasnoyarsk? Personally, we picked Krasnoyarsk and were pretty happy with the choice. But it’s really up to you, being the 3rd most populous city in Russia, Novosibirsk surely will have a more vibrant nightlife if you’re into partying, otherwise I say let the coin decide.

Time Zone

UTC +7 (= Moscow +4)

How to get around

Public transport includes a metro system (2 lines), buses, marshutkas and trolleybuses. Still, the city center is quite compact and a walk from the railway station to Lenin’s square takes about 20 minutes.

What to see

Lenin Square. There’s a grey statue of Lenin from the Soviet time, standing right in front of the Opera and Ballet House.

The Chapel of St. Nicholas. Originally built in 1915 to honour 300 years of Romanov rule, it was destroyed in 1930 and later rebuilt in 1993. It marks the exact geographical center of the former Soviet Union.

Ob River’s Promenade. Nice place to take a stroll, especially in the summer you’ll find lots of people, music, sometimes concerts.

Krasnoyarsk

Brief History

Located in Central Siberia, Krasnoyarsk was built along the Enisey river during the czarist period of the conquest of the “wild West”. A cossack fort was first built in the region in 1628 for defensive reasons. The fort enlarged and became a real town at the end of the century, when it started to acquire civilian features. The development of Krasnoyarsk began in the 19th century, when it was chosen to be an administrative center. Since then, it became an attractive center for commerce, business and industry. During the Soviet period, it maintained its role of industrial and commercial center of Central Siberia.

Why you should stop there

Krasnoyarsk is one of the most beautiful cities along the Transiberian route, especially for the nature that surrounds it. The Enisey river passes through the center of the city, and from there you can do excursions in the wonderful forest around the city. If you want to have an experience of the real Siberian life, this is the perfect stop during your Transiberian trip.

Time Zone

UTC +7 (= Moscow +4)

What to see

As in many other Russian cities, the main roads of Krasnoyarsk are Ulitsa Lenina, Ulitsa Karla Marxa and Prospekt Mira. By walking along these streets, you’ll pass through the main palaces, statues, restaurants and cafés of the city.
We suggest you to visit:

The Resurrection Church (Ulitsa anvarya 9): a typical orthodox Church of the 19th century, filled in with gold and icons

Ploshad Оперы и Балета (Operi I baleti): the main square of the city, with statues and a beautiful fountain in the middle, that occasionally holds light games at night. The ancient theater of Krasnoyarsk is on a side of the square

The Riverside: from Ploshad Mira, you can go down to the riverside and have a pleasant walk under the huge bridges and along kiosks and fishermen (in the summer), or you can rent a bike and go further South

“Остров Татышев” – it is a small island between the two coasts of the city. Place to rent a bike and explore the beautiful nature.

Karaulnaya Hill: amazing view of the whole city from here. If you go at 12.00 a cannon will surprise you!

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However, the real attraction of Krasnoyarsk lies outside the city: the Stolby Natural Reserve. It is a huge forest where you can follow a path up to the top of the mountains, surrounded by the so called “stolby”, the rocky formations that are typical of Krasnoyarsk. In winter, Russians go there to sky, in summer, they have barbeques on the top of the mountain.

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Unfortunately, the website of the park, very useful, is only in Russian.

To reach the park, take bus 50 from Ploshad Mira and ask the driver to stop at the reserve. You can either enter by foot, and have a walk of around 6 hours in the forest, or you can take the funicular that takes you to the top. Attention: wear proper shoes to walk in the forest and be careful about the ticks (they carry encephalitis)!

Eat & Sleep

Eat

1. Масленица (check the best location for you, because there are a lot of them)-traditional Russian food
2. Перцы – Italian food (the most popular place in Krasnoyarsk to eat for students)
3. Булгаков – Nice café-restaurant in the city center
3. New York café. Located on the square of Опера и Балет. Good view.

Sleep

Okay places: Hovel Hostel (Lenina 52, less than 10 EUR/night) ; Kiwi Hostel (Partizana Zheleznyaka st., 9g-17, less than 10 EUR/night)