Real Russia Blog

Let the adventures begin in Yaroslavl

Let the adventures begin in Yaroslavl

One of the oldest cities in Russia, whose historical centre is protected by UNESCO

The 1,000-year history of Yaroslavl and its location in the middle of the Golden Ring makes it a great destination for a day or weekend trip from Moscow, or as part of the Golden Ring tour. It is the oldest city on the Volga river, with its historic centre being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You may recognise the town's founder, Yaroslav the Wise, from the 1,000 roubles banknote or photos of his impressive statue in Yaroslavl.

Inspired? Let’s find our more about the history and must-see spots of Yaroslavl.

Early Yaroslavl

The history of Yaroslavl’s founding has now become part of Russian legend. According to the legend, Yaroslavl was founded in 1010 when Yaroslav, the prince of Rostov, future price of Kiev and son of Russia’s first Christian grand prince Vladimir the Great, travelled through the land. On the banks of the River Volga he encountered a tribe of pagans who set a fierce bear on him. Price Yaroslav killed the bear with his poleaxe and founded a fortress where he had killed the bear to protect his lands.

During the two centuries following this, Yaroslavl remained a small border town until the 13th century where due to its favourable location, Yaroslavl become one of the most developed towns in ancient Russia. Yaroslavl became one of the most developed towns in ancient Russia, a major commercial and political centre, whose architectural development continued. A rapid church growth facilitated the development of the local icon-painting school that is now world famous for iconography art.

What to see

Take a tour of Yaroslavl’s architecture

There are only three Russian cities whose centres are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site: St. Petersburg, Yaroslavl and Derbent.

If you start your exploration in Yarsolavl’s historical city centre and take a stroll down its medieval streets, with the beautiful churches and impressive cathedral, the sense of rich heritage and historical significance will make it easy to see why it serves as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yaroslavl’s Architectural Historical and Art Museum Preserve occupies the grounds of a former 13th Century convent and provides a look at central Russia’s building traditions and art styles, including paintings, frescoes, and iconography, of the XVII century. Ringing bell towers and intricate church domes dominate the complex that stretches along the scenic banks of the Volga River.

As you explore, make sure to stop and see the stunning architecture of the Transfiguration Monastery with its beautiful frescos and 15th-16th century icons. If you climb to the top of one of the bell towers you’ll be met by beautiful views of Yaroslavl and its surrounding nature.

Another gem of Yaroslavl architecture is the 15-domed Church of St. John the Baptist, a marvel of 17th Century Yaroslavl architecture.

The emerald-domed Church of Elijah the Prophet – masterpiece of ancient Russian art

Have a walk down the river

After appreciating the city centre’s historical sites, now would be the ideal time to get some fresh air and observe the spectacular scenery of this city nestled between two rivers.

Take a stroll along the Yarosolavl Embankment, with its alcoves and street lights dotted along the shore, to overlook the Volga river. You can even take a river tram across the Volga to visit the Tolga Convent, founded in the early 14th Century, whose domed churches are nestled inside a cedar grove.

Then hire a bike to reach the Strelka Park with its musical fountains, and a huge stone, believed to have healing powers, which stands on the spot Yaroslav met the bear.

Sterlka Park in place of confluence of the Volga and Kotorosl river.

The stark white Assumption Cathedral nearby has a tragic history. Initially built in stone in the early 1210s, it was demolished in 1937 by Communists and rebuilt in 2005. Today, you can still see the original cathedral bells on display outside.

The Assumption Cathedral.

Visit the Museum of Valentina Tereshkova, the world’s first female cosmonaut was born and lived in the Yaroslavl region, and became the world’s first female cosmonaut in 1963.

Make sure you don’t miss the monument to the growling bear, a symbol of Yaroslavl, erected to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the city.

When in Yaroslavl… explore the beginnings of Russia

Yaroslavl is great to visit at any time of the year.

On the last Saturday of June you can visit Baba Yaga, the ferocious-looking witch from Russian folklore, for her birthday in her hometown of Kukoboy, which is 157km from Yaroslavl.

If you visit Yaroslavl during pancake week in February, there are many festivities to take in. One of the most interesting museums related to pre-Christian Russia is the residence of her majesty the Queen of Maslenitsa to taste classic Russian recipes cooked on a traditional Russian stove. This is a great place to stop by for authentic Russian cuisine and to catch one of the folk performances or plays.

And in spring, in March of odd-numbered years, Yaroslavl holds Russia’s oldest jazz festival “Jazz on the Volga”.

Now that I’ve introduced you to the magnificent millennial city that is Yaroslavl, the only thing left for you to do is to look at our 3-day Golden Ring tour that includes Yaroslavl or contact our travel team if you have your own plans and itinerary.

Have you been to Yaroslavl? Share your opinions with us on our social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+.

Real Russia Blog

International Women`s day in Russia

International Women`s day in Russia

Holiday which celebrates Womanhood and Spring

This day celebrates all womanhood, and announces spring; however, the weather can still be chilly like in winter, but the warm sun, smell of melting snow and birds’ singing is a reminder of the beauty of spring.

One hundred years ago

International Women’s day played a great role in the Russian Revolution of 1917. As Revolutionary Leon Trotsky said, it “inaugurated the revolution.” As described in Wikipedia, “In 1917 demonstrations marking International Women's Day in Saint Petersburg (a capital at that time) on the last Thursday in February (which fell on March 8 on the Gregorian calendar) initiated the February Revolution. Women in Saint Petersburg went on strike that day for 'Bread and Peace' – demanding the end of World War I, an end to Russian food shortages, and the end of czarism.“ Four days after that demonstration the Russian Emperor resigned, and Russia ceased to be a monarchy.

After the October Revolution, in 1918, the 8th of March became a public holiday.

How do people celebrate now?

Men offer gratitude to all women, no matter old or young, married or unmarried, mothers or not. It is an opportunity to honor motherhood, beauty, and the wisdom of women. As Russian proverb says, ‘the man is the head of the family, the woman is the neck.’ This proverb reflects the role of a woman in the family in Russia, her inwardness and ability to empower her husband.

Men give presents and flowers to significant women. School children present gifts and buckets of flowers to their teachers, and do crafts at schools and in nurseries to present to mums and grandmothers. Even little girls receive gifts from their relatives. At work places men organize celebrations on the last day before the holiday, with gifts, flowers and festive tables. Employers may also present something to the female employees.

Several days before the holiday the 'shopping fever' begins. One can come across a flower shortage and suitable presents fly away from the shop shelves. So, wise men buy them in advance, also not to overpay for the last-minute gifts. Men are always puzzled what to buy. Traditional presents are perfume and cosmetics, along with flowers (tulips, mimosas and roses). The yellow branches of mimosa are the symbol of the holiday. Mimosa and other flowers are traditional printed on postcards; they signify spring, which is a great deal in Russia, with its long harsh winters.

This is a true family holiday, people stay home, arrange festive celebrations, or may visit friends and relatives. Men and children can take over in the kitchen to prepare a festive meal. One can see happy women’s faces everywhere. The 8th of March is a special day for all women, a day full of congratulations, compliments and gifts.

We would like to take this opportunity to say congratulations to all women who celebrate this day!

If you think about travelling to Russia, why not get in touch with our travel experts about arranging a trip.

Real Russia Blog

Defender of the Fatherland Day

Defender of the Fatherland Day

A day of real men

On February 24th, Russia celebrates Defender of the Fatherland Day. On this special occasion, most offices, banks and official buildings, including consulates and visa centers, are closed.

Defender of the Fatherland day is observed in Russia and several other former Soviet republics to commemorate the veterans and members of the Armed Forces, mostly men, but also women, who currently serve, or who have previously served, in the military. People treat it not just as a military celebration, but as a universal men’s holiday; an opportunity to congratulate all men of the country.

The history of the holiday

This day traces its history to 1922, when the fourth anniversary of Red Army was celebrated. However, some historians argue that this special day is in fact celebrated to laud the Red Army’s first important victory over German invaders in 1918.

Between 1936 and 1990, the holiday was observed as the Soviet Army and Navy Day. In 1991 the holiday was removed from the calendar, before being renamed and reinstated in 2002.

How do people celebrate this day?

Though this day honors the military as a whole, many Russians regard Defender of the Fatherland day as a 'men’s day' because military service is obligatory for most men in Russia. Colloquially, it's a day of real men, broadly speaking, defenders, a day to honor them for their force, courage and spirit.

Women often give presents and postcards to their male relatives and friends, including those who never served in the military. On a workday before the holiday, many women also congratulate their male colleagues, and schoolboys may receive greeting cards and small presents from their female classmates. At schools and nurseries girls do simple crafts and banners to present to their fathers and other male relatives.

It is followed on the 8th March by International Women's Day, on which day the men of Russia honour the fairer sex.

Public celebrations

Russian authorities may organize local parades and fireworks to honor the military and veterans on this day. The Russian President, military leaders, and representatives of Parliament and the Government, traditionally attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexander Garden near the Kremlin walls.

Alexander Garden and the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, Russia

We wholeheartedly congratulate all our male colleagues, and everyone who will be celebrating this day!

If you would like to take in the incredible atmosphere of one of Russia’s many public celebrations, why not speak to our travel specialists in Russia about any of the services we offer?

Real Russia Blog

Russian Holidays: Maslenitsa

Russian Holidays: Maslenitsa

Perhaps the most cheerful and delicious holiday in Russia – Pancake week !!

The history and meaning of Maslenitsa

Russians celebrate the week before the beginning of Lent as Maslenitsa, which means ‘Butter Week’ (from the Russian word ‘maslo’, meaning butter). Since the dawn of time people have celebrated an ancient Slavic holiday related to the Vernal Equinox which, after Christianity, was implemented in the orthodox religious tradition. During this week, Russian Orthodox Christians ease into their Lenten fast by removing meat from their diet. Butter, milk and cheese remain. So, the week before the Great Lent is also the last opportunity to try delicious and filling pancakes. But not just this. Butter Week includes many celebrations and entertainments which people avoid during Lent, aimed at the cleaning both their body and soul.

In past times, traditional Butter Week entertainments included strolling through public places in fine clothes or in masks and costumes, visiting friends and relatives, enjoying rich foods, taking sleigh rides, attending plays put on by troupes of traveling actors, playing winter games, such as sliding down specially constructed hills of ice, and participating in rituals marking the death of winter.

Maslenitsa celebrations, Russia

Maslenitsa celebrations, Russia

Seven days of Maslenitsa

Every day of Maslenitsa has its own traditions.

Monday is the meeting of Maslenitsa, who is personified in a giant straw doll, dressed in old woman clothes, and snow games including tobogganing.

Tuesday is a day of merriment, when everyone participates in games and competitions for adults and children including, folk festivals, puppet shows, sleigh rides, ice-skating and horse-riding. Pancake Week in 18th century Russia was hard to imagine without bear shows; trained bears amused the audience. Bear fun was very popular among all classes of the population of towns, cities and villages.

Wednesday is a day for those with a sweet tooth, as people begin to eat pancakes, honey gingerbreads, drink brewed beer and hot sbiten (an alcoholic drink made from water, honey and spices), and every mother-in-law is to treat their son-in-law.

Thursday is a day of revelry, with the hottest fist-fights, games and fun.

On Friday, every son-in-law must treat their mother-in-law.

Saturday is the celebration of daughters-in-law, including presenting gifts and pancakes.

On Sunday, everyone asks forgiveness from each other, followed by the response, “God will forgive you”. On this day, also called ‘Clean Sunday’, people visit a banya and burn everything left from this festival, including a solemn burning of the Maslenitsa doll in a great bonfire. Burning it symbolizes the farewell to winter. On this day people also besiege and occupy the snow fortress, once again signifying the defeat of winter and the arrival of spring.

Nowadays, many Russian cities offer Maslenitsa celebrations. Events will take place all week throughout the cities' main streets and parks, and include pancake tasting, fairs and concerts, as well as workshops and presentations.

Blinis – round, yellow and as hot as the sun

Blinis with red caviar

Russian blinis with red caviar

Pancakes, or blinis, have become a symbol of the celebration. They signify warmth and prosperity. Russian blinis should be thin, golden brown, and about the size of a saucer. After removing them from the pan, Russians roll the blinis up around a variety of rich fillings. These fillings include cheese, meat, sturgeon, caviar, sour cream and jam, apples, mushrooms and onions, poppy seeds, and much more.

You can check out 'interesting' attempt at making blinis from a few years ago, here. We should probably try again soon …

If you are interested in Maslenitsa and would like to experience Russian' culture, why not get in touch with our travel experts about arranging a trip.

Real Russia Blog

Stalin`s Secret Bunker in Samara

Stalin`s Secret Bunker in Samara

Reveal the secrets of this amazing feat of engeneering!

Ahead of Russia’s Victory Day (9th May), which marks the surrender of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union in 1945, let’s take a step back in time. A great example of Stalin’s power and influence can be found at his secret underground bunker, an equivalent to a twelve-story building underground!

The bunker is located south east of Moscow in Samara, which was intended to be the capital of the USSR, if Moscow fell during the Second World War. In 1941 under the threat to Moscow to be taken over by the Nazis the Soviet government made a decision to make Samara (Kuibyshev back then) the USSR’s second capital. That’s why Stalin’s bunker was built here to become a special shelter for the Chief of State.

Constructed 37 meters deep, it is thought to have taken 2,900 people nine months to build with a team of over 800 engineers. It’s amazing to think that the local people didn’t notice anything unusual in 1942, as it remained a mystery to the public until 1991 when it was finally discovered, declassified, and opened as a museum.

It should be mentioned that the depth of Hitler’s bunker in Berlin is 16 meters, Churchill’s shelter (as well as Roosevelt’s bunker) has only two floors. Moreover, Stalin’s bunker is considered to be the deepest structure created during the Second World War.

It’s amazing to think that the local people didn’t notice anything unusual in 1942, as it remained a mystery to the public until 1991 when it was finally discovered, declassified, and opened as a museum.

All the people involved in the process of building the bunker were forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement, thus even the residents of neighboring houses were unaware of what kind of facility was being built behind the high fence. The removed soil was taken away at night and the workers seldom (if ever) left the underground construction site, eating and sleeping there.

The stand-alone air regeneration system of the bunker even nowadays can provide its autonomy for five days. There is a meeting room on the lowest floor of the shelter that was designed for 115 people (stenographers, Stalin’s bodyguards and his personal secretary). Next to the meeting room you can see the recreation room of Stalin. It has parquet flooring, oak paneling on the walls, a massive table with green cloth, four false doors and two portraits of Suvorov and Kutuzov on the walls (Stalin’s most revered commanders). On the upper floors of the bunker there are the rooms for security guards and different life-support machines and warehouses. That’s incredible, but the bunker itself could withstand a direct hit by the largest aviation bombs of that time.

Located under the Academy of Culture and Skill in the centre of the city, it is open to public willing to explore the secrets of the site, equivalent to a twelve-story building underground.

Samara, a host city of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, is a vibrant city with a unique history, beautiful nature on the bank of the river Volga and magnificent wooden and art-nouveau historical centre. If this destination sounds interesting, why not get in touch with our travel team for more details?