For many of us Russia is, in the words of Churchill, ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’. Half European, half Asian, straddling both continents, this vast country encompasses eleven time zones and a multitude of cultures. Its leaders and its people have always been different, watching the rest of the world with a wary eye. The Russian soul has been formed by a combination of autocracy, isolation, the orthodox tradition, long harsh and dark winters, endless forests and successive waves of invaders. A tough nut to crack, they can seem as cold as a Siberian gale, and as hard as the frozen January soils. You need to work on a Russian, but the rewards are great if you manage to break through the façade. A round of vodka might speed up the process. Once you have made friends a whole new world will open up to you.

This country, however is more than vodka swirling locals. There are countless minorities, from Tartars, to Chechens, to Yakutsk to Nenets. While overwhelming orthodox, there are also sizeable groups of Muslims, and smaller pockets of Buddhists, Jews, Catholics and animists. From the tribes in the Caucasus to the bureaucrats in Moscow and the reindeer herders in the frozen north, you will discover there is no such thing as one kind of Russian.

Gape open-mouthed at the Imperial decadence of St. Petersburg’s many palaces, unravel the mysteries of the Russian state in Moscow’s Kremlin, watch an incense swirling priest and pious candle-lighting Russians venerate icons in one of the myriad onion domed churches, take the Trans-Siberian through the everlasting Taiga to Vladivostok, drink vodka with new made friends, ski in the deep south, hike the wilds of remote Kamchatka or take a slow boat down the Volga.

Russia, you will discover, is like a Matryoschka doll there is always another doll inside.

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