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Russian Culture To Do in Moscow To Do in Saint-Petersburg Top Travelers Advices Traveling in Russia

3 reasons why to do dog-trekking in Russia (in Moscow and in Saint-Petersburg)

What is dog-trekking?

Dog-trekking in Moscow
Dog-trekking in Moscow

 

Dog-trekking becomes more popular every year amongst nature and animal lovers especially, who want to combine their passions for fresh air, natural landscapes and interaction with animals together. So, basically dog-trekking is an activity when a dog is strapped to one’s back with a rope and together with a dog you go for a walk in the nature – to the forest or alongside the river bank. The dogs are taking people for a walk actually as they are the ones guiding trough the nature. Hereunder you may find 3 good reasons why to do dog-trekking in Russia this summer or every other summer possible:

Trekking in the Nature in Moscow
Trekking in the Nature in Moscow

 

  • To enjoy natural landscapes

For more than anything else, dog-trekking is famous for the opportunity it gives to enjoy the nature. Dog-trekking is usually done in the most beautiful and picturesque places of an area. In Moscow, for instance, where we do our Tsar Visit dog-trekking + kayaking tour, people walk alongside the Moscow River and they can see the unique rope bridge and enjoy cool summer winds from the river. Also, people go through the forest with different fresh water streams and flower fields.

Dog-trekking in Saint-Petersburg
Dog-trekking in Saint-Petersburg

 

  • To meet husky dogs of 4 northern breeds

Dog-trekking is an activity that is focused on dogs – main protagonists. In Russia the dogs’ breed is naturally husky – Siberian huskies, Alaskan huskies, Laikas and Malamuts. These dogs have an absolute love for humans and they are happy to play and hug with you. Tsar Visit dog-trekking tour usually begins with meeting all the dogs and playing with them. After this unforgettable moment with all the huskies, you will be able to choose one dog with who you would like to go trekking in the forest!

 

Kayaking on Moscow River after dog-trekking
Kayaking on Moscow River after dog-trekking

 

  • To do sports while trekking with husky dogs

What you should know about dog-trekking is that it is more than just a walk – it is a sports activity. Although it requires no special preparation and no special abilities, you still have to be prepared for doing sports. 5-km route that we propose on Tsar Visit in Moscow and in St. Petersburg contains various parts that require some speed and balance. Moreover, huskies are a strong and extremely active breed, so you must be very focused during the trip. Also, in Moscow you may add kayaking to your tour and your route will be 6-km of dog-trekking and 6-km back on kayaks with professional instructors. In Saint Petersburg after the dog-trekking tour you will be able to do some rowboat riding on a wonderful lake!

Rowboat riding on the lake in St. Petersburg
Rowboat riding on the lake in St. Petersburg

 

To sum up, dog-trekking is a very new, but already extremely popular activity in Russia. Both in Moscow and in St. Petersburg it is famous for being a great opportunity to spend time on fresh air observing beautiful natural landscapes, reuniting with animals, studying about husky breed and doing sports at the same time!

Dog-Trekking in Russia
Dog-Trekking in Russia

 

We definitely recommend you to go for it and if you do, you will cherish those memories forever!

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Russian Culture To Do in Moscow Top Travelers Advices Traveling in Russia

Top 3 best parks to enjoy summer in Moscow in 2020

If you wonder what parks to visit in Moscow in 2020 and spend an amazing time outside, hereunder you find the best answer.

Parks of culture and leisure became a real thing in 2010s when Moscow government decided to invest money in landscape gardening of the city and its image of a “green capital”. Right now, in Moscow parks are the most popular places to hang out for the full day with lots of activities: walking, cycling, playing basketball and volleyball, laying on the grass and having a picnic etc. If you don’t know where to go on weekend in Moscow – parks are best options to spend time.

Gorky Park in Moscow
Gorky Park in Moscow

 

Hereunder you will find the 3 best parks to visit in Moscow:

  • Gorky Park of Culture and Leisure

Gorky Park is the most famous park in Moscow, about which you could have heard in the song “Wind of Change” by Scorpions. Back in the days it was an amusement park with biggest rollercoasters in Eastern Europe. Nowadays this park is loved by hipsters, youngsters and families for its number of activities. In Gorky Park you can practice sports like basketball and volleyball on pitches made by biggest sports brands Nike and Adidas. You can do yoga classes, dancing classes and many more. What to eat while in Gorky Park? In food-courts, of course! There are a lot of different restaurants with numerous cuisines – Greek, Chinese, Thai, Italian and Russian. We recommend you to sit on the terrace near the Moscow River bench and enjoy the moment. Also, in Gorky Park you may go to a concert or a show, which are held almost every day!

If you want to know what is Gorky Park and how it changed the image of Moscow, follow Leo, young French journalist and guide living in Moscow for his Gorky Park private tour, during which you discover the history of this place, walk around best sights and get to know how to spend great time on fresh air in in Moscow.

address: Krymsky Val, 9

open 24 hours a day

Center of Gorky Park in Moscow
Central Fountain of Gorky Park in Moscow

 

  • Zaryadye Park

The most recently opened park now in Moscow is Zaryadye Park right in the heart of the capital near Red Square and Kremlin.

Park Zaryadye in Moscow has numerous installations, created by very famous Russian artists, and many things to visit – the Ice Cave made of 70 tons of frozen water, Florarium with more than 200 plant species, Media Center with interactive walls and floor to watch stunning 360-degrees videos, etc.

Zaryadye Park in Moscow
Zaryadye Park in Moscow

 

But the most symbolic and impressive sight in Zaryadye is definitely the River Overlook Footbridge from which you can amazing views on Kitay-Gorod, Kremlin, St.Basil’s Cathedral and Stalin Towers.

River Overlook Footbridge in Zaryadye Park
River Overlook Footbridge in Zaryadye Park

 

If you want to discover more Zaryadye Park with Kremlin and Red Square, take part in Walking Tour in the Center of Moscow of Tsar Visit and explore Moscow deeper with professional guide.

address: Ulitsa Varvarka 6, building 1

open 24 hours a day

  • VDNKh Park

VDNKh Park (or VDNH, which stands for Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy) in Ostankino District of Moscow is at the moment the biggest and the most developed park in Russia.

If you want to receive all at once – VDNKh park is the best choice. It contains a lot of worldwide famous symbols of Russia and USSR – pavilions of former USSR republics, the People’s Friendship Fountain, Ostankino TV tower, Moscow Monorail and Museum of Cosmonautics.

Ostankino Tower in VDNKh park in Moscow
Ostankino Tower in VDNKh park in Moscow

 

VDNKh Park was recently renewed and now it has one of the biggest Aquariums in Europe with more than 12000 water animals. In VDNKh you can play any sports, rent a bike or a scooter, walk the eco-trail, go climbing or do yoga.

VDNKh Park in Moscow
VDNKh Park in Moscow

 

If you want to explore VDNKh Park fully, join the tour of VDNKh and Cosmonautics Museum by Tsar Visit and learn about these impressive sights with a professional private guide.

address: Prospekt Mira, 119

open 24 hours a day

Cosmonautics Museum in VDNKh Park
Cosmonautics Museum in VDNKh Park

 

All in all, in Moscow more than anywhere else in the world, parks are sights definitely worth visiting. They contain a lot of worldwide famous attractions and they keep developing every day. If you want to know Moscow better and to spend amazing time in Russia – visit the famous capital parks.

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Russian Culture To Do in Moscow Travelers Advices Uncategorized

Top 5 best food markets in Moscow in 2020

If you wonder where to eat in Moscow, here is the best answer: in food markets!

Food markets are food-courts with a large number of different restaurants representing various cuisines of the world and of Russia. They provide both high-quality street food and more unique options. Usually you choose a restaurant you like by walking around and exploring various options to eat. Then you order food and sit in the middle of a court to have lunch or dinner.

Hereunder you will find the 5 best food markets in Moscow, so you can choose the one you would like to discover:

  • Central Market (Tsentralniy Rynok)

Back in 1840s, Central Market became the largest craft-market of Moscow. In 2017 it was fully reconstructed and opened to public as the food market that we now know. On the lower floor you can buy fresh food, while on the ground floor you may find more than 40 different street food restaurants with various cuisines – Korean, Lebanese, Italian, Georgian and a lot more. Of course, traditional Russian cuisine is also present in Central Market.

If you want to know what is traditional Russian food and how to cook Russian food, take part in a food tour of Tsar Visit, during which you discover best places to try Russian cuisine and get to know food traditions.

address: Rozdestvensky Bulvar, 1

open daily: 08:00 – 00:00

Central Market (Tsentralniy Rynok) in Moscow
Central Market in Moscow
  • Danilovsky Market (Danilovsky Rynok)

The main conception of Danilovsky Market is that fresh natural products and street food restaurants are combined. If you are a group of friends or a family and you want to have a big choice of food – this is the right place. Danilovsky Market presents more than 35 cuisines from different countries – French, Vietnamese, Korean, Dagestani, Uzbek and many more. If you are living in Moscow and want to buy fresh products of great quality, local producers of meat, vegetables, cheese or fishes are present in Danilovsky. Prices can be pretty high, but the quality is probably the best in Moscow. For tourists looking forward to buying caviar in Russia, you’ll find a wide variety in Danilovsky market.

If you want to discover this market in a unique way, follow Leo, young French journalist and guide living in Moscow. During his food tour, Leo shows you what is famous Russian food, Georgian cuisine and he also explains why Danilovsky district is so famous.

address: Mytnaya Ulitsa, 74

open daily: 08:00 – 21:00

Danilovsky Market in Moscow
Danilovsky Market in Moscow
  • Around the World (Vokrug Sveta)

If you are visiting Moscow as a tourist, you will definitely pass by Red Square – main sight of Moscow, and probably visit the Kremlin and St.Basil’s Cathedral. And, of course, after long walks you’ll get hungry. The food market Vokrug Sveta (in English “Around the World”) is located just 400 meters from the Red Square, on Nikolskaya Street – the most popular street in Russia during FIFA World Cup 2018. Vokrug Sveta is the place where Asian, American and local cuisines are mixed. You will have more than 20 restaurants to choose from and a great court to sit and enjoy your lunch. On top of that, Vokrug Sveta was created by the best restaurateur in Russia, the worldwide known Arkadiy Novikov.

address: Nikolskaya Street, 10

open daily 11:00 – 23:00

Georgian Traditional cuisine
Georgian Traditional cuisine
  • Depo Moscow

Depo Food Market is the most recent add-on to Moscow food map and it is the biggest food court in Europe. Depo has more than 75 restaurants inside and cuisines are very different – Azerbaijani and Greek, Chinese and Russian, Vietnamese and Armenian etc. Also, Depo is very popular for having different concerts and shows every day. It’s a very popular place among Moscow’s population, it can get very crowded on weekends.

address: Lesnaya ulitsa, 20 building 3

open daily: 10:00 – 23:00

Depo Food Market in Moscow
Depo Food Market in Moscow
  • Food Market 21

Food Market 21 is located on the famous New Arbat Street and it is one of the most popular food markets among young people as it is located near the best Stand-Up Comedy club. On the New Arbat Street, there are a lot of bars and clubs to continue the evening. Also, apart from numerous restaurants inside, Food Market 21 has a big terrace where you can enjoy fresh air and music or smoke shisha. Like in all the other markets, you’ll find a very diverse gastronomic offer.

address: New Arbat, 21

open daily: 12:00 – 00:00

Like the city of Moscow in general, the gastronomic scene is growing and developing very fast. New food courts and markets are opening constantly, and you’ll always find great places to eat while travelling to the Russian capital.

If you want to know what is Russian cuisine and how to cook Russian food, hereunder you can find the list of unique gastronomic tours proposed by Tsar Visit:

Traditional French-Russian dinner at locals
Traditional French-Russian dinner at locals
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Did you know? Russian Culture To Do in Moscow To Do in Saint-Petersburg

5 reasons to visit and try famous Russian Sauna in 2020

It is probable that at least once in your lifetime you have heard about Russian Sauna, or so called “banya” and its traditions. It was created long time ago and converted into a real cultural phenomenon with its own rules. Let us give 5 good reasons to try genuine Russian Banya in 2020:

1. Try an activity that has 2500 y.o. How was the banya created?

The origins of the banya date back to the 5th century BC. We trace its birth in Ukraine, where the banya was made of pieces of wood used as a structure to hold a felt cloth. At the middle of this space was a kettle filled with water where heated rocks were plunged.  Slowly, this sauna culture became a part of the Slavic life. It was celebrating religious events and family traditional holidays such as birthdays and weddings.

Banya was accessible for the richest and the poorest. The richest had their own banya area allowing them to have more comfort and privacy. The poorest who did not own a banya, heated their ovens and wet the walls of their houses to create a slight sensation of humidity.

The access to the banya became widely democratized thereafter. Common and public spaces were created to bring the entire population together in one place. Luxury banyas were opened for the richest, such as Sanduny Baths in Moscow, for example. These spaces offered to their customers exceptional furniture and more comfort as well as better customer services.

Sanduny Baths - Moscow
Spectacular Sanduny Baths – Moscow

2. Learn how to do the Russian Sauna and teach your friends!

As Russian Sauna is a real tradition, it has to be done the good way. Today the banya is composed of a wooden space with a wood-burning stove. It is important to prepare the banya in advance so that it can be very hot. When the temperature reaches between 80-100 C degrees, you can begin the activity.

Put on your bathing suit and sit on one of the benches along the wall of the banya. Watch out! The higher you sit, the hotter you’ll get! So, if you’re not sure you can stand the heat, start by sitting on the lower bench. Once on your bench, you can sprinkle water with essential oils on the hot stones placed above the stove to warm and humidify the room.

Shake your towel over your head if you want the heat to circulate in the banya.

A session lasts between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on your resistance to heat. As the banya is much hotter, the sessions are shorter than those in a classic sauna.

The goal at the end of the session is to cause a thermal shock to your body. You can jump in the cold pool, or spill the bucket with cold water on your head or, if you are in winter, roll in the snow or jump into a frozen lake.

Cold jump after banya
Jump into a frozen lake after Banya session in winter

3. The benefits of Russian Sauna

The advantages of the banya are worldwide known and confirmed by specialists:

  • From inside: it cleans the body by eliminating toxins
  • From outside: it removes dead skin and cleans pores
  • Russian Sauna is the best cure to insomnia and daily anxiety
  • Banya helps human lungs to recharge and work better

The extreme change in temperature also allows the body to gain strength and develops the immune system. There’s no doubt that after a banya session you’ll sleep like a baby!

Russian Banya with friends in winter
Russian Banya with friends in winter

4. The reason why Russian Banya should be done in groups of friends or with family

Visiting Russian Sauna is highly recommended to do with closest friends or family. Banya is, all in all, a limited space where you are almost naked.

Between each session, it is common to get together to drink tea and eat some fruits or to drink cold beer with snacks while playing cards or just chatting.

According to lots of stories, in business, many contracts are discussed and signed in banya and the agreement is usually concluded by drinking one shot of vodka! In Russia businessmen and political figures are usually going to the Russian Sauna together, in order to discuss important matters in complete privacy.

If you travel to Russia, it’s a legendary activity to organize with your family or friends! Don’t hesitate to check our traditional banya tour !

5. Russian Sauna = connection with Nature. Why is Russian banya so priceless?

If Russians regularly practice banya, it is also because it allows them to reconnect with nature and put everyday worries aside. In St. Petersburg, we can organize for you a traditional banya in the forest, after a dog-trekking hike!

Banya is practiced naked and people are surrounded by the simplest elements of nature: wood, heat, water, snow, stones… Banya is considered to be a way to enjoy the wonders that nature offers to recharge one’s batteries.

Russians also have a tradition of whipping themselves with bouquets made of birch or oak branches. This bouquet is called “Venik”. It is plunged in a bucket of cold water and then used to whip itself. This process has many benefits:

  • Reactivates blood circulation: because of the heat, the vessels are “asleep”. Whipping them with the Venik – reactivates.
  • Accelerates sweating: the contact of the Venik on the skin activates perspiration.
  • Removes dead skin: the contact of the leaves and branches will allow the dead skin to peel off.
  • Venik process is not painful. Vice versa, it feels amazing – especially after!
Banya Tour - Russia
Doing Russian Sauna with Venik

You want to try banya when travelling to Russia? Book your tour with us on www.tsarvisit.com !

 

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To Do in Saint-Petersburg Top

Top 4: Unusual Things To Do in Saint Petersburg

Are you bored to see tourists everywhere you wanna go? Do you feel like you want to explore areas others haven’t? You can unearth places like that even in Peter! (yeah, that’s another way to call Saint-Petersburg, way more popular in real life than “The Venice of North”) Thanks to this top 4, you’ll bring back home unique pictures and memories, and everybody’s gonna tell you: wow, where have been? where have you seen that?… Now you’re wondering what exactly, I’m gonna tell you.

In Moscow? Check this unusual top 3!

  • Saint Petersburg Secret Roofs

Many people have already seen outstanding videos and pictures on St-Petersburg from its roof. But few had the opportunity to actually go there, and pretend to be one of the Hermitage’s cats. Several locals started “mini-businesses” and let you access the roofs through their stairs. For the view, the feeling of breaking the rules, the adrenaline and for the likes on Instagram, take the stairs and explore another side of this surprising city! But careful when roofs are wet or icy, you wouldn’t let your annoying step-sister fall…

Picture: View from Saint-Petersburg's roofs © Dreamstime
View from Saint-Petersburg’s roofs
  • St-Anne’s Church-Theater (Annenkirche)

Building shared by a lutheran congregation and a liberal theater company, St-Anne’s Church Theater is the doorstep of Peter’s underground. Hidden in a small street, the building had a long history, built as a church it became a theater and a nightclub that burnt in 2002. Restored on popular initiatives it remains a strange and amazing building half-burnt but slowly rising again. There you’ll meet interesting people and will be able to explore the whole building (including the mysterious and very scary undergrounds) by yourself. This place is actually great for photo shoots (especially if you like to pretend that you’re so “out of the tracks”) or if you want to appear as a muzhik by protecting your so… but don’t bring your kids, they’ll have nightmares.

Picture: Gloomy Interior of St. Anne's Lutheran Church (Annenkirche), Saint-Petersburg
Gloomy Interior of St. Anne’s Lutheran Church (Annenkirche), Saint-Petersburg

If you like this kind of original, non-touristic places, try our tour “like a local” of St Petersburg.

  • Loft Project ETAGI

This surprising building in the heart of St Petersburg is a center of cultural life for many artists, hipsters and all curious people. There, you’ll find progressive exhibitions, workshops and original events. For example, you may meet real huskies and play with them while sitting on a swing on the 4th floor of the building. While your new-made Petersburgian friends may enjoy a meal in the food-court in the basement, you might head up to the rooftop and enjoy the rays of sun while sipping mulled-wine or a milkshake. Across the different floors, you’ll probably pop into one of the shops selling all sorts of things from clothes to graffiti equipment, nail bars and green cafes. You’ll even find a container alley and a sock vending machine (yes, yes, a machine that sells socks, some with pikachus, some with unicorns, and many others).

Picture: Main entrance to Loft Proyekt Etazhi © Eva Delaunay
Picture: Main entrance to Loft Proyekt Etazhi
  • «Pushkinskaya-10» Art Center

This is the only non-governmental, self-regulated and independent art center of St Petersburg, and probably even of Russia. In this creative place, you may try yourself at painting by taking drawing classes, or simply discover contemporary art from local and international artists. If you fell like you want to keep concrete memories from this unique place, you may buy paintings or books, and even music! An since St Petersburg underground is a vibrant and fashionable topic, people there will be pleased to inform you about its history.

«Pushkinskaya-10» Art-Center © Eva Delaunay
«Pushkinskaya-10» Art-Center

If you’re really fond of art and prefer to see real Russian art across all ages, then the State Russian museum was made for you.

 

Want to know more about Russia? Read more on our Travel Blog!

Want to book a guided-tour? Check out Tsar Visit!

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Top 5: Russian drinks

What do Russians drink? Vodka, and sometimes … more vodka! If you think so, then this top is for you! There is a big variety of drinks that can only be found in Russia and its neighbors or foreign drinks that Russians adopted. Some are quite good, some are … quite strange for those who are not used to it, but I will leave you the judge of it (as Russians say “for taste and colors there are no comrades”). So here are some of the most popular drinks you can ( and must ) experience in Russia.

  • vodka

Let’s start with the obvious one… Yes, vodka is the most appreciated strong alcohol in Russia, but there are way more interesting things to say about this drink (even if you don’t drink). First of all, “Vodka” comes from the Slavic word “Voda”  (water) and can be translated by “little water”. It started spreading in Russia and in eastern Europe in the 16th century. Vodka is usually obtained from the distillation of grain like wheat or rye, but you can also find some (few) from potatoes or even grapes. In Russia, it used to be quite common for people to make their own vodka called Samogon, but it’s dangerous because it can contain methanol and it is now forbidden.

There is also a legend saying that the great Russian scientist Mendeleïev is the “inventor of vodka” having proven scientifically that the perfect percentage of alcohol is 40°C. Unfortunately, this rule was introduced in Russia in 1843….. when Mendeleïev was 9, quite young to be interested in vodka, even for a Russian.

dreamstime_xl_53121203.jpg
Vodka usually comes with something to eat, here salted cucumbers
  • Kompot

The word “Kompot” comes from the French word “compote”, but that is the only French contribution to this beverage. It’s a very old way of conserving fruits that used to be called “ouzar” until the 18th century. It is obtained by boiling fresh or dry fruits in sugar water and served fresh. But Kompot is not specific to Russia, it’s a very popular drink in all central and eastern Europe. It is quite common to find glasses of kompot in every cafeteria or “stolovaya” in Russia.

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Kompot made with dry fruits
  • tea

Tea is not from Russia, but they like it for sure! If you ever work in Russia, you’ll experience the “tea break” (it’s basically a coffee break but you drink tea instead of coffee). When invited by Russians to their house they will probably offer you some tea with pastries. Nevertheless, Russians still have their own way to drink tea. Back in the day, the Samovar was very common, but its use declined with the arrival of modern electrical kettles. Nowadays, Russians usually prepare one very strong teapot that they can use during the whole day.  They pour a certain amount in the cup then dilute it with hot water. No need to wait for your cup to get cold then forgetting it, here you can control the temperature!

dreamstime_xl_41117484.jpg
The king of glass tea is served in Russian trains
  • Russian soda

Why is it here you might say? Soda is basically water, sugar, and bubbles with some taste… Well, in Russia they have some of the weirdest sodas I tasted in my life (Haven’t been to Japan thought but I heard it’s quite weird there too). Those tastes are the reflection of what Russians like. For example, you can find some cucumber taste soda! Having seen how much Russians love cucumbers I’m not surprised that they made it real. Another one quite interesting is a neon green soda perfumed with… Tarragon!! It was first thought of as a remedy against stomach ache by the Georgian pharmacist who invented it (maybe that why it taste like a medicine to me). There are so many other strange sodas in Russia that I don’t even know how to describe them, so I’ll just tell you to go and taste.

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A street vendor with different soda types (very colorful)
  • Kvass

Last but not least, Kvass! This might THE Russian drink. It is an ancient fermented beverage which origins come as far as the middle ages (and maybe even further). This traditional Slavic drink is usually obtained by the fermentation of rye bread in water and is comparable in some way to beer. It can also sometimes be flavored with fruits or berries. Homemade Kvass was (and is still in some ways) quite popular and the internet is full of receipts if you want to try it yourself.

During the Soviet Era, it was quite common to see Kvass vendors in the streets. The drink was then quite popular and cheap. When the Soviet Union collapsed, new sodas from the west arrived (we’re all living in America), but nowadays, Kvass is regaining popularity, and a very famous soda company from America (like very, very famous) created their own brand of kvass.

Funny thing, due to its low level of alcohol (around 0.7% to 1.2% usually, compared to around 9% for wine) Kvass is not concerned by the alcohol legislation in Russia!

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A glass of Kvass with rye bread, rye bread is very popular in Russia and known as black bread

Do you want to try those drinks? Then come to Russia and discover more of this country with your guide on Tsar Visit!

 

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Top 5: influential women in Russian history

Russia has a rich and complex history in which women have always played a significant role. Numerous Russian personalities (and sometimes foreigner ones) left a permanent mark on Russia. You may know some of them (or may not, I’m not here to judge), but just in case here are some of the most influential women of Russian history, let’s go!

  • Olga

Also known as Olga of Kiev, she was the regent of the Kiev principality. She started her reign by avenging the death of her husband Igor who was killed by the Drevlian tribe while collecting taxes ( Sweet vengeance). Baptised in Constantinople, she became a Christian in a kingdom that was mainly pagan at the time and tried to convert her son but without success. She is also the first woman saint of her country and is celebrated on the 11th of July (24th of July in Gregorian calendar).

Helga_Olgacredit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Sophia Alexeïevna

Sophia was a very intelligent and cultivated woman, she was probably as ambitious as she was smart (which is a good combo). When her brother Fedor died without an heir, a new Tsar had to be chosen, her brother Ivan was the rightful heir, but he was weak, many nobles preferred his (and her too) stepbrother Peter. Sophia disagreed, she used the streltsy (A Russian military corps) to impose her point of view and … two co-Tsars !!! Ivan and Peter. And of course, she was named regent for her brothers. She pursued in her brother’s politics of opening to the west and fought two wars against the Ottoman Empire (With not much success). Unfortunately for her, her step-brother Peter was no one else than Peter the Great. After a little less than ten years, Peter put an end to his sister’s carrier and made her retire in the Novodevichy Convent where she lived the rest of her life.

Sophia_Alekseyevna_by_anonim_(19_c.,_Hermitage)credit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Catherine II

This is certainly the best part, Catherine is by far my favorite Russian ruler of all time. Not only did she managed to get to the top power position as a woman in a world mainly dominated by men, but she was not even Russian, nor born in Russia.

Catherine was born of the minor nobility in Prussia, nowadays Germany. She got married to Peter (not the great unfortunately), heir of the Russian Empire, and quickly learned Russian and the Russian way of life, she also converted to Orthodoxy. When the tsarina Elisabeth I (You should also check her out) died, her son, Peter III (Catherine’s husband) took the throne. To be polite, he was not a well-appreciated ruler and Catherine, helped by officers of the guard, organized a coup ( and possibly had her husband killed). She then became Empress of all Russias until her death.

Her reign is full of military victories and art creation. She had a lot of talented counselors and was open to new ideas such as the enlightenment ( she used to converse with Voltaire).

Katharina-II-von-Russlandcredit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Anna Pavlova

Anna Pavlova was a Russian Prima Ballerina in the late 19th and early 20th century. Those who like ballet probably already know her and won’t learn much more than they already know here (really sorry guys). But for every body else, Anna Pavlova was one of, if not the, best ballet dancer. She learned from the best in St Petersburg where she danced in the famous Mariinsky theater. She then started an international career, leading her own dance company and she became the first ballerina to make a world tour with the choreography The dying swan. She inspired many other young artists with her performances.

Anna_Pavlova_as_the_Dying_Swancredit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova is the first woman in space. For those who will say that it was just propaganda… well, you are right, Soviet Union saw women in cosmos mainly as propaganda. But this shouldn’t cloud your judgment, she was chosen for a reason. During her training, she flew many times on Mig 15 fight aircraft and had courses on spacecraft engineering. She flew the 16th of June 1963, two years after the first human inhabited flight, she was 26 at the time. She is still the youngest female cosmonaut and the only female cosmonaut to fly alone. After her flight, she achieved a degree in engineering and she started a political career.

RIAN_archive_612748_Valentina_Tereshkovacredit: Wikimedia Commons

Let’s also remember that the Russian revolution was initiated the 8 of March 1917 (23 February in the Julian calendar) by a demonstration of women workers asking for bread. Women can change the course of history.

Want to discover more about these women? Book a guided tour on Tsar Visit!

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The Space Race

From 1957 to 1975 the United States and the Soviet Union fought a war without bullets (but still with deaths). It was the race for space, a competition not only for the control of space but a real clash between two ideologies. In less than 20 years, humanity was able to go out of its birthplace and dream of space conquest. Quite ironically, peace greatly slowed this race for the star. Let’s dive into this adventure made of heroes and engineers, “поехали!”(“let’s go”) like Gagarin said before the flight that made him famous.

Probably one the most exciting adventure of the XXst century. The Space race took place between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was a competition between Engineers and scientists of both sides, and it all started… from the military. Both countries were looking for new ways to send each other some nukes. Their research programs were inspired by the Germans V2 weapons of the Second World War (and they also “took” some of the German scientists wo made it to work on their respective project). Sending satellites was already in the boxes for a long time, but the cost of it was often dissuading (and they didn’t see any strategic advantages).

But it all changes the 4th of October 1957, in the newly built base of Baïkonur in nowadays Kazakhstan. The team of Korolev had been working on intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, and it’s using one of those that they launched the first artificial satellite from earth, Sputnik-1 (which means “companion” or “satellite”). The repercussion, both political and on the opinion, were colossal. The excitement of this success in the USSR was comparable to the deception felt in the USA. The first battle of this war was a Soviet victory. This first satellite had very basic instruments on-bor$ard, mainly to measure things like temperature or pressure.

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Copy of Sputnik-1 the first artificial satellite

The Soviet did it again one month later by sending the first being in orbit, Laika, a female dog. Unfortunately for her, this satellite was quickly made to celebrate the 40th birthday of the revolution, and she died, probably of heat due to some misconception, inside the satellite during the flight. Nevertheless, it showed that inhabited flight was possible. The following years the two superpowers invested massively in space exploration and both got several achievements.

On the 12th of April 1961, The USSR bit the USA a second time by sending the first human into space (and bringing him alive by the way). Youri Gagarin then became a national and international hero. The test pilot was chosen among several other pilots for… being small (1.60 m). And I still don’t know why they needed a pilot since he did more or less no piloting, everything was commanded from Baikonur. For the anecdote, he didn’t land with his capsule but was ejected 7 km above the earth and continued with a parachute. Becoming a hero in a few days, he was forbidden to fly, fearing he would die in a crash… Which he unfortunately did, he convinced his chef to let him flight again and die 7 years later in the crash of his Mig-15.

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From left to right Pavel Popovitch, Youri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova (first woman in space)

Did you know? There are two different words to designate people traveling in space in Russian and in English, respectively cosmonaut and astronaut (and now way for Europeans, Chinese and Indians). It’s the only work that uses different terms depending on the nationality of the person. Ironic considering that space is literally borderless.

Death is also a part of this race. You already know Laika, the first animal to go to space, many other dogs died for space exploration. And in 1967, for the first inhabited flight of the Soyuz spacecraft (further versions of this spacecraft are still used to service the International Space Station), it had a problem while re-entering the atmosphere and crashed at full speed, killing the Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. He is the human to die during a space mission. One of the reasons for this tragedy is the haste of the Soviets in order to stay ahead of the Americans.

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Soyuz 19, during the Apollo-Soyuz mission, Spacecraft from Soyuz family are still used today

The first real failure for the Soviet Union happened when Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon. The success of the Apollo mission was a kind of revenge for Sputnik. Nevertheless, the race continued, and after the first man on the moon, the Soviet sent the first robot (and the expertise gained will then be used in other circumstances, especially during the Chernobyl catastrophe). They also launched the first orbital station “Salyut 1”, which paved the way to the International Space Station.

The “Space Race” officially ends in July 1975 with the Apollo-Soyuz mission. A co-joined mission of the two great powers, two spaceships, one American and the other Soviet, docked in space. The crews exchanged gifts and visited each others spacecraft. They conducted scientific experiments and spoke in each other language.

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From left to right: the Americans Slayton, Stafford et Brand, and the Soviets Leonov et Kubasov

With the success of the co-joint mission started a kind of cooperation (they were still enemies, but a bit less). During this time, new space powers emerge such as Europe (European in space are called Spacionauts) or China (Chinese in space are called Taikonaut). If you want to learn more about all those great deeds and way more, you should visit the Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow, there you can find different reproductions of satellites and rockets and even a real size Soyuz spacecraft!

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Cultural Fact

Rasputin

Before being this good song by Boney M, Rasputin was a man, a priest, a healer, a prophet… or a sinner, a charlatan, a liar, a spy… In a good or in a bad way, he always made a very strong impression on the people he met (especially the ladies of the court apparently). Adored by the imperial family, hated both by the nobility and the Soviet regime, this character is still fascinating nowadays. Have you ever wondered who was this man? How did he become so famous that he got his own song? So put on your headphones and listen to it while I tell you the story (and legend) of ‘The Mad Monk’ Rasputin.

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A Photo of Grigori Rasputin (source: Wikicommons)

Grigori Efimovitch Rasputin is probably born around the year 1869 in Pokrovskoye, a small town in Siberia. He got interested in the Bible very early, and he made several pilgrimages. He was known for having some mystical powers such as prediction but most importantly a healing gift.

This gift brought him to St Petersburg. The Tsarevitch Alexei is hemophiliac (a blood illness that can make any bleeding mortal) and in this time, doctors were powerless against this illness. Introduced to the family by nobles he met during his pilgrimages, he was able to calm the Tsarevitch pain after he got hurt. It impresses the imperial family so much that they decided to keep the monk with them since he seemed to be the only one able to calm their son’s pain. His “powers” were probably a mix between his extraordinary charisma and … defying the doctors by preventing the patient to take aspirin an anticoagulant (they didn’t know it then) making the disease even worse. Progresses were made till then so if you are hemophiliac no need for a strange Siberian monk!

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Nicolas II, his wife Alexandra Fedorovna, their 5 children (source: Wikicommons)

Rasputin became a very important counselor of the imperial family and an attraction for the capital’s elite (especially with women ). This charismatic character really made an impression on everyone he met, his eyes were said to be fascinating and even hypnotizing. His political views, pleading for peace, and its… let’s say… quite immoral behavior, made him many enemies amongst the nobility. After the start of the first World War he was seen as a danger for Russia as well as the Tsarina who had German origins.

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Another photo of Grigori Rasputin (source: Wikicommons)

 

His death is certainly the most controversial part of his story. It’s hard to know where the legend starts. He was killed by a conspiracy of monarchists who disliked the influence he had on the Tsar and feared he would bring him to make peace with Germany. Felix Yusupov, one of the richest noble of St Petersburg, invited him to his Palace (by the way you can visit it with a guide just here). He was given poisoned food and wine but it did not seem to affect him, they hence shot him. Seeing that the monk was still not dead, they beat him up, shot him several times (again), wrapped him into some piece of clothes to throw him into the river. His body was found a few days later, a doctor who examined the body claimed that he didn’t die because of the poison nor the gunshot but by drowning (Russian Die Hard).

As cool and incredible this story is, it is probably false. The doctor who gave the poison later said he gave some harmless product because he had remorses. The doctor who examined the body also remade his statement saying that most of the contusions and wounds were made post-mortem (meaning he was already dead when they threw him into the river).

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Caricature of an “Evil” Rasputin – 1916 (Source: Wikicommons)

 

Another very important part of his legend is the letter he wrote and in which he predicted his death, and with it the death of the imperial family within two years!!! (he died in 1916 and the imperial family was killed in 1918 in Ekaterinburg) This is another mystical stuff but let’s focus on the most important… he may not have written it!!! Again? you would say. So what’s the point with this guy if nothing is true? I’ll answer you that it’s how a legend works, no one knows the truth, but it could be true.

With the fall of the monarchy and the rise to power of the Bolsheviks, Rasputin was used as the symbol of the moral decay of the Tsars. They greatly participated in the edification of the myth of the “mad monk”.

 

Now that you know more about this central character of Russian history why not come to Russia and visit the places he has been! Book your guided tour on Tsar Visit!

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Top 5: Key historical figures of Russia

Every country has its great figures. Characters who will live through centuries and still leave a mark in everyone’s spirit. Even though the vision of their deeds can evolve with time, they still live in our memory. Russian is not an exception and also has its historical figures that all Russians know about (or at least should). Do you know some of them?

  • Ivan IV

Also called Ivan the Terrible, even if most Russians will tell you it’s a bad translation (trust me on this don’t even try to argue with them about it). But apart from being quite cruel, like enjoying watching his enemies being tortured, Ivan was a great reformer. By great I mean he tried things, even though it wasn’t eventually successful all the time.

To do his reforms, he needed power. It might be surprising, but even within a monarchy, there were counter powers (mainly nobility and the clergy). So he did something… Special! He simply left Moscow, with a letter saying he would come back only if he could do want he wanted, without being contradicted. And you know the funny part? It actually worked! And so, he did what he wanted, he created a state police called the Oprichnina. The idea was not that stupid, creating an army with lands to finance it and which only answers to the Tsar. But Ivan used it mainly as a way to persecute all the people he thought were his enemy, basically everybody with some power. They were finally disbanded during his reign after they failed to protect against the Crimean Tartars and the Tsar lost faith in their effectiveness.

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Ivan The terrible kills his son Ivan on November 16, 1581 – Ilia Repine (1885)

After his death, a very serious succession crisis happened, his children dying without heirs. The time of troubles, as it’s known, was a real mess of kings, false kings, treasons… If you liked Game of Thrones you will like it!

  • Peter The Great

Just by the name, you know this guy did something extraordinary. Indeed, he was quite the guy, who started his career as a Tsar he ended up as an emperor. He is the one who modernized Russia to make it become a great power, gave it a Navy and created a city that bears his name and is one of the biggest and most beautiful city of Russia, St Petersburg.

Born from the second wife of his father, he started as a co-Tsar with his brother Ivan V. He was the favorite of the Russian nobles but his stepsister Sophia didn’t agree with that. She had both of them crowned and took power as the regent. Peter grew up in a village near Moscow where he liked to play war games with real regiments. That regiment will become the core of its guard that helped him taking power from his sister.

He formed an embassy and went to all the European countries to form alliances and study the way of life, science, culture… He even worked incognito in a shipyard to learn about shipbuilding. His embassy was shortened by a revolt of the Streltsy, a Russian military corps that previously allied with his sister

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Morning of Execution of Streltsy – Vasily Surikov (1881)

Nevertheless, his reign was also brutal and bloody. He fought for twenty years in the great northern war against the very talented Swedish King Charles XII (but defeated him in the end, he is still Peter the Great), the construction of his new capital cost hundreds of thousands of workers’ life, had to fight different revolts and maybe the worst, had his own son beaten to death because he disagreed with his father’s new ideas. His modernization effort often met resistance that he would drown in blood.

  •   Alexander Pushkin

Considered by many as the greatest Russian poet (or at least one of the best). Alexander Pushkin is also known to be the father of modern Russian. Combining elements from the Grammar written by Lomonosov and the old Slavonic language, mainly used during Religious ceremonies, he also added different loan words, words taken from other languages. With his novels, he popularized the use of this way of speaking and also gave some of the most beautiful pieces of art, like the novel Eugene Oneguine, later adapted into an opera. Russian language evolved and is still evolving, but he is the one who was able to unite the different influences of Russian and built the base of the modern Russian language.

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Portrait of Alexander Pushkin – Vassily Tropinin (1827)

His grandfather was Abraham Petrovich Hannibal, an African slave bought as a child by Peter the Great (remember him?) and raised as a noble. He occupied several important positions like governor of Tallinn.

  • Lenin and Stalin

Not to be mistaken with Lenon and Stalone… Badam Tsum! (Please don’t judge me on this joke). Let’s cut the joke, those two really had a very (very, very) big impact on Russia, describing here all they did and their consequences would take us hours if not days! I suppose most of you already know more or less who they are and what they did. So I’ll tell you about what is left of them, especially how they are seen by Russians nowadays.

What I know, is that Russians are very divided on the matter. Some see them as cruel monsters who destroyed and killed for an ideology, other as savors who did what was necessary to save and transform Russia. You might think that only elderly people, the ones who grew under the Soviet regime, are the most enthusiast about USSR. Well, it’s kind of true, but not only, I personally met a student who claimed to be a Stalinist, it’s quite surprising I have to say. Even if there are very few statues of Stalin (they were all taken down during Khrutchev period) you can still see his face on some flags. He is still a strong symbol of hope for some people. As for Lenin, it’s a bit different, there are still many statues of Lenin in different towns in Russia and sometimes in the former Soviet Union. By the way, you can still see his mummy in its mausoleum on the Red Square (for free). I think it’s the sign that Russians aren’t completely done with this part of their past.

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Stalin, Lenin, and Kalinin – Modified photo from the VIII Congress of the Russian Communist party in 1919

 

  • Andreï Sakharov

Last but not least, Andreï Dmitrievitch Sakharov, a Russian great physicist that worked for the Soviet Nuclear program and was awarded a Nobel Peace price! Yes, you read it well, a Nobel PEACE price! But how? Don’t worry, I will tell you :).

Probably one of the greatest physicists of his time, Sakharov is one of the inventor of different civil Thermonuclear devices (for example the Tokamak system, still used today for the fusion reactor project ITER). He also worked in the military sphere, with his team they designed the most powerful bomb to ever detonate on earth (Tsar Bomba). He then started to realize the threat of the nuclear arms race. He began to criticise the government politics and wrote essays that were often distributed illegally. In the same time, he continued to work on problems about physics especially cosmology, and enounce the “Sakharov conditions” to explain the unbalance between matter and anti-matter (Quantum physics and stuff). But it is his activities as a Human-right activist and standing against the Soviet power led him to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. After protesting against the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan he was arrested and sent to exiled (he avoided Gulag due to his academician status).

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Graffiti on Berlin’s wall “Thank you Andrei Sakharov” – Photo: Joachim Thurn
Source: Bundesarchiv

His exile ended with the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachov and his political reforms (Glasnost and Perestroika). Sakharov then started his political career and became one of the leaders of the democratic opposition. He continued to fight for Human-Rights until his unexpected death in 1989.

 

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