How do foreigners spend their summer in Russia? Let’s listen to the story of Elliot Emery, an expat living in Moscow.
Elliot Emery is a British expat with a passion for all things Russia. He has been living in Moscow since January 2019 where he currently works as an English teacher. He has written about his experiences in his debut book titled “Why are you going there?” (Stories of an English Teacher in Russia).
This past summer I had high hopes of seeing more of Russia, the country I have made my home since January 2019. And then Coronavirus struck. Instead, I spent the majority of my summer in Moscow sat in my small hot kitchen behind a screen teaching English. However, last summer, long before the phrase ‘social distancing’ entered our vocabulary I found myself travelling around Russia. I visited two places in particular: the northern region of Karelia as well as the former closed city of Nizhny Novgorod. With this year already drawing to an end, I thought I’d write a brief guide to these two regions to give you some travel inspiration for next year. After all, it’s never too early to plan your next holiday.
KARELIA: RUSSIA’S BEAUTIFUL NORTH
After a ‘relaxing’ (read exhausting) two weeks in Cyprus on a summer camp with dozens of Russian children, I returned to Russia to continue my summer. First stop: Petrozavodsk. This city is the capital of the stunning republic of Karelia. Located near the Finnish border, this region is well known for its breathtaking nature and it did not disappoint. After an overnight train from Moscow, I eventually arrived in the city of Petrozavodsk the following morning. Despite being slightly groggy after only getting a few hours sleep, it was hard to be grumpy with the sun shining down on me and the region’s fresh air in my lungs.
Where to Stay
Staying there for a total of three weeks, I opted for a small, modern AirnBnb apartment within a stone’s through of the central train station. It was very affordable at around 30,000 roubles for the entire three weeks and came equipped with all mod-cons, including its own boiler! (This is important as in Russia every summer the hot water is switched off in apartments for around ten days for cleaning. Having my own boiler I avoided the dread of cold showers).
However, if you are looking for a little more service then I would recommend the Hotel Piter Inn (formerly Park Inn) which is conveniently located opposite the train station on Gargarin Square.
What to See and Do
For the first day or two I recommend simply walking around the city. Petrozavodsk is not a large city and so it is easy to navigate on foot. Walk down the main street (Prospekt Lenina) from the train station and you will be greeted with the breathtaking sight of Lake Onega (the second largest lake in Europe).
After exploring the local sights I would highly recommend a day trip to two places: Ruskeala Mountain Park and the island of Valaam. Both of which are equally beautiful. Ruskeala is a mountain park which is known for its stunning marble canyon which is filled with emerald green water.
Next, there is Valaam, an island located in Lake Ladoga (the largest lake in Europe). Valaam is a stunning historical island known for its fourteenth-century monastery and offers breathtaking views. A must visit.
Both Ruskeala and Valaam are difficult to access independently. I booked an affordable 12-hour excursion: a combined tour of Valaam and Ruskeala costs 6,500 roubles.
Compared to Moscow, eating out in Petrozavodsk is very affordable and there are plenty of options. There is something for every palate. If you fancy a good quality burger then I highly recommend ‘The Kitchen‘ which is located on Prospekt Lenina not far from Lake Onega.
Alternatively, if you fancy some healthier but equally delicious pan-Asian cuisine, make sure to visit FUSION.
Last but not least, you cannot leave Karelia without having tried the local delicacy: Karelian pastries. A pastry made from potato skin and filled with mashed potatoes. Try these at the delightful Stolovaya Number 8: Pervomayskiy Prospekt, 31, Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia, 185001
NIZHNY NOVGOROD: A FORMER CLOSED CITY NOW OPEN FOR BUSINESS
The next stop on my summer tour was the former closed city of Nizhny Novgorod. During the times of the Soviet Union, this city was known as ‘Gorky’ after the famous Russian writer Maxim Gorky who was born there. A centre of military research and production, the city was closed to foreigners until the fall of the Soviet Union. Now, Nizhny Novgorod is best known for its ancient Kremlin and as the meeting point of the Volga and Oka rivers.
Where to Stay
During my time in Nizhny Novgorod I actually stayed in a university dormitory as I was attending a Russian Language Summer School at a local university. However, unless you are a fan of cockroaches and strict babushkas (a ‘babushka is a term for an elderly woman in Russia), I would not recommend this. Instead, I would recommend the multitude of apartments available on AirBnb (aim for something close to the main high street of Bolshaya Pokrovskaya). Alternatively, there are many good quality hotels in the city.
What to See and Do
Although Nizhny is much larger than Petrozavodsk it is still a city that is best explored on foot. However, if you do get tired there is a great bus service and even a metro system. Firstly, I would recommend a stroll down the main high street of Bolshaya Pokrovskaya which is full of delightful cafes and restaurants. If you walk to the end of this gigantic street you will be led to the majestic Kremlin with its ancient red walls. The Kremlin is the main tourist attraction in Nizhny and I would highly recommend an excursion to learn more. Inside the Kremlin you will also be greeted with a spectacular view of the river Volga, Europe’s largest river.
Also, whilst at the Kremlin, make sure to pay a visit to the Kremlin Arsenal. This centre of contemporary art hosts many wonderful and fascinating exhibitions throughout the year.
Once you have done all of the above (and assuming you have time left over), I highly recommend a trip on the cable car which will take you across the Volga from Nizhny to the charming little town of Bor. Aside from a beautiful church, there is not a lot to see in Bor but it makes a pleasant afternoon stroll away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Tickets cost as little as 100 roubles.
Nizhny is home to a plethora of wonderful restaurants, cafes and bars, many of which are located on the main street of Bolshaya Pokrovskaya. Yet, some of the city’s best restaurants can actually be found on Rozhdestvenskaya Street (‘Christmas Street’) which is located a stone’s throw away from the river embankment.
For those with a liking for fish, I recommend the restaurant “Seledka and Coffee“. This intimate restaurant/ bar has a great menu with plenty of options.
Top Tip: If planning on visiting “Seledka and Coffee” on a Friday or Saturday night, I recommend reserving a table as it can get very crowded.
Another good option with an extensive menu and outdoor terrace in summer is the nearby restaurant of ‘Skoba‘.
• Read Elliot Emery’s debut book “Why are you going there?” (Stories of an English teacher in Russia). The book is now available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
• Useful services for planning your trip across Russia