Introducing Veliky Ustyug
The fate of this provincial town 350km east of Vologda changed forever in 1998, when (for obscure reasons) Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov declared Veliky Ustyug to be the official home of Ded Moroz, gave the town a large sum of money, and said 'Make it so'. Ded Moroz translates as Father Frost, and he's the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus.
The town itself does often look like a children's storybook, especially when covered in snow. It's a trek from Vologda, but if you have a couple of days spare and would like to experience an old-fashioned Russian country town, laced with a shot of Father Frost kitsch, it will be fun.
Veliky Ustyug is set on the northeast bank of the Sukhona River, which meets the Yug at the southeast end of town to form the Severnaya Dvina. The town has a history of terrible springtime floods, when the frozen rivers start to melt and large chunks of ice coagulate at the confluence, forming a natural and disastrous dam.