Republic of Karelia
Best known for its cosmopolitan capital Petrozavodsk and the fairy-tale island of Kizhi, the Republic of Karelia (Республика Карелия) is also renowned for its natural attractions. Heavily blanketed by evergreen forests, the region claims Europe’s two biggest lakes, Ladoga and Onega, within its borders. Two useful websites for visitors to Karelia are http://culture.karelia.
Set on a bay on vast Lake Onega, Petrozavodsk is the launching point for summer visits to two of the region's biggest attractions: Kizhi Island and Valaam Monastery. The name (‘Peter’s factory’) refers to a munitions plant founded here by Peter the Great in 1703, superseded 70 years later by the Alexandrovskiy Ironworks (still standing).
Gem rush, miners’ mythology, the execution of the Romanovs, the rise of Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, and legendary gangster feuds of the 1990s – Yekaterinburg is not only Russia's forth-largest city, it is like a piece of conceptual art with a fascinating historical sub-text.
Once crusty and impersonal, Russia's third largest city has embraced its status as capital of Siberia and opened its doors to the world. A slew of quirky museums and monuments, a relaxed big-city vibe, a pulsating nightlife and a wealth of great accommodation at both the high and low ends make Novosibirsk a logical and worthwhile Trans-Siberian pitstop.
Having taken Moscow’s side against all comers seemingly from its inception, Vologda was rewarded by Ivan the Terrible, who considered the quaint city perhaps worthy of his presence there – Vologdians remain steadfast in their belief that the city was a contender for Russian capital.
Most visitors to the Russian Caucasus have their sights set firmly on the awesome Greater Caucasus mountains, in the central Caucasus (Центральный Кавказ), Europe’s highest peaks by a considerable margin. There are 200 peaks over 4000m, 30 over 4500m and seven over 5000m, including the granddaddy, Mt Elbrus (5642m).
Kazan (meaning a cooking pot in Tatar) is the Istanbul of the Volga, a place where Europe and Asia curiously inspect each other from the tops of church belfries and minarets. It is about 150 years older than Moscow and the capital of the Tatarstan Republic (Республика Татарстан) – the land of the Volga Tatars, a Turkic people commonly associated with Chinggis Khaan’s hordes.
The Golden Ring comes with a diamond and that’s Suzdal. If you have only one place to visit near Moscow, come here – even though everyone else will do the same. In 1864, local merchants failed to coerce the government into building the Trans-Siberian Railway through their town. Instead it went through Vladimir, 35km away.