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BY REASON RUSSIA CAN'T BE GOT...
These words were uttered by Fyodor Tutchev, a Russian poet, in the 19th century; but you could rather agree with him even today. Russia is inscrutable. She may only be sensed. But for that you should come into Russia, see Russia, travel around Russia...
Our country is huge, her area is more than 17,000,000 square kilometers. It's not so simple to imagine this sort of dimensions, especially for Europeans. Mornings in the East, on the peninsula of Chukotka, start nine hours earlier than in Moscow. A railroad journey from the western borders to the Pacific Ocean coast takes about a week, and by air - ten hours. During the flight your plane will pass above tundra and taiga, steppes and deserts. The nature in Russia is wonderful, in many cases unique. That is why there are 25 national parks and 84 reserves in the country. More than half of the country's territory is occupied by forests. The birch is seen as the most romantic tree in Russia and has become in a way her symbol.
There are about 150 million people in the country, 13 towns and cities with more than a million inhabitants - the largest of which are Moscow and St Petersburg. 80 per cent of the whole population is ethnic Russians (Slavs). More than a hundred different peoples or ethnic groups speak their own languages, but everybody knows Russian as well. 60% of Russians are atheists. Most believers are Orthodox Christians.
Just in Russia flows the largest river in Europe - Volga. But it is by far inferior to many Siberian rivers: the Ob, Yenisey, Lena, Amur. Staying in Russia you can visit the largest lake in the world - Caspian. The water in it is salty and it is called a sea, despite the fact that it is not connected with the World Ocean. The deepest freshwater lake is also in Russia - the famous lake of Baikal. And the highest mountain of Europe is in Russia, in the Caucasus.
Russia is the coldest country in the world; in most regions a winter lasts for four-five months, and in the North - ten. Even in Moscow, which is situated in the middle belt, frosts about 30 degrees are rather frequent. That is why Russians wear famous fur hats called "ushanka" protecting one's ears ("ushi"); foreign tourists gladly buy these hats as souvenirs. For the majority of the guests from abroad, huge snowdrifts in the streets of Russian towns seem a sort of exotics: they have only seen such quantities of snow at mountain-skiing resorts. But for the Russian their severe climate is a problem, a very serious one even if habitual: Much effort and money is spent on heating houses and stripping streets and roads of ice and snow, and one must have a lot of warm clothes. But the summer in most of Russia is amiable - warm and sunny.
Foreigners sometimes repeat an old joke: there are no roads in Russia - only directions. Sure, there are territories in our boundless country where you will not see not only any roads but even population. Even though very much has been changing recently in the settled regions - roads have been or are being built - gigantic distances can still be felt. For example, letters might travel for weeks; and even the Express-Post works not so fast as in Europe.
Foreigners have lots of wrong stereotypes about Russian life. Maybe they have been started by the French novelist Alexander Dumas-Senior who happened to travel about Russia. In one of his books, the author of the Three Musketeers described how he had had a rest "under a branchy cranberry-plant ". It's not clear how he managed to crawl under it, since it is not a tree but a tiny bush and grows only on marshes. Since those old days, "branchy cranberry" has formidably established itself in the Russian language as a synonym for incompetence and superficiality of judgment.
It is hardly worth saying today that contemporary life in Russia has very little to do with playing the balalaika amidst matrioshkas and samovars, or wild rushing in sleighs driven by troika (three horses harnessed abreast) along the streets where bears supposedly wander. All these stories are just myths for naive tourists. Especially much is told about Russian hard drinking. Well, undiluted vodka - chilled but without ice - has been a favourite alcoholic drink in Russia since times immemorial; but it can be explained by our severe climate: having been frozen in winter, you will have such a drink as gladly as we do. And though the Russian do know how to go on the spree, there is an old proverb: "Drink you may - but don't forget your business".
The Russian are a reading nation. Foreigners get very surprised when they see passengers having books in their hands in the metro or a trolleybus. There are always lots of people in bookshops and around book stales in the streets. But foreign languages are still badly known in Russia - an aftermath of the closed Soviet society during the totalitarian years. Certainly, the young generation is actively mastering languages, especially English, but you will hardly be able communicate with older people in any other language but Russian.
The most widespread Russian surnames are Kuznetsov, Ivanov, Petrov, Smirnov and Popov. First names - Elena and Alexey. There are more women in Russia than men. Russian brides are famous in the whole world not only for their looks but also for their household skills. Many foreigners come to Russia with the special aim of finding beautiful Slav wives and taking them away to their homes.
"The Russian harness slowly, but they ride fast." It's interesting to mention that these words, characterizing the Russian style pretty accurately, were said by the prominent German politician Otto von Bismark about one hundred and fifty years ago. The Russian are a talented nation. We are proud of our famous fellow-countrymen. Russia gave the world Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov. Five Russian authors - Bunin, Sholokhov, Pasternak, Solzhenitsin and Brodsky - were awarded with the Nobel Prize in literature. The music by Russian composers is played throughout the world - Chaikovsky, Rakhmaninov, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Shnitke... Malevich and Kandinsky - representatives of so called Russian avant-guard - became famous for their innovations in painting.
Discoveries and achievements by Russian scientists in chemistry, nuclear physics and aviation - it's common knowledge. Some invention priorities are regarded in Russia in a way different from the generally accepted. For example, foreigners get genuinely surprised when they learn that Russians consider themselves inventors of the first steam locomotive, electric-bulb or radio. Nevertheless, there are lots of things where Russian priorities are of no doubt.
In 1961, Russia (then the USSR) first sent a man into the space. Russian tanks, battle air-crafts and famous Kalashnikov tommy-guns are definitely the best in the world; as well as the Russian classical ballet is. The names of Anna Pavlova, Galina Ulanova, Maya Plisetskaya, Rudolf Nuriev and Mikhail Baryshnikov are known to each and every educated person. As obvious are the achievements of Russia in sports: traditionally high places in team scores at the Olympic Games, world records and titles of our swimmers, weight-lifters, gymnasts, figure-skaters... Among the world champions in chess there are more Russians than all the others altogether.
In this edition, we only tell about a few cities or areas, which could be of interest for guests from abroad. Actually, there are boundless opportunities for recreation in our country: lots of places to go to and lots of sights to see. Recently, the appearance of many towns, monuments and museum exhibitions has changed beyond recognition. In the Volga cities of Kazan' or Samara, in the northern ones of Pskov or Novgorod-the-Great, in small towns of Suzdal', Torzhok, Velikiy Ust'ug, Izborsk or Myshkin - everywhere you will find cathedrals reconstructed, historical centres renovated and new objects of note built.
And Russia is a real gift for an adventurer. No other country will show you such a great variety of reserved nature, or an animal that has never heard a shot, or so many different peoples with their peculiar culture and traditions. Kamchatka, Baikal, the Sayan mountains, the Volga delta, the Russian North... But after all there are also tours to the North Pole, and to the Commodore Islands, and to the mysterious tableland Putorana in the catchment basin of the Lower Tunguska in Siberia...
And all this land - great, boundless, beautiful and incomparable - is our Russia. Just Russia.
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