Closed to conventional travelers until only recently, a Russia cruise offers access to a land that is home to a culture that has been largely undiscovered by modern day tourism. With the dissolution of the USSR and its communist concept of uniformity, Russians are now attempting a return to the previous centuries’ rich cultural heritage and traditions. The arts and literature are flourishing once again, and this re-awakening of their cultural roots is encouraging Russians to a re-establish their traditional heritage.
Commonly known by foreigners for being the coldest country in the world, many travelers are leery about a cruise to this great land. Many travelers, however, forget to take into account the climate variations that such a huge land mass can provide. The city of Sochi is a popular destination known for its beaches, and the areas along the Baltic and Caspian Sea coastlines offer a more Mediterranean Climate for vacationers. Yalta and Sevastopol are also well known vacationing spots, and the metropolitan areas of St. Petersburg and Moscow offer the tourist a glimpse at the vast historical legacy of this country. With the Kremlin’s collections, the Bolshoi Theatre, and the Hermitage and Russian Museums, tourists have plenty of opportunities to experience the local culture and inherited traditions. While westerners tend to stay mostly in the western cities, many little towns with old castles scattered through the countryside also offer a treat to those who venture out.
A Russia cruise offers a taste of the local cuisine: famous for its vodka and other foods such as caviar, borscht, and shashlik, the food in Russia is possibly the most widespread cuisine internationally. The imperial buildings and cathedrals of old Russia are truly unique architectural works of art, and colorful markets draw in travelers and citizens alike. Within the large expanse of Russia’s borders, the landscape offers spectacular views of towering mountains and volcanoes, rivers and forests bursting with wildlife, and the largest freshwater lake in the world. For those desiring a peek at the remainder of the taiga ecosystems in Russia, the Kamchatka Peninsula is largely untouched by humans and houses some of the last remaining wild large carnivores on the continent.
A number of obstacles still exist to the foreign tourist, including an outdated and sometimes costly visa system. Hotels are not abundant, often making those available in the city very expensive. Travelers on a tour of Russia will need to come prepared to meet these challenges, which while inconvenient, are a small price to pay to explore this remarkable country.
While relatively versed in country’s modern-day history, very few visitors who travel to Russia are familiar with the ancient history that has significantly shaped Russia’s traditional culture. Historically, the area known as current-day Russia was primarily inhabited by disunited tribes. This region was familiar with invasion by multiple ethnic groups including Goths, Huns, Turks, Iranians, and Scandinavians. In the 8th century, the capital Slavic city was overtaken by a Scandinavian group, the Varangians. Slowly, these two cultures were assimilated together. This dynasty lasted for many centuries, during which the term “Rhos” or “Russ” was first applied, and the people became affiliated with the Orthodox Church. During the 10th and 11th centuries, the state of Kievan Rus prospered and diversified trade with both Europe and Asia.
Following this era, the nomadic Turkish people that conquered southern Russia were overrun by eastern invaders and Mongols. These invaders ruled the south and central regions of present-day Russia, but the western areas were largely assimilated into Lithuania and Poland. The break up of the Kievan Rus state divided the Russian people into many smaller groups whom then remained under predominantly nomadic rule. This stunted the country’s economic and social growth. Russia, however, was still able to organize its own war of reconquest, and finally conquered its enemies and took their territories under Russian control. Russia remained the only functional Christian state on the Eastern European belt, and therefore claimed the succession to the Eastern Roman Empire.
Russia continued to battle against nomadic tribes. Suffering capture, Russians were sold on Crimean slave markets. Every year thousands of Russians were victimized by nomad attacks, despite the tens of thousand of soldiers protecting the southern borderland. Setting a goal to regain all Russian territories lost to the Mongolian invasion, the manor system was created giving noblemen a manor in exchanged for obligation to serve in the army. Travel in Russia offers a look at the countryside that still bears memory to the feudal system. Ivan the Great, the grand duke of all the Russias, consolidated many surrounding areas under Moscow’s control. His grandson, Ivan the Terrible, was the first officially crowned Tsar of Russia in 1547. The 16th and 17th centuries brought established settlements in Siberia, the discovery of the strait between America and Asia, and the birth of an expansive Russian Empire. The Romanov Dynasty, beginning with Tsar Michael Romanov in 1613, gained control of the nation. Peter the Great, a Romanov, ruled from 1689-1725. He is responsible for bringing economic ideas and culture from Western Europe and implementing them into Russian society. Catherine the Great continued this effort, and helped establish Russia as a leading international power on equal footing with Britain, France and Germany from 1762-1796. She helped expand Russia’s borders, taking territories that were previously apart of the Kievan Rus boundaries.
Russian, taking on the War of Polish Succession and the Seven Years War after the rule of Peter the Great, established itself as a major European Power. In 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia and, after grueling battles and some successes, was forced to retreat with only 10% of its initial invading forces surviving the Russian army and winter cold. Russia fought the War of 1877-1878 and helped establish independence for the countries of Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire. The scars of the country’s many battles can still be visited during Russia travel, they are found throughout Russia’s most sought after historical cities. Peasant unrest and suppression along with a growing liberal political movement made the Romanov dynasty unstable under the rule of Tsar Nicholas II. With the onset of WWI, rioting broke out in major Russian Empire cities leading to the Russian Revolution and the overthrow of the Romanovs in 1917. At the close of this revolt, the Bolsheviks claimed power in St. Petersburg and Moscow under Vladimir Lenin, a Marxist politician. The Bolsheviks established themselves as the Communist Party, created the Red Army, and triumphed over the anti-socialist monarchist and bourgeois in civil war. From this victory, the Soviet Union was formed in 1922.
Russia’s culture is a blended variety, influenced by the multiple nationalities that have played a role in the region’s past. Historically the culture has been dominated by the Russian nationality, language, and religion. This is partly because Russians make up the majority of the region’s population, and partially due to the periods of Russification, or the adoption of Russian politics, culture, and language whether voluntarily or not. The Soviet Union created a politically motivated desire to create a “Soviet culture” exemplified by Socialist Realism. On the flip side, however, spontaneous periods of campaigning to preserve other ethnic cultures within the borders of the country were advocated and during certain periods officially supported. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the country has begun to experience a reviving interest in Russia’s pre-Soviet heritage. Many desire to regain the ancient Russian heritage, and return the character of ancient cities to the great Russian writers and artists who helped establish them. In addition, curiosity in Russia’s great history and legendary rulers of the past has risen among citizens and visitors alike.
Religion and People
Russian Orthodox religion has been the dominant national choice, predominantly among those of Russian descent who comprise roughly 80% of the nation’s populous. The remaining 20% is composed of over 160 different ethnic groups, living within their respective compacted regions, and practicing various religious traditions. Among those of Turkish descent, Islam is the most popular. Neo-paganism is steadily increasing in popularity, particularly among the Slavic people. Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Buddhism, and various protestant faiths also make a showing in the culture. During a Russia cruise you are likely to run into a variety of languages and dialects; while Russian is the official language, many individual republics have made their native languages official along with Russian.
Delight in Russian art and architecture is further enhanced by understanding the rich tradition and culture that birthed it. The tradition of icon painting, inherited by the Byzantium, became the subject of controversy during the 8th and 9th centuries regarding whether they were a legitimate form of expression or sacrilegious idolatry. Allowed to continue, the art form style began to morph away from being a pictorial depiction of reality, and towards becoming art designed to encourage spiritual contemplation. A cruise to Russia allows the opportunity to view the stylistic difference between the two. It is particularly evident when comparing Russian iconic art with that from the Western countries. During the 14th century, icon painting in Russia began to display more subjectivity and personal expression intending to convey meditative harmony rather than a realistic scene. The lines and figures are arranged and balanced to move your eye around, giving you a sense that the figures are possibly haunting you. Intending to inspire self-examination, taking more time with a few pieces will allow the traveler the opportunity to gain an appreciation for this unique style of expression.
During the 17th and 18th centuries Russian art succumbed to the influences of European culture. A break away from the classical tradition at the end of the 19th century gave birth to the modern art movement. Showing interest in daily and urban aspects of Russian life, artists used brilliant colors and sharp lines and forms to convey a sense of energy of the emerging modern world. The Bolshevik regime, established in 1917, propelled and supplemented this push towards modernization. Be sure to tour the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, which boasts the finest collection of work, only recently receiving notable attention for the great works displayed.
Predominantly inspired by religious tradition, Russian churches for centuries were the only buildings allowed to be made of stone, and today are the only buildings remaining from the ancient past. Characterized by high walls and ceilings, sharply sloped roofs and multiple domes (particularly onion shaped), the design styles for these buildings emerged around the 11th century. The first hint of foreign architectural influence emerged with Moscow’s Assumption Cathedral, completed in 1479. Synthesizing many traditional Russian architectural styles, this marked an emergence of classical influence of the Italian Renaissance as well. Future Tsars began to design cities and buildings around prevailing European styles, hiring foreign artists and completing St. Petersburg in a thoroughly European design. Joining in the visual arts revival, architecture began to turn back to a traditionally Russian form in the 19th century. Under the Bolshevik era, many Russians were commissioned to design major buildings, but with the Stalin era, architecture enjoyed only skyscraper additions to their cities. In recent years however, and a renewed interest in Russian culture, modest folk architecture, has become a more treasured monument. Displays include the outdoor architectural museum in Kostroma.
There are plenty of opportunities to explore the local culture during a Russia cruise. Roughly 1,500 museums are open to educate visitors in Russian cultural fields of history, folk craft, fine arts, theatre, music, natural sciences and technology. Twenty outdoor museums present architecture and other displays of everyday life to their audiences. Museum collections total over 50 million items of historical and artistic value in hopes of revealing some of the rich heritage of the Russian cultural tradition.
The largest country in the world in terms of area, most of Russian land lacks proper soils and climates for agriculture and because of its predominantly arctic and sub-arctic climate, the country also has a limited diversity of ecosystems. But what it does have to offer is uniquely spectacular. Perhaps the most exciting environmental attraction for those on a Russia trip is the Kamchatka Peninsula located along the Pacific Ocean in the east. Very sparsely populated (less than 1 person per square kilometer), Kamchatka has maintained a very pristine appearance. Russia’s volcanic belt made up of 29 active craters is found along this stretch of shoreline, and more than 150 thermal hot springs are scattered throughout the peninsula.
Located on Kamchatka are the last remaining stretches of Siberian taiga, (subarctic, evergreen coniferous forest dominated by firs and spruces). Large-scale mining and logging are attracting more workers into the region. The need to harvest natural resources to provide for their families, combined with pollution problems generated by the military presence on the peninsula, the need to implement policies to protect these delicate eco-systems and the endangered large carnivores harbored within has reached a level urgency. The main threats to biodiversity and large carnivore populations are habitat loss, poaching, and decimation of the prey base by excessive human hunting. Thankfully, the WCS program has begun to work with protected area staff to train them how to better manage human impact on the environment while still providing income for rural families.
The WCS program in Russia, which began in 1990, is a collaborative effort between the Hornocker Wildlife institute and the Siberian Tiger Project to conduct research for implementing conservation actions for the numerous species in Northeast Asia including tigers, leopard, lynx, and brown bears. These large carnivores, requiring a large amount of intact wild habitat, act as indicators of the current ecosystem health, and provide estimates as to quantity of protected wilderness area needed to provide stability to the ecosystem. Preserved areas (or currently proposed areas) are not large enough to support viable large carnivore populations as was previously thought. Current research has shown that implementing policies of co-existence of people and these large animals on multiple-use lands will be necessary to ensure the survival of their species. WCS is working with local governmental agencies and communities educating people on how to implement management regimes that will benefit both the local rural communities and large carnivores in the surrounding areas. If you are planning a trip to Russia, we encourage all travelers to the region to support sustainable economic development in Kamchatka by visiting with an environmentally-responsible tour company. You can help locals feed their families without having to destroy the beautiful environment they inhabit.
Feast on the local cuisine during your Russia tour! Developed by a predominantly peasant population, the healthy and delicious Russian cuisine was founded using commonly provided ingredients to create dishes that are relatively easy to cook and do not demand exotic equipment or much skill. Perhaps it is for this reason that Russian cuisine is one of the mostly widely spread varieties in the world. Given the abundance of grain products in Russia’s history, breads have remained the major natural food. Pies are filled with meat, fish, or berries, and various kinds of kashas (or cereals) made from different grains available such as rye, barley, oats, millet and wheat. Beer and vodka, products also from grain, are drinks that have been perfected by years of Russian experiments. Other common Russian dishes well known throughout the globe have been Pirozhki (stuffed buns), Pelmeni (minced meat wrap), and Blini (thin pancake).
Coming from a strictly Orthodox heritage, feast regulations were strictly followed. This included the exclusion of meat and milk products for more than 200 days per year. For this reason, Russians have widely used vegetables, berries, fish, and mushrooms in order to have tasty alternatives when necessary. Turnip, cabbage, radish and cucumbers where the predominant choices, and with the 18th century the potato rose to become the favored ingredient of any dish. These vegetable dishes are often spiced with dill, parsley, celery, and onion. Honey is also in abundance. During your Russia tour you will likely taste the sweetness of honey in a variety of dishes and desserts.
Soups and stews have been commonly used as a way of preserving seasonal produce and meats, and have been a staple component to the Russian diet. Traditional Russian soups such as Shchi, Borsch, and Ukha were expanded on in the 18th to 20th centuries by European and Central Asian methods that included clear and pureed soups, stews and others. So many varieties exist that the Russian soup array can be divided into 7 categories: Cold soups, light soups (water base with vegetables), Noodle soups, cabbage soups, thick meat broth soups, fish soups, and grain based soups. The Russian expansions of territory also opened the door to the more refined foods from Germany, France, and Austria. Serving highly elegant dishes to an elite Russian class, the 16th through 18th centuries saw increase in cooking techniques using imports such as butter, sour cream, salads, pastry cooking, chocolates, and wines. Russian cuisine then became extremely varied, with a Franco-Russian cuisine style developing a decadent repertoire of upper class dishes. While influenced by foreign foods and cooking styles, Russian cuisine has largely preserved its original and native style distinguishing it from the bordering neighbor countries and ensuring a unique and appetizing experience for travelers during their tour of Russia.
A Russia tour allows the opportunity to explore the largest contingent land mass in the world, multiple off-shore islands, and one separated section (or exclave) along the southeast portion of the Baltic Sea. Russia shares physical borders with 14 other countries and claims over 23,000 miles of coastlines on three seas and two oceans negotiating maritime claims with many more countries. Russia holds 6,595,600 mi2 of territory spanning eleven time zones. However, a large amount of the land is covered in permafrost, which impedes development. Subsequently, Russia has only the eighth largest world population and less economic activity and physical variety per unit area when compared to most other countries. The Siberia region contains a large share of the world’s arctic and sub-arctic area, making Russia the coldest country with a mid-annual temperature of 22°F.
The majority of the land consists of the vast plains largely known as Siberia both in the European part of the country (western) and the Asian part (eastern). The plains are predominantly forested in the north, with tundra along the northern coast, and short-grassed prairies (or steppe) to the south. The steppe climate does not provide enough moisture to support a forest, yet is not dry enough to be classified as a desert.
Though flat in Siberia, mountain ranges can be found in other parts of Russia. The Cascasus Mountains along the southern borders, is home to Russia’s highest elevation point of 17,605 ft on Mt. Elbrus. The Verkhoyanck Range consisting of many volcanoes on the Kamchatka Peninsula offering spectacular scenery. The more central Ural Mountains form a primary divide between Europe and Asia (Russia is considered a Eurasaian country). The Ural also split the broad plains in the east and low hills in the west.
A popular destination to visit during a Russia tour are the shores along the Baltic and Black Seas as well the ocean bodies of Barents Sea, Bering Sea, and Sea of Japan. The waterways offer easy entrance to many other countries. The lowest elevation point in Russia is found at 28 m in the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest salt water lake. Many rivers flow throughout Russia’s terrain pouring out into the Pacific and Arctic Oceans and other seas and lakes.
Russia’s geography offer magnificent mountain and lake views with forests and wildlife to be found. But there are certain areas of greater geographical interest than others. If you are planning a Russia tour, for the best outdoor Russian experience we recommend a visit to the Kamchatka Peninsula, where the predominantly secluded area will offer beautiful landscapes and more exciting wildlife viewing opportunities.
The new Soviet Union, with its extraordinary social and cultural change due to the civil war, suffered economically despite the Bolshevik’s success at maintaining control. Lenin, in an effort to help the country recover from the destructive three years, moved to a market economy structure which brought about a period of relative prosperity allowing the young country to rebuild its infrastructure. During this period, while still facing large economic obstacles, a sense of optimism and opportunity began to spread through the country. This period also produced the Russian avant-garde, or the modern art movement experienced from 1890-1930. This artistic movement is still evident throughout Russia’s architecture and in its museums. Any Russia tour should include a visit to the country’s fine museums displaying the remarkable art from this era. This era flourished in Russia, producing such movements as Russian Symbolism, neo-primitivism, suprematism, and constructivism that encouraged artistic and creative experimentation.
Upon Lenin’s death in 1924, the Communist Party endured a heatedly divisive struggle for power. By the end of the 1920’s, Joseph Stalin had gained the control, and with that the country was set on a different course. Lenin’s economic policies were put aside and replaced by a collectivized economic plan. Agricultural lands were turned into large state-run farms, industrial development was pushed forward at unsustainable speeds and large emphasis was placed on capital equipment instead of consumer products. During this era, the avant-garde movement and literature were restricted, religion repressed with churches closed or were converted to other uses. Stalin weeded out any who would oppose his policies and by the end of the 1930s the Soviet Union was one of the most restricted countries.
The Soviet Union found itself horribly unprepared for any military combat upon the outbreak of WWII. Despite the signing of a non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939, Hitler’s armies invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, seizing most of the western territory and surrounding St. Petersburg, and advancing to within a few hundred miles of Moscow. Despite a tremendous disadvantage in numbers and weaponry, the Soviet army managed to hold the German army and turn on the offensive. By 1944 the Germans had been pushed back to Poland, and in 1945 the Soviet Union took Berlin and occupied the eastern region of Germany. Suffering more than twenty million lives in casualties, the Soviet Union gained enormous territory in the outcome of WWII and ranked as one of the world’s superpowers along with the Untied States. Stalin established many loyal communist satellite states occupied or invaded during WWII including East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. Despite the international notoriety, the country suffered widespread agricultural failures leading to famine, restrictions on political freedoms, and huge waves of opposition. A large amount of the Soviet Union’s resources were diverted into military projects, and the quality of life for the citizens worsened. With western democracies forming their own coalition (NATO), the Soviet Union along with its satellite states formed what is known as the Warsaw Pact. Each superpower then launched into the Cold War in efforts to implement their economic, political, and ideological dominance over the rest of the world.
Almost immediately after Stalin’s death in 1953 many of his policies were dismantled and political controls relaxed under the leadership of Nikita Khruschev. Under Khruschev, the Soviet Union suffered reverses in foreign relations with China and the US, nearly causing a nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Growing opposition within the Party to Khruschev led to a new method for ousting a leader in Russia’s history, Khruschev was permitted to quietly resign in 1964. Followed by Brezhnev, the 1970’s marked an era of aggressive foreign policy and economic stagnation. Upon his death in 1982, Yuri Andropov succeeded him as general secretary, followed by Konstantin Chemenko, neither of whom made any significant changes.
In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary, and the entire political platform soon underwent a change. Noted for his policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), Gorbachev loosened social and political controls in efforts to revitalize the economy. Cleaning up the bureaucracy and investigating political corruption, glasnost gained credibility up until the delayed reporting on the Chernobyl nuclear explosion in 1986. Given this upset, Gorbachev removed all controls on reporting, paving the way for truly free and open discussion of the country’s problems. Poverty, corruption and the mismanagement of the country’s resources became hot topics of debate and led to the emergence of many reform leaders (including Boris Yeltsin) and large criticism of the government. Attempting to go along with the general popular opinions, Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in early 1989 and open elections were held in spring giving voters multiple candidates to choose from for seats in the Congress of People’s Deputies. This was something that had not happened since 1917. With the fall of other Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe falling to public criticism and revolutions, the Soviet Union began to break apart in 1990 when many republics began to issue declarations of independence. Large strikes tore apart the Communist Party’s claim to be the representative of the worker. The economy soon took a dive with large food shortages and a skyrocketing crime rate. Gorbachev found himself caught between a party demanding strict control and a populous demanding radical reform. He failed to satisfy either, but instead, allowed the reform movement to build strong support. In a bid by his party to assert its power, Gorbachev was put under house arrest for his refusal to impose military law, and military units were dispatched to enforce the authority of the newly announced government. Met with the protests of newly elected presidents in multiple republics, including the extremely popular Russian President Boris Yeltsin, the coup lasted only three days and ended with the reinstatement of Gorbachev to a position in the Soviet Union that was now obsolete. By the end of the year, the Soviet Union was voted out of existence to be replaced by a Commonwealth of Independent States. Gorbachev resigned and the Soviet flag on top of the Kremlin was replace by the Russian flag on December 31, 1991.
Because of the location of most of the consumer goods factories and hi-tech enterprises outside the boarder of the newly formed Russia, the economy was waning. This soiled Yeltsin’s rise to power over Russia, and the following establishment of many autonomous states. Coupled with a loss of industry opportunity, Russia took the responsibility for settling the USSR debt while only comprising 50% of the population of the USSR at dissolution. In an effort to stimulate the economy, Russia’s largest enterprises were privatized for much less than they were worth. Yeltsin dissolved the Supreme Soviet and Congress of People’s Deputies with one decree, resulting in a military showdown with deputies protesting that this move was unconstitutional. Squashing the conflict with military help, Yeltsin has never been charged for the illegal decree.
Vladimir Putin was elected in 2000, if you plan a Russia tour today, you will be visiting Putin’s Russia as he is currently serving his second term as President. While largely criticized for his handling of the Chechen separatist conflicts and his reforms in the political process for choosing governors, Putin has enjoyed enormous popularity. Concerns arise however from western states regarding the freedoms and civil liberties that actually exist for Russian civilians, noting the centralized and dominating control of the government over the media. Despite these concerns, Putin’s presidency has led Russia to converting their deficit into reserve funds, expanding the economy and increasing the overall standard of living as compared with the 1990s.
Travel to Russia today is a visit to a country with a bicameral Federal assembly. Formerly a world superpower as a part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the now independent country of Russia has become in many ways the successor state for the USSR since its dissolution in 1991. Adopting a new Consitution in December of 1993, Russia has based their new government on a civil law system including judicial review of legislative acts. The system involves a bicameral Federal assembly comprised of multiple party represenatives, an executive branch and a judicial branch.
The two Legislative bodies are The Federation Council with 178 seats, and the State Duma with 450 seats. Members for the Federation Council are appointed to four year terms by top executive and legislative officials from across the nation’s regions. Members for the State Duma are populary elected to four year terms by the citizens of Russia. Based on a proportional representation from party lists, parties with at least 7% of the vote are then allocated a certain number of the seats available based on the percentage of total majority votes received. If you travel Russia today, the dominant party in the State Duma is currently the United Russia party with over 200 seats, followd by the CPRF (Communist Party of the Russian Federation), LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia), Motherland, People’s Party and a number of smaller and independent seats.
The Chief of state, currently President Vladimir Putin, is elected by a popular vote of the people to a four year term. The head of government, currently Mikhail Yefimovich, is appointed by the President with the approval of the Duma and is the backup to fill the Presidency should it be vacated due to death, illness, or impeachment. A cabinet serving in various Ministries of the Government to support the President, are all appointed by the President.
The Judicial branch is comprised of a Constitutional Court, a Supreme Court, a Superior Court of Arbitration. Judges are all appointed for life terms by the Federation Council based on recommendations by the President.
Before you being your Russia cruise, learn a little more about the weather and the best time to visit the country. Climates and weather patterns vary largely between regions in the Russian Federation, which should not be surprising given that the country contains the largest land mass area in the world. Lying significantly north of the Equator, all regions follow a general cycle of cold winters with fairly warm summer seasons.
· The Northern and Central European Russian regions experience the most varied climates, with milder areas along the Baltic Coastline. Winter colds average around 20°F and summers may endure up to nine hours a day.
· The region of Siberia experiences extremely cold winters (often averaging below 0°F), and pleasant summers that tend to be short and very wet.
· The Southern European Russian region has a shorter winter than in the north. Steppes in the southeast experience hot and dry summers with very cold winters.
· The north and northeastern Black Sea regions have mild winters (down to around 40°F) but receive heavy rainfall year round and are very humid.
Russian climates are well known for the severe winter season, partially due to the season’s decisive role in defeating the Napoleonic invasion in 1812. Many travelers plan their Russia cruise for the summer months. Pleasant summers, staying in the ranges of 55°F to 75°F across the regions, bring a greatly appreciated break to the freezing temperatures of winter, making these months the best times to travel in Russia. September is perhaps the best option for travel, avoiding the tourist crowds of July and August (which are still very minimal) and all the locals back from their vacations are happy, and museums and theatres are in full swing again.
Along the Kamchatka Peninsula and stretching northward, is the taiga, an evergreen coniferous sub arctic forest stretching over northern Eurasia. Claiming to be one of the last great-uninhabited wilderness areas left on Earth, this ecosystem is covered with more than 1,200 rivers and streams and home to rich diversity including one-third of the world’s Pacific salmon population. The taiga also harbors species such as wolves, bears, lynx, wolverines, fox, sables, caribou, and sika deer. Most of the animals eat some other kind of animal, playing their role in the delicate interlinking food chain. While largely untouched by humans, the increasing presence of people settling and hunting in the taiga has possibly brought this area’s coveted isolation to an end. Though the diversity of wildlife occupying this region is limited, the species that do inhabit the land can be quite numerous. Travel into this region of Russia offers a glimpse at more than half of the world’s Steller’s Sea Eagles and also provides the habitat for the largest population of brown bears found on the globe. The rare gray whale calls the coastal waters surrounding the peninsula home, along with approximately 300,000 seals, sea lions and otters.
Russia is also home to many endangered species including the Far Eastern Leopard and the Siberian (Amur) Tiger, the largest of big cat species. The Amur tiger teeters on extinction with only 360-406 animals remaining on Earth. These tigers occupy an area of 20-30 square miles each, and travel to even broader areas when prey is scarce. Illegal poaching and habitat destruction are large contributors to the endangerment of the species. As habitats are destroyed or villages separate main corridors used by these great animals, their options for prey become more scarce and thus they are forced to travel further distances or closer to towns in search of food. Traveling to towns almost always ends in the tiger’s death, since they are usually poached as soon as they are seen. These tigers are protected by law through CITES, and trade of these animals or their parts are illegal. Enforcement of this law and of poaching laws will determine future conservation success.
A location to include in your Russia travel is the Kronotsky State Biosphere Reserve. The reserve is located on over one million hectares in the Kamachatka wilderness. It is a hidden gem with magnificent geysers, active volcanoes, and offers a great opportunity to see bears. Seeking to raise awareness and preserve the wildlife in Russia’s borders, only a limited number of visitors each year are invited to come and view up close the plentiful flora, beautiful scenery, and those species that inhabit Russia’s sub arctic vastness.