Ian Wright journeys to Russia, the largest country in the world which covers more than 10 million square miles and spans 11 time zones. For 70 years travellers were unable to visit the then USSR, but since the collapse of communism Russia has become an increasingly popular destination.
Ian begins his trip in Moscow, the most affluent city in European Russia. He visits the Kremlin, the seat of the Russian government, and takes a tour of the palaces, churches and bell towers. He witnesses the changing of the guards, sees Red Square and the tombs of Russian dignitaries, as well as the embalmed body of Lenin. Later that day he takes a tour of the rest of city on horseback.
Next morning, Ian ventures out to the Izmaylovsky Market, which is held in the east of Moscow every Sunday. It’s a great place to find eccentric Russian souvenirs and communist memorabilia. Another relic of the communist era is Moscow’s impressive metro system: clean, safe and reliable, it was built in the 1930’s to showcase Soviet engineering, and is one of the great achievements of the Stalinist period.
Ian heads out of Moscow to Star City, home of the Russian space programme. This was where Yuri Gagarin trained to be the first man in space in 1961. It was once a top secret location, but these days it’s open to tourists who want to try out simulated moon walking, tour a replica of the Meer space station and even experience zero gravity in a special training jet used to prepare cosmonauts for space travel.
Ian takes the train from Moscow to St Petersburg, stopping off at the Monastery of St Boris and Gleb in Torzhok. Since the fall of communism, the Russian Orthodox Church is experiencing a revival and places of worship such as the wooden church built in 1742 are now being restored.
He finally reaches St Petersburg, which is the second biggest city in Russia with a population of 5 million. When Lenin died in 1924 the city was renamed Leningrad but 65 years later the people of the city voted it back to its original name. St Petersburg is Russia’s most tourist friendly city - even though there is only one youth hostel here. The Russian Baroque palaces are the envy of the world and Ian hires a guide to take him to the fabulous former home of the Tsars, Winter Palace, which now houses a great museum known as the Hermitage. It was across the square from here that the Russian Revolution began, when, on the night of the 25th October 1917, the revolutionaries stormed the palace, arresting the government and installing the Soviet regime in its place, with Lenin as their leader.
Ian pays a visit to the Peter and Paul Fortress, one of the first things built by Peter the Great after he founded the city in 1703. It’s a tourist attraction with a difference: a perfect sun trap and however cold it is, when the sun comes out in winter dedicated sun-worshipers strip off and line up against the wall. Before leaving town Ian has a night out, making his way round a few of the recently opened theme bars in town.
For the final leg of his journey Ian flies north to Murmansk, the biggest city in the Arctic Circle. He has arranged a trip to the Lapland Nature Reserve, 150 square miles of arctic wilderness which is home to the Russian Father Christmas.
Ian ends his trip to Russia in the town of Murmansk, celebrating the Festival of the North, which marks the end of winter. Revellers from all over, including Sami reindeer herders from Lapland, to take part in skating contests, the cross-country skiing marathon, hockey tournament, and even under water swimming below the surface of the lake.