Churchill's 'riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma' remains an apt description of Russia; most outsiders have only a hazy idea of its realities. A composite of the extravagant glories of old Russia and the drab legacies of the Soviet era, it's a country that both befuddles and beguiles.
This is a land of snow and deadly winters, but also of rivers that meander across meadows and a midsummer sun that never sets. Its people, in the words of a Russian proverb, 'love to suffer', yet they also love to party and can be disarmingly generous and hospitable.
The unfolding effects of a deregulated market economy are surrounded by rumours of rampant crime and prostitution, relentless drug-trafficking, mile-long queues for nonexistent food and a general end-of-the-world aura. But with countless cultural treasures having withstood the tribulations of history and economics, and an artistic legacy running the gamut from Karenina to Zhivago, Russia remains a must-see destination.
Facts for the traveller
Money & Costs
Off the beaten track