Thursday

Blogging Bird meets the Russians

It's not every day you get an invite to the Russian Embassy, certainly not for me anyway.  So, when the invite came through, who was I to have a valid reason not to go?
The opportunity to peep inside Russia came about thanks to the World Travel Market 2013 and a Russian desire to encourage and welcome visitors to their great country.

Up to this point my knowledge of Russia had been limited to some fascinating lectures at University from a History Professor, who stood with his hands in his jeans and talked to us for hours on end without checking his notes. Collectively we sat captivated by his stories of Stalin and Lenin and the turbulent past. Years later in Cairo a friend and I were approached by two large Russian men in swimming trunks (we were by the pool) wearing heavy, gold jewellery who offered us drinks, weed, whatever we wanted. The Russian who spoke English clicked his fingers and a waiter appeared with orange, vodka and ice-cubed mineral water. I can't remember his name but he said he could not return to St Petersburg, he had a restaurant in Vienna and travelled the world for pleasure. He didn't have an opinion on Stalin. He gave me his address in Vienna and invited me to visit. I never went to Vienna but he left an abiding memory.

That was the sum of my knowledge of the Land of the Russias and hardly a fair representation of what Russia has to offer the adventurous.

What I discovered at the 'Welcome to Russia' forum was how vast Russia is. Comprising of 83 regions, one region alone to the very far east, is almost double the size of the UK, with a population closer to that of Brighton. Delve deeper and you'd find not all regions are divided equally and this is one of the larger in size, however the scale is still incredible.

Kamchatka geysers, copyright Jaka Skorjanc
The region I'm referring to is also known as the land of volcanoes, containing about 300 extinct and 30 live volcanoes. There are four indigenous peoples, UNESCO recognised national parks, thermal springs and wildlife so undisturbed as to affect even the most seasoned traveller. This is only part of what Russia has to offer.

This blog might turn into a book if I went into more detail about each of the regions covered at the World Travel Market 2013 forum, so I just want to tell you a bit more about the remote, wild, volatile land of volcanoes, Kamchatskiy krai.

Kamchatka, is 4,875 miles (7,846 km) from Moscow and an 8 hour plane journey away. It has a unique geo-thermal eco-system with five sites included on UNESCO's world cultural and national heritage list.

Populated by Even, Itelmen, Koryak and Alentian people, there are reindeer camps and festivals throughout the year to mark ancient traditions. On the first Sunday in June there is the Day of the First Fish festival, which is held for good and successful fishing. As part of the festival there are a series of rituals that are undertaken that include passing through a wooden arch to clean yourself from evil spirits, making a gift of fire and singing ancient songs using the tambourine.

At Paratunskiye there are relaxing hot springs, composed of chloride sulphate natrium siliceous and nitric gases and averaging temperatures of 35-45 degrees Centigrade, along with the restorative mud from Lake Utinoye is credited with having healing properties.  At Kronotsky State National Biosphere Reserve, the Valley of Geysers has the greatest number of geysers in the world, of which the largest in size, the Velican shoots out a column of boiling water and steam, reaching up to heights of 65-100 ft (20-30 meters).  Lake Kurliskoye plays host to over a hundred brown bears that gather in late summer to feed on red salmon, with as many as 30 bears within a distance of 2 miles.  In autumn Cape Lopathka witnesses the migration of tens of thousands of birds, from small sparrows, oriental greenfinch, reed bunting, to Middendorff’s grasshopper-warbler and the Siberian rubythroat they all fly past en masse.

The woodlands are filled with spruce, larch and silver fir; while overhead fly the golden, sea and white eagles and around the peninsula swim grey, blue and killer whales.

It is a land full of wonder and one of the few places left on the planet that is so remote as to remain unspoilt by the advance of humankind.

Kamchatka volcano, copyright Jaka Skorjanc
So, anyway that's Kamchatka. There was still the Russian Embassy to visit. That evening as I walked up the tree lined avenue of mansion houses, where the Embassy is based, I wondered whether my invite was for real. Inside, the chandeliers blazed, the bar was well stocked and the buffet was in the garden room. Along a shelf were a few photos. To the front was President Putin, behind him was a black and white photo taken in the garden room of a meeting attended by Churchill.

Next door, the Koryak dancers had begun to sing and jump about. All the female dancers had impressively long dark plaits reaching down their backs, the dance cries and jumping seemed so lacking in refinement it was truly joyous to watch. I couldn't help myself, I held up my iPhone, captured the moment and sent out a tweet.

For more Kamchatka photos and information, Like the Kamchatka Facebook page.
Outside the Russian Embassy in London
  

Captured on video, here's a small clip.


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