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10 of the Best Russia Holiday Destinations – Beyond Moscow and St Petersburg

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Ruskeala, Karelia

Why go?

<figcaption>Marvel at … Marble canyon, Ruskeala, Karelia</figcaption>
Marvel at … Marble canyon, Ruskeala, Karelia

Karelia, a republic in north-west Russia, is known as one the country’s most beautiful places. The nature here is breathtaking and more Finnish than Russian, with lakes, waterfalls and trees growing on giant rocks. Ruskeala is a village close to Sortavala, one of the region’s bigger towns. The main interest here is Ruskeala mountain park, with a marble canyon that is now a lake with crystal clear water, and another underground lake. You can rent boats, go diving, or hike. In summer there are light shows on the lake.

Where to stay?

Since Ruskeala is tiny most tourists stay in Sortavala. Hostel Lämpö is a popular choice. Don’t be put off by the shabby pre-Soviet building: it is renovated inside and the location is excellent. If you’re staying for a while, there are several resorts, such as Hotel Piipun Piha, near the lake, slightly further from the town centre, which offer sauna and barbecue facilities, too.

• Doubles from £34, dorms from £6

How to get there?

Take the train from Ladozhsky railway station in St Petersburg to Sortavala; depending on the train the journey will take about 4-5 hours. From there several buses can take you to Ruskeala, or you can book a taxi – the drive will take about 20 minutes.

Stolby Nature Reserve

Why go?

On the north-western spurs of the eastern Sayan mountains, the Stolby nature reserve is one of the most popular tourism destinations in Siberia. The reserve’s main attraction are its rocks and cliffs, called stolby, “pillars” in Russian, after their shape. The smallest cliffs are 55 meters high, while the highest go up to 600 metres. Rock-climbing and hiking are popular activities, although for those interested in the local flora and fauna the reserve also offers guided tours of the Siberian fir taiga that sprawls underneath the rocks: a mix of a hike and a botanical and zoological tour.

Where to stay? 

In the wooden cabins on the reserve’s grounds, surrounded by the taiga and the rocks. There are separate small cottages for six and eight people, and a hostel. The cabins area is called ‘the village’ and is a bit of a hike from the reserve’s main reception buildings but there is a car service for when you first arrive with your luggage.
• Dorms from £5 a night, six-person cottages from £47, zapovednik-stolby.ru

How to get there?

Fly to Krasnoyarsk from Moscow or St Petersburg (about five hours) and get to Stolby on a bus or taxi; that journey will take around 11/2 hours.

Velikiy Novgorod

Why go?

Velikiy Novgorod, also known as Novgorod the Great, is one of the most important cities in the country, often called the “birthplace of Russia”. For a long time the city was a sovereign principality, founded by merchants and ruled in relative democracy, and the unification of Novgorod with Moscow in the 15th century was an essential step towards a unified Russia. The city is an historic one and the traditional wooden architecture museum of Vitoslavlitsi is a must-visit; the open-air exhibition of Russian izbas (farmhouses) has an ancient tradition of building without nails or metal to hold the wooden planks together. The Kremlin fortress in Novgorod is also one of the oldest in Russia, dating back to the 11th century.

Where to stay?

The Beresta Hostel with its traditional old-Russian interiors, or the Kozhevniki B&B, and its post-Soviet styles, are both good choices. 
• Doubles from £26, dorms from £3

How to get there?

Fly to St Petersburg and take a fast Lastochka train (about 3 hours) from Moskovskiy railway station.

Pertopavlovsk-Kamchatsky

Why go?

Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is on the Kamchatka peninsula in the far east of Russia and is the most eastern town (with more than 100,000 people) in the northern hemisphere. Ecotourism in this region is a new trend, with various activities on offer from mountain and volcano hikes, sailing and kayaking to fishing and hunting trips. The town is also a foodie destination: Kamchatka crabs and other seafood are known delicacies.

Where to stay?

In the Nachalnik Kamchatki (The Boss of Kamchatka) mini-hotel, where all the rooms are nature-themed, with names such as Winter, Forest and Bear. There are very few hostels in the town, Hostel Fiesta being one of the few, so book your rooms in advance. 
• Doubles from £32, dorms from £11

How to get there?

The only way to get to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky from the European part of Russia is to fly: a direct eight-hour flight from Moscow (book in advance as fares are high).

Kazan

Why go?

The city of Kazan, in Tatarstan, is over a thousand years old and has always been an eclectic place, balanced between the Russian Orthodox and Muslim cultures with churches and cathedrals neighbouring mosques. One of the city’s landmarks is the Söyembikä Tower in the Kremlin fortress. It’s named after the city’s last queen, Söyembikä, who, according to legend threw herself off the tower, but actually was captured by the Muscovites led by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century, when the city was conquered. The eclectic food of the region, a mix of Russian and Tatar, is one of the city’s highlights: try the traditional tea with chuk-chuk, a sweet pastry dish.

Where to stay? 

Stereo Hostel in the city centre has a 1970s sci-fi bachelor pad vibe – and a bar onsite. If you’re looking for a quieter stay, the Stary Gorod Hotel (Old Town Hotel) is an affordable retreat in the city centre, with views of the historic Märcani Mosque.

• Doubles from £16, dorms from £4

How to get there? 

Fly from Moscow (90 minutes) or St Petersburg (2 hours), or take an overnight train from Moscow’s Kazanskiy railway station.

Lake Baikal

Why go?

Lake Baikal is the deepest in the world. Many Russians say that seeing the vast “Siberian sea” is a unique experience, and others tell stories of the Baikal monster, echoing tales of the Loch Ness monster. There are several hiking paths and in the summer you can swim in the lake, although the water is cold even in August. The shores are scattered with resorts, hotels and camping grounds, although many of them are of the Soviet times.

Where to stay? 

The Lagoon Ranch resort is on the western bank of the Baikal, in the area called the Small Sea, and offers several types of accommodation: from the most affordable two-person summer houses to double rooms and separate cabins. There are stables and a horse-riding arena, sports grounds, Russian sauna and Baikal tour guide services available.

• Two-person summer houses from £20, doubles from £28, cabins from £37

How to get there?

Direct flights to Irkutsk are available from Moscow only. Buses and shuttles to the resorts leave from various locations in Irkutsk and take about three hours – ask for details when you book your accommodation.

Yessentuki

Why go? 

Yessentuki is a name you might see on the shelves of Russian grocery stores around the world: this historical resort town, famous for its mineral and hot springs, gave its name to a brand of a salty mineral water. The town has been a destination for the health-conscious since the 19th century.

Where to stay?

The Kras Hotel Resort is near the city centre, has a spa and swimming pool, and some rooms dining and living room areas. A slightly cheaper option is to book a hotel close to the town’s famous baths and springs, for example Hotel Orange.

• Doubles from £11 in Hotel Orange or from £19 at Kras Hotel Resort

How to get there?

Direct flights to Mineralniye Vodi airport are available from Moscow (two hours) and St Petersburg (three hours). Some hotels offer airport pick-up, or take a train into Yessentuki – the journey is about 40 minutes on a shuttle bus and an hour on a train.

Kaliningrad

Why go? 

A tiny piece of Russia in Europe, Kaliningrad used to be called Königsberg, and the architecture in the city’s old town still points towards Europe and not Russia. Traces of Kaliningrad’s German heritage can be seen in the surviving Brandenburg Gate and the Fishing Village, a tourist attraction with recreated medieval-style buildings. The flea markets here are known to be the best in Russia – many collectors from all over the world come here in hope of finding relics from the second world war. The Amber museum is another popular attraction.

Where to stay?

The city centre Utro Hostel is housed in a 19th century building, with minimalist design and big windows, and the city’s lowest prices per bunk-bed.

• Doubles from £8, dorms from £11

How to get there?

Flights to Kaliningrad are available from Moscow, St Petersburg, and several European cities (including Berlin, Riga and Copenhagen). Overnight trains to Kaliningrad leave from Berlin and Warsaw. If you plan to travel between other parts of Russia and Kaliningrad, you will need a double-entry visa. There is also a special short-term Kaliningrad visa available on the border. For more information visit the Foreign Affair Ministry website.

Vladivostok

Why go? 

Far east is a dream destination for many Russians, and Vladivostok, at the head of the Golden Horn Bay, is the heart of it. The city was founded in the middle of the 19th century. The best place for views is the Eagle’s Nest Hill, the city centre’s highest point. This is also a food destination as seafood is abundant here and because of the proximity to the Russian-Chinese borders it’s almost the only place in Russia where good Chinese food is widely available.

Where to stay?

The Teplo Hotel is close to the railway station, for all those Trans-Siberian railway travellers, and has dormitories and private rooms. Slightly more expensive is A Hotel Amur Bay, which is in a white 1980s-designed building. Although a chain hotel (of the Azimut brand), it’s worth the price for the amazing sea views of the Golden Horn and Amur bays.
• Dorms at the Teplo Hotel from £6, doubles at A Hotel Amur Bay from £24

How to get there? 

Direct eight-hour flights to Vladivostok from Moscow. Vladivostok is also the eastern terminus of the Trans-Siberian railway. Trains leave from Moscow’s Yaroslavskiy railway station – the journey will take six days.

Altai mountains

Why go?

Ecotourism is booming in the region with new resorts and hotels popping up all over the Altai – known as the ‘golden mountains’. Many offer guided and themed tours of the nearby areas, such as hikes following the routes described in local legends, that are told to the visitors as they go. Sailing, kayaking and fishing are among other activities. Spa treatments are widely available with special saunas in big cedar barrels. Altai is famous for its honey and herbs, and honey treatments and herbal tea ceremonies are also offered at the local resorts.

Where to stay? 

Altika eco-hotel is one of the new developments in the region. Most rooms have panoramic views of the woods. Maryin Ostrov resort is a slightly more expensive option but also offers treatments in its spa.
• Doubles at Altika from £35 B&B, doubles at Maryin Ostrov from £39 B&B

How to get there?

Direct four-hour flights to the Gorno-Altaysk airport leave from Moscow Domodedovo. From Gorno-Altaysk there are buses and trains to the smaller villages, depending on your resort of choice. Transfer can also be organised with the resort; ask before booking.

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Anmeldebescheinigung: How to get Austria’s crucial residence document for EU citizens

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The EU’s freedom of movement enables citizens to move to another country in the bloc relatively easily, but there are still some conditions you need to meet.

As a citizen of an EU country, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland, you have the right to live in Austria for more than three months as long as you meet one of the following criteria:

  • Being employed or self-employed in Austria
  • Studying at a recognised Austrian institution
  • Having sufficient financial means to support yourself

As well as fulfilling one of these conditions, you also need valid health insurance for Austria.

If you are working legally in Austria, you will have this automatically, either through the Österreichische Gesundheitskasse (ÖGK) if you are employed by a company or through the Sozialversicherungsanstalt der Selbständigen (SVS) if you are self-employed.

As a student or self-supporting person, you will instead need to find your own comprehensive health insurance policy; your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) might be sufficient for students who aren’t in Austria long-term, but this doesn’t cover all medical visits so it is generally worth getting a separate health insurance policy.

When you arrive in Austria, you need to register your residence within three days, and at this point you will receive a Meldebestätigung (proof of residence). However, the process of getting your registration certificate (Anmeldebescheinugung) does not happen automatically after the initial registration.

You need to submit your application for the Anmeldebescheinigung within four months of your arrival in Austria, and you do this in person at your local MA35 office, the government department responsible for immigration and citizenship matters.

You need to make an appointment to attend the office in person.

If you live in Austria for five continuous years as an EU/EEA citizen, you automatically receive the right of permanent residence. You do not need to apply for any specific document to prove this or to continue living in Austria, but if you want to, you can apply for a certificate of permanent residence.

The documents you’ll need are the following (it’s a good idea to bring both the original and a copy):

  • Valid ID or passport
  • A completed Anmeldebescheingung form: Most of the details here are simple to fill out. You’ll need your personal information (name, date of birth, parents’ names, marital status), your current residential address, and to note which of the criteria for residence you meet and which company you have health insurance with. You can fill out the form before your visit, but you usually sign it when you have your in-person appointment, not before.
  • Proof of employment or self-employment if you’re working: This would be a work contract for employees, while self-employed workers can show their tax number, trade licence if applicable, contracts with clients, and/or other proof of your business.
  • Proof of studies if you’re studying: This could be a certificate of enrolment, and you may also need to show proof that your place of study is accredited. Your university’s student office should be able to help you get the documents you need.
  • Proof of sufficient funds and health insurance if you are either studying or self-supporting: This includes your insurance certificate, and proof of your bank balance or pension statements for example. Students who are being supported by their parents should be able to show confirmation from their parents of a monthly allowance.
  • Your proof of residence in Austria (Meldebestätigung)

Your documents will need to be in either German or English, so documents in other languages need to be translated by an authorized translator.

Getting the certificate costs €15, and there may be additional fees depending on which foreign documents you provide. Not getting it is potentially more expensive though (not to mention illegal) as you could face a fine of up to €250.



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Brendan Kennelly, one the country’s most popular poets, dies aged 85

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Brendan Kennelly, one the country’s most popular poets and a former professor of English at Trinity College Dublin, has died. He was 85.

Family members confirmed his death on Sunday evening at Áras Mhuire nursing home, Listowel, in his native Co Kerry.

Mr Kennelly was born in Ballylongford, Co Kerry, in 1936, the son of Tim Kennelly, publican and garage proprietor, and his wife Bridie Ahern, a nurse.

He graduated from Trinity College, wrote his PhD thesis there, and went on to become professor of modern literature at the university.

Mr Kennelly had more than 30 poetry collections published, which captured the many shades and moods of his home county as well as his adopted Dublin home.

He was also a popular broadcaster and made many appearances on radio and television programmes, such as The Late Late Show.

[His poetry is] infused with the details and texture of life, its contradictions and moments of celebration including the wry experiences of football and politics

President Michael D Higgins, a friend of Mr Kennelly’s, said his poetry held “a special place in the affections of the Irish people”.

“As one of those who had the great fortune of enjoying the gift of friendship with Brendan Kennelly for many years, it is with great sadness that I have heard of his passing,” he said.

“As a poet, Brendan Kennelly had forged a special place in the affections of the Irish people. He brought so much resonance, insight, and the revelation of the joy of intimacy to the performance of his poems and to gatherings in so many parts of Ireland. He did so with a special charm, wit, energy and passion.”

He added that Mr Kennelly’s poetry is “infused with the details and texture of life, its contradictions and moments of celebration including the wry experiences of football and politics”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the country has lost a “great teacher, poet, raconteur; a man of great intelligence and wit”.

He added: “The Irish people loved hearing his voice and reading his poetry.”

He spoke the language of the people. We loved his writing. His eloquence was masterful

Trinity College Dublin’s provost, Prof Linda Doyle, said Mr Kennelly was known to generations of Trinity students as a great teacher and as a warm and encouraging presence on campus.

“His talent for, and love of, poetry came through in every conversation as did his good humour. We have all missed him on campus in recent years as illness often kept him in his beloved Kerry. He is a loss to his much loved family, Trinity and the country,” she said.

Tony Guerin, a close friend of Kennelly’s, and a playwright, said he will be remembered in Kerry and elsewhere as “the people’s poet”.

“My relation with Brendan was one of friendship. There are more scholarly people who will assess his contribution and discuss those matters. But he spoke the language of the people. We loved his writing. His eloquence was masterful, whether it was the written word or being interviewed by Gay Byrne,” he said.

Mr Kennelly is survived by his brothers, Alan, Paddy and Kevin, by his sisters, Mary Kenny and Nancy McAuliffe, and his three grandchildren.

His daughter Doodle Kennelly died earlier this year.

Arrangements for a family funeral are expected to be announced shortly.

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New skeleton find could reveal more about Vesuvius eruption

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The remains of a man presumed to be aged 40-45 were found under metres of volcanic rock roughly where Herculaneum’s shoreline used to be, before Vesuvius’ explosion in 79 AD pushed it back by 500 metres (1,640 feet).   

He was lying down, facing inland, and probably saw death in the face as he was overwhelmed by the molten lava that buried his city, the head of the Herculaneum archaeological park, Francesco Sirano, told the ANSA news agency.

“He could have been a rescuer”, Sirano suggested.

As Vesuvius erupted, a naval fleet came to the rescue, led by the ancient Roman scholar and commander Pliny the Elder. He died on the shore, but it is believed that his officers managed to evacuate hundreds of survivors.

The skeleton might have otherwise belonged to “one of the fugitives” who was trying to get on one of the lifeboats, “perhaps the unlucky last one of a group that had managed to sail off,” Sirano suggested.

It was found covered by charred wood remains, including a beam from a building that may have smashed his skull, while his bones appear bright red, possibly blood markings left as the victim was engulfed in the volcanic discharge.

Archaeologists also found traces of tissue and metal objects — likely the remains of personal belongings he was fleeing with: maybe a bag, work tools, or even weapons or coins, the head of the archaeological park said.

Other human remains have been found in and around Herculaneum in the past decades — including a skull held in a Rome museum that some attribute to Pliny — but the latest discovery can be investigated with more modern techniques.

READ ALSO: Study finds 2,000-year-old brain cells of man killed in Vesuvius eruption

“Today we have the possibility of understanding more”, Sirano said.

Researchers believe that in Herculaneum temperatures rose up to 500 degrees — enough to vaporise soft tissues. In a phenomenon that is poorly understood, a rapid drop in temperature ensued, helping preserve what remained.

Although much smaller than Pompeii, its better-known neighbour outside the southern city of Naples, Herculaneum was a wealthier town with more exquisite architecture, much of which is still to be uncovered.

READ ALSO: Where are Italy’s active volcanoes?



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