Russia is the world's biggest country with an area exceeding 17 million sq. km (6.5 million sq. miles). It occupies the east of Europe and the north of Asia, neighboring 16 countries and having world's longest land border about 60,000 km (over 37,000 miles). A quarter of world's forests are concentrated in Russia, which is more than in any other country; their wide tracts stretch continuously from the western borders till the Pacific Ocean. Russia's coasts are bathed by the waters of 12 seas; the country has dozens of thousands of rivers and about 2 million lakes, among which are the Caspian Sea, the biggest lake in the world, and Baikal, world's deepest fresh-water lake.
Russia has many different types of climate: it varies from the subtropical on the Black Sea coast to the harshly continental in Southern Siberia, as well as from the arctic in the Far North to the maritime one on the Baltic Sea and to the moderately monsoon in the southern part of the Far East. A swimming season may open on the Black Sea and a snowfall may deluge in the East Siberia on the same day. The most densely populated part of Russia's territory lies within the moderate climatic zone. Rather dry summer is hot and rather snowy winter is mild in Moscow and St Petersburg, as well as in the towns of the 'Golden Ring' and in the cities of the Volga Area: this climatic combination attracts tourists from all over the world.
From west to east, Russia stretches for about 9,000 km (almost 6,000 miles), so that the country's territory is divided into 11 time zones. When people get up in the Fat East, others are going to sleep in Moscow and St Petersburg. The most western and eastern time zones in Russia are +2 and +12 hours GMT respectively (from the city of Kaliningrad to Kamchatka and Chukotka peninsulas). The time in Moscow and St Petersburg is +3 hours GMT. Daylight-saving time in the whole territory of Russia starts on the last Sunday of March (at 2:00 AM) and ends on the last Sunday of October (at 3:00 AM).
Regional centers and administrative subdivision
Russian Federation consists of 21 republics, 7 administrative areas (krays), 48 regions (oblasts), 2 cities of federal importance (Moscow and Saint Petersburg), 9 autonomous districts (okrugs) and one autonomous region (oblast). The capital of Russia is Moscow (over 10 million inhabitants). Other largest cities are: St Petersburg (4.6 million), as well as Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, Samara, Omsk, Chelyabinsk, Kazan, Perm, Ufa, Rostov-on-Don and Volgograd (over 1 million in each).
Population, language, religions
According to the census of 2003, Russia's population counts 145.2 million residents. The country's Central European area has the maximum population density. About 80% of the population are ethnic Russians. There are over 100 other nations living in Russia: the most numerous being Ukranians and Tartars. The country's official interlanguage is Russian, provided that all other languages enjoy equal rights. A majority of religious citizens of Russia are Orthodox Christians; there are also many Muslims, Catholics, Hebrews and Buddhists.
Russia is a democratic federative state with a republican form of government. Today's Constitution of Russia was approved by a Referendum held on December 12, 1993. A head of the state is the President elected by the citizens of Russia every four years. The current Russian President Vladimir Putin was re-elected for his second four-year term in March of 2004. President of the Russian Federation is also the Supreme Commander of the country's Armed Forces. The Government headed by Prime Minister enjoys executive power. Legislative power is performed by Federal Assembly constituting of Federation Council and State Duma (Upper and Lower Chambers, respectively).
Russia's culture counts over a thousand years. Ancient churches and monasteries have been preserved in many cities and towns, and the new ones are being erected as well. The Russian nation granted to the world a series of genius writers, such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Lev Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Maxim Gorky and many others. Five Russian writers are Nobel prize-winners: they are Ivan Bunin, Mikhail Sholokhov, Boris Pasternak, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky. The music of Russian composers, such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Sergey Rakhmaninov, Igor Stravinsky, Sergey Prokofiev, Dmitry Shostakovich and Alfred Schnittke, is performed worldwide. Russian avantguardists Kazimir Malevich and Vassily Kandinsky became famous for their innovative painting. Russian scientists' known achievements and discoveries in the fields of chemistry, nuclear physics, aviation and military art have glorified national science and history. In 1961, the first man in space was Yuri Gagarin, a Russian. Anna Pavlova, Galina Ulanova, Maya Plisetskaya, Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov made Russian classical ballet known and appreciated all over the world. Russian swimmers, lifters, gymnasts, figure skaters, ice hockey and chess players brought great success to the national sports.
Traditional Russian food includes sour vegetable or meat soups (cabbage schi and beet borsch), as well as a variety of pancakes, or blinis, pies, pelmeni (dumplings), kashas, and, of course, bread, the consumption of which makes the country a world leader. The most known Russian delicacy is black caviar, which is as famous worldwide as Russian vodka. Russian people prefer fruit and berry wines among less strong alcoholic beverage, and cereal kvas among the non-alcoholic ones. There are numerous cafes and restaurants in Moscow and St Petersburg, as well as in other cities and tourist centers. The guests of both Russian capitals will be able to find not only Russian traditional food but also food from almost any other country.
Gifts and souvenirs
Russia is famous for its vernacular arts, such as nested dolls (matryoshkas), ceramics from Gzhel, shawls with printed ornaments from Pavlovsky Posad, paintings on metal from Zhostovo and varnished miniatures from Fedoskino (all in Moscow region), as well as articles of Ural stonecutters, iron-made articles from Kasli (Chelyabinsk region), miniatures from Palekh (Ivanovo region), paintings on wooden articles from Khokhloma and Gorodets (Nizhny Novgorod region), laces from Vologda and plumy shawls from Orenburg. All these pieces of folk art may be bought in major trade centers and art salons, as well as at fairs and folk workshops, which are often sites of excursions.
The national currency is rouble (= 100 kopecks). Foreign currencies (mainly US dollars and euros) can be exchanged in any banks or small exchange points on the streets, as well as in hotels, malls, airports and railway stations. Official exchange rates are determined by the Central Bank of Russia every business day. Exchange points function almost in all cities, a majority of them stay open 24 hours in Moscow and other large cities. Foreign credit cards are accepted mainly in large cities and tourist centers.
Planes and railway trains are main kinds of transportation throughout the vast territory of Russia. The go from Moscow to St Petersburg will take either 5-7 hours by train or an hour by plane, whereas the flight from Moscow to Kamchatka takes 9-10 hours. The country's capital is served by 5 airports and 9 railway stations. Intercity or interregional connection is carried out by shuttle buses or commuter rails. Moscow and other largest cities have several kinds of urban transportation: subway (in 6 Russian cities), buses, trolley buses and trams, as well as routed and regular taxis. Subway is the most popular transport in Moscow; some of its stations are monuments of art frequently visited by tourists.
Official public holidays in Russia are:
- January 1st - New Year's Day
- January 7th - Russian Orthodox Christmas
- February 23rd - Motherland Defender's Day
- March 8th - International Women's Day
- May 1st - International Labor Solidarity Day
- May 9th - Victory Day
- June 12th - Independence Day
- November 7th - Consent and Conciliation Day
- December 12th - Constitution Day
If any of these days falls on Saturday or Sunday, the closest business day is officially announced a day off. In addition, many people celebrate both main Russian Orthodox holidays (such as Epiphany, Easter, Whitsuntide and Holy Mother's Nativity) and some pagan holidays that Europeans preserved until today (such as Yuletide, Shrovetide, Summer Solstice Day, etc). The most favorite holiday in Russia is New Year's Day: it combines some features of paganism (Grandpa Frost and his granddaughter Snow Maiden, decorated fir-trees, etc), as well as those of Russian Orthodox Christmas and of today. The Yuletide is known with sauntering, clothes shifting and fortune-telling. During the Easter, it is accustomed to exclaim "Christ is risen!", kiss each other thrice, treat each other with Easter cakes specially baked and blessed in church, and exchange painted eggs with each other.
Important phone numbers
- Emergency: 911
- Fire Protection: 01
- Police: 02
- Emergency (First Aid): 03
Russia's international phone code: +007
Making any international calls from Russia:
8 + 10 + country code + city (area) code + local phone number
Making any intercity calls within Russia:
8 + city (area) code + local phone number
Moscow city code: 495
St Petersburg city code: 812