THOUGH the 2018 World Cup has ended but the ripples of it still put the eyes of the world on Russia. Here are 41 interesting things you might not have known about one of the world’s most intriguing countries, called Russia.
1. The Hotel Astoria in St Petersburg is where Hitler planned to hold a huge celebratory banquet once he’d conquered the city (it was called Leningrad back then). Its restaurant remains an institution and one of the best places in the city to sample traditional Russian food.
2. Russia’s greatest museum – The Hermitage, also in St Petersburg – is home to around 70 cats, which guard its treasures against rodents. The tradition dates back to a 1745 decree of Empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, founder of St. Petersburg. The museum also has almost 14 miles of marbled corridors.
3. Subbotnik is the day when residents of Russian cities volunteer to sweep up and tidy the streets. It started after the revolution but still happens today.
4. The name Red Square has nothing to do with communism, but derives from the word “krasnyi”, which once meant “beautiful”.
5. The icicles hanging from the gutters in Moscow in winter are so enormous that the pavements below are cordoned off – as they’d kill you if they fell on your head.
6. There is a bronze sculpture of a dog with a shiny nose at Ploshchad Revolutsii metro station – it is shiny because it’s supposedly good luck to touch it.
7. They love cloakrooms – don’t expect to get very far into a restaurant/bar/museum/gallery without being asked to put your coat and/or bag in a cloakroom. The best are efficiently run by a team of baboushkas.
8. Giving flowers to residents can be a delicate point of etiquette. You should always make sure you give them in odd numbers, unless going to a funeral, when even numbers are the rule.
9. In St Petersburg, next to the bridge to reach the Peter and Paul Fortress, is a statue of a hare which commemorates the large number of hares that used to live on the island, and the battle against the floods that plagued the city during the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s considered good luck to hit it with a coin.
10. Russians are the world’s fourth biggest drinkers, according to WHO statistics, behind Belarus, Moldova and Lithuania. Britain comes 25th.
11. The male life expectancy is just 65, lower than it is in North Korea or Iraq. Russian women, on the other hand, can expect to live to 76.
12. Yttygran Island is home to the so-called “Whale Bone Alley”, where remains of the marine mammals have been carefully arranged like so.
13. Moscow’s underground is perhaps the world’s most beautiful.
14. Traffic in Moscow is so bad that wealthy Russians hire fake ambulances to beat the jams.
15. There are around 11 million more women than men.
16. An estimated 50 per cent of policemen take bribes.
17. There was once a restaurant in Moscow staffed entirely by twins. It now appears to have closed.
18. It’s not all tundra and taiga – you can go trekking on volcanoes.
19. Foreigners pay a higher entrance fee at many tourist sites. It’s unfair, but there’s nothing you can do, and there is little point in complaining. Best to laugh it off, and picture Roman Abramovich paying five times less than you under the “discounts for Russian citizens” scheme.
20. Although things have improved greatly, Russian police are still notorious for shaking down foreigners for “paperwork infringements”. Carry your documents with you at all times.
21. One of the biggest mysteries of the Second World War is the fate of the Amber Room, a chamber decorated in amber panels with gold leaf and mirrors which was once located in the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg. It was looted by the Nazis and brought to Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) for reconstruction, but its whereabouts are now unknown.
22. In the White Dining Room in the Hermitage Palace there’s a clock on the mantelpiece. It was stopped at 2.10am on the night of October 25,1917, when Kerensky’s provisional government, which had held power since the February revolution, was arrested by the Bolsheviks – it is the moment Russia slipped into to communism.
23. You can visit without applying for a visa by taking a ferry/short cruise from Helsinki (to St Petersburg).
24. It has one of the world’s most terrifying walkways: the 439-metre SkyBridge.
25. Vasilevskiy Island in St Petersburg offers a bizarre selection of attractions, including a pair of 15th-century sphinxes from Egypt on the river side and a museum of biological oddities where you can see the skeleton and heart of Peter the Great’s gigantic personal servant.
26. 1,800 skiers and snowboarders once hit the slopes of Sheregesh wearing bikinis in a bid to break a Guinness World Record.
27. The country had plans to build an ambitious 12,400-mile superhighway linking the Atlantic and the Pacific.
28. It is home to Europe’s longest river, the Volga, at 3,690km (2,293 miles). It has more than 200 tributaries that, if counted with the main river, would add up to 357,000km (221,800 miles).
29. Russia’s hard labour camps, known as gulags, might be turned into “tourist camps”. The controversial plan to attract visitors was announced by the regional tourist department in the Sakha Republic, in eastern Siberia. Sakha is the largest subnational governing body in the world – around the same size as India – but has fewer than one million residents.
30. Around 10,000 British tourists visit the country each year, and over 90 per cent of them go only to Moscow and/or St Petersburg.
31. It is home to the coldest inhabited place on the planet – Oymyakon. On February 6, 1933, a temperature of −67.7 °C was recorded at its weather station
32. The Russians once built a circular warship.
33. In 1908 the Russian Olympic team arrived in London 12 days late because it was still using the Julian calendar.
34. The Ter Sami language of the Kola Peninsula is on the verge of extinction – just two people speak it.
35. You can buy antique stamps from the little tobacconist shops on the street.
36. According to a biography by Henri Troyat, Peter the Great loved his toy soldiers so much that he executed a rat (by hanging) which had the temerity to chew the head off of one. He also imposed a tax on beards.
37. There’s a chain of Russian cafes where everything is free and you pay depending on how long you stay there. It opened a branch in London.
38. Lake Karachay, a dumping ground for nuclear waste, is so radioactive that standing for one hour beside it would almost certainly kill you.
39. A museum in St. Petersburg has on display what it claims is Rasputin’s severed penis in a glass jar. Experts doubt it is the real thing, however.
40. They love dashcams.
41. And are apparently building a war-themed ski resort.