WATCH: Nizhny Novgorod City Preview

England's World Cup fate has been decided. Gareth Southgate's men will have to navigate their way through a group containing Tunisia, Panama and Belgium to go one better than four years ago and reach the knockout stages. 

Of the three cities England will play in, Nizhny Novgorod is without doubt the most appealing. Centrally located, with excellent transport links and a rich history dating back to 1221, it is simply more enticing than Volgograd or Kaliningrad. England will play Panama in Nizhny, on paper their easiest fixture, so it could really be a city that the players and fans will enjoy. 

Onion Domes: Layers of Orthodoxy in Russia

Cathedrals of the Russian Orthodox Church are iconic and instantly recognisable. The distinctive domes of St Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square and the Church on Spilled Blood in St Petersburg attract visitors from all over the world. These famous onion domes sprout up all over Russia, particularly in the west of the country, where the towns tend to be older and more numerous. To the north east of Moscow, cities such as Yaroslavl, Vladimir and Suzdal make up the ‘Golden Ring’, ancient towns which played a large part in the formation of the Russian Orthodox Church. These picturesque towns are largely a source of tourism, but in recent years Russia’s Orthodox Church has been undergoing something of a revival. 

A Literary Tour Of Moscow

Literature is one of Russia’s greatest exports. For centuries Russian authors have contemplated, opined and discussed the state of Russian society and culture. Despite the best efforts of propaganda and censorship, literature still gives us fascinating insight into Russia throughout history, and arguably, right through to the present day. To read Russian literature is not only to marvel at literary craft and storytelling, but to better understand the Russia that we see before us now. From Pushkin to Pasternak, Tolstoy to Turgenev, Gogol to Gorky, there are countless writers to explore. Russian authors may have arrived at the proverbial dinner table of civilised literature a little later than those of other European powers, but they have provided us with a veritable feast of works to consume. 

Spanking and Skinny Dipping: The Russian Banya

It may sound odd, but I have never felt more relaxed than when surrounded by naked Russian men. Men who ferociously beat each other with silver birch leaves and branches. Men who let out low grunts of either pain or pleasure as a twig thwacks across their buttock. Men who suffer in sweaty silence as a searing wave of heat emanates from the hot stones in the corner. This is, of course, the Russian banya. A place where worries dissipate, friendships are cemented, and a man’s genitals are afforded more freedom of movement than an EU national with an inter-rail ticket.

The Moscow Metro: An Underground Museum

The Moscow Metro is widely regarded as the most beautiful in the world. Intended to reflect the magnificent, radiant future that Soviet leaders envisaged when construction began in the 1930s, many of the stations are a joy to behold. The whole metro complex is an impressive blend of arches, columns, balconies and chandeliers, made of marble, glass, metal and stone. Forty four of the metro stations are cultural heritage sites. Often the metro feels like a museum, as tour guides lead groups round and statues loom over you. But it is first and foremost a transportation system, so rather than dwell on its beauty, I’ve compiled a little ranking system. 

День Победы: Victory Day

Victory Day in Russia, the 9th May, is a triumphant celebration of the military, a colossal tribute to the millions who gave their lives during The Great Patriotic War (Великая Отечественная Война), also known as World War II. Through the lens of a camera, the world sees parading army regiments, an extravagant fireworks display, and an ominous procession of tanks and missiles passing through Red Square. On the evidence of these images alone, Victory Day might seem like a display of military strength and power. However, on the streets, one discovers that the 9th May is a personal experience, emotional, and collectively shared. 

Welcome to Moscow: A Georgian Hustle

An underground billiards bar in central Moscow. Customers blithely ignore anti-smoking laws and a tired-looking waitress slopes between the tables, handing out drinks. Kostya and Ivan, a pair of Georgian ‘businessmen’, watch through the gloom as two Englishmen struggle through a few games of Russian billiards. A couple of hours and several dodgy frames of pool later, the Georgians emerge with ₽1000 (around £13) to their names. The hustle is complete. A poorly executed and time-consuming hustle yes, but a hustle nonetheless. Could I have hoped for a finer return to Russian life?

This House Believes The West Treats Russia Unfairly

Whatever the arguments, this debate exposed two fundamental flaws in our treatment of Russia. The first is that it is too Putin-focused. The motion concerned Russia, the speeches targeted Putin. Although Putin may have a seemingly inexorable grip on the country, he is not Russia and we would do well to remember that. The second flaw is our embarrassing self-righteousness. The unshakeable confidence in our opinions and inability to compromise is arguably the main reason our relations with Russia are so shaky.

A Siberian Epiphany: Taking the Plunge

It is minus 30°C. Siberia. Mid-January. After weeks of ice cold showers and the odd naked leap into piles of fresh snow, I find myself standing in a long line of Russian men, wearing nothing but a pair of rather tight Speedos.

Despite my preparation, the cold is almost unbearable, especially in my toes, which are red and numb after barely a minute’s exposure to the snow and ice underfoot. My body implores me to return to my clothes and run inside, yet for some reason, my head tells me to stay.

Lake Baikal: Summer Break or Winter Wonderland?

For a sample of Siberia’s stunning scenery, culinary diversity and haunting beauty, look no further than Lake Baikal. As breathtaking as it is deep and as enchanting as it is old, the world’s deepest and oldest lake, at 1,600m and 25 million years respectively, is a breathtakingly enchanting body of water. Sweltering in summer and freezing in winter, the time of year will drastically change your impression of the place.