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.
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.
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?