Today’s guest blog is written by the team over at Reaper Feed, a military focused travel blog bringing a bird’s eye view to global conflict both past and present, focusing on Southern Russia. The photos featured are from YPT’s Soviet Europe team.
Russia is the biggest country on earth and home to a wealth of fascinating cultures, languages, cuisine and history. One of the biggest mistakes many first time visitors to the country make is to confine themselves to the cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, when there is a vast plethora of other cities in Russia to be explored. Don’t get me wrong, visiting St Petersburg should not be skipped when you travel to Russia, but don’t get bogged down in the main tourist cities!
Last year, Reaper Feed was lucky enough to be invited onto one of YPT’s Soviet Tours to explore the North Caucasus region of Russia. In today’s article, we’re going to delve into 5 unique destinations that Southern Russia, one of the most beautiful regions of Russia, has to offer to the intrepid traveller. In the coming weeks, we’ll be releasing articles focusing on the exploration of Northern Russia and Central Russia and the whole map of Russia.
Volgograd / Stalingrad
Alongside Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar, Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) is one of the most famous Southern Russia Cities and one of the most important sites in the history of russia. The site of the most deadly battle in human history, the city became the battleground between the Wehrmacht and Red Army between 1942 and 1943. The Soviets triumphed and in the aftermath of the battle, over 1 million lay dead and surrendering Germans were shipped off to Siberia in their thousands with many of them never to return.
On YPT’s Russia group tours, Volgograd is a quintessental stop and it has a lot to offer! Many of the city’s attractions are naturally related to WW2 and the Soviet Union. It’s home to one of the most epic WW2 museums in the world as well as the biggest Lenin statue on earth! For Russian food lovers, there is a wealth of great restaurants in Volgograd from Soviet era fine dining to craft breweries in bullet riddled cellars that would have once been bunker positions for German Wehrmacht troops and Russian Red Army soldiers.
Chechnya is often in the international news for all of the wrong reasons. This troubled Russian republic was locked in conflict for almost twenty years as part of the Chechen wars that erupted following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The capital of Chechnya, Grozny, was decimated and was given the depressing nickname of ‘the most destroyed city on planet earth’ by the UN. In the chaotic years of war, the republic descended into banditry and was soon a hub of kidnappings, terrorism and murder. This led to Chechnya being branded as the most dangerous place on planet earth for a few years. It led to some of the darkest segments of Russia news reports since WW2.
Even amongst Southern Russians, Chechnya was considered a no go zone for many years but today, under the strongarm leadership of Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, the republic is advancing into the modern age and is trying to shake off the stigma of war. Modern Grozny resembles a mini Dubai rather than a country that has just come out of a war. Its main street, Putin Boulevard, is the perfect place to sit and people watch whilst you enjoy a coffee or some mind blowing Chechen food like Zig Zig Galnash.
On our Grozny city tour, we explored the length and bredth of this fascinating city. Exploring its bazaars and getting a bird’s eye view from the government helipads on top of Grozny Business Centre near the presidential palace. We also paid a visit to the Kadyrov centre, dedicated to the life and times of the reigning Kadyrov clan, which was surreal and fascinating. The people in Chechnya were wonderful and would do anything in order to make our stay as pleasant as possible, their hospitality knows no bounds.
Rostov-on-Don is a city with a fairly tough reputation. A feature of the Russian criminal saying ‘Odessa – Mama. Rostov – Papa’, the city is classed as the patriarch city of the Russian Mafia. In WW2, it was the site of gruelling urban warfare as the city was fought over twice during the German advance in 1941 and their subsequent retreat in 1943. As the civil war broke out in neighbouring Ukraine, Rostov became home to a host of outsiders looking to get involved in the war, from arms smugglers to mercenaries. Today, things have relatively returned to normal and the city is safe for travel.
Rostov is classed as one of the home cities of the famous Russian Cossacks and their history and presence can be seen throughout the city. Located on the mighty River Don, one of Russia’s most famous waterways, summer in Rostov is very pleasant and taking a river cruise down the Don whilst enjoying some ice cold beer or vodka and listening to Cossack singers is an experience not to be missed!
Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia
Known as ‘the Gateway to the Caucasus’, the city of Vladikavkaz is located in the Republic of North Ossetia and is a must visit spot in Southern Russia. Its quaint downtown is quintessential of Tsarist era Russia and its backdrop is that of the mighty Caucasus mountains, which are some of the biggest mountains in the world and beyond stunning.
As well as a base for mountain exploration, Vladikavkaz is also the jumping point into one of the most little visited republics on earth: South Ossetia. This secretive breakaway state is not easy to visit and can only be done through reputable travel fixers like YPT, but it is worth the effort to say you have been inside such a country.
One of the most impressive spots in Vladikavkaz is the Victory Park, celebrating the Soviet victory over Fascism in 1945 and featuring one of the only survivng Stalin monuments in South Russia as well as a whole host of Soviet monuments and WW2 sights.
One of the oldest cities in Russia, Derbent has seen the rampage of some of history’s most formidable empires try in vain to try and conquer its mighty fortress. Based on the Caspian Sea, the city of Derbent is home to one of the world’s most famous fortresses and truly has to be seen to be believed.
The city is also full of culinary delights fresh cooked by local Dagestani people and unlike Chechnya, it’s possible to drink alcohol here despite it being an Islamic Republic. We particularly enjoyed trying some Dagestani beer in our hotel overlooking the beautiful Caspian Sea whilst trying some fresh caught Caspian seafood!
In conclusion, whilst the cities of Moscow and St Petersburg certainly have a lot to offer, wider Russia has even more and provides unique experiences that you certainly won’t get in the generic cities! We hope this article has inspired you to expand your horizons when exploring the fascinating country of Russia.