Bizarre Stuff You Will Only Ever Experience in Russia
When most people think of Russia, images of Vladimir Putin, St. Basil’s Cathedral and copious caviar probably come to mind. But there’s a lot more to this potential superpower than that. All across its 6 million square miles, you can discover strange sights, customs, delicacies and more — all unique to Russia itself. From swimming with sex dolls to visiting an enema museum, take a trip around this curious former communist country from the comfort of your own home.
Enema of the State
Sorry to start this off on a low note, but let's talk about enemas. Apparently Russians don't shy away from this medical aid, because in June 2008 a monument in honor of the enema was unveiled at a health spa in the southern city of Zheleznovodsk.
Good, Clean Culture
Continuing with the health theme for a moment, how about a visit to a museum dedicated to hygiene? Taking pride of place in a former palace in St. Petersburg, the Muzei Gigieny, or Museum of Hygiene, opened way back in 1919 to educate residents on health and personal hygiene issues.
Admiration for Alcohol
Also in St. Petersburg, you'll find Russia's vodka museum. In honor of the national drink — in the 19th century the only legal vodka distiller in Russia was the government — this museum has it all covered.
The Erotic Empress
Empress Catherine the Great II of Russia was credited by many as being the force behind the modernization of the Russian Empire. Unfortunately, her legacy is somewhat overshadowed by shocking reports of her sexual behavior.
Russians are granted state-funded parental leave, which of course isn’t unique to the country. What is one of a kind is the official holiday in the birthplace of Vladimir Lenin, Ulyanovsk, where everyone is allowed a day off for baby-making time.
Swimming With Sex Dolls
Arguably, more procreation might be possible if some Russians weren't busying themselves with blow-up dolls. Each year in August, brave competitors plunge into the freezing waters of the Vuoksi River in Novosibirsk as part of the Bubble Baba Challenge. What makes this cold-water swimming event unique to Russia is that entrants must race 100 meters...using a blow-up doll as a flotation device.
The Cool Cat Cabaret
Now over to Moscow (or should that be Mosc-meow?). The Yuri Kuklachev Cat Theatre is the home and workplace of 200 cats of 38 different breeds that "perform" for visitors. The theater was founded by Kuklachev — a famous clown — around 30 years ago and features feline performers who dress up, jump through hoops, balance on balls, walk upright and perform other tricks.
Rifles Not Rollercoasters
Who needs Disneyland when you can take the kids to Patriot Park? You won't find log flumes, princesses or friendly mice here, but you can play with grenade launchers and have a go in one of the 32 shooting ranges (the longest being 1,400 meters).
Liaise With Lenin
When it comes to something you’d definitely only see in Russia, it's Vladimir Lenin himself. After the Soviet leader died in 1924, a decision was made to embalm the revolutionary and put him on display in a mausoleum in Moscow.
The Embalmed Buddhist
If you want to make a tour out of visiting preserved Russian figures, then add Ivolginsky Buddhist Monastery near Ulsan-Ude to your list. The Buddhist monk Lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov died in 1927, and he was preserved in the lotus position. Before his death, he instructed followers to exhume his body in 30 years, and when they did, they found him still in the lotus position.
Beware the Babushka
This is one you can experience outside of Russia — if you ever have the pleasure of meeting a Russian grandma, or babushka, anywhere. The status gained when a Russian woman becomes a grandmother is sacred, and she’s a force to be revered and occasionally feared.
Lose Your Bottles
Russians have a tendency to follow omens and superstitions, with one uniquely Russian belief being that empty bottles left on tables can bring about financial hardship or other kinds of suffering or grief.
Spring Cleaning Saturdays
It’s common for Russians to dedicate a subbota, or Saturday, in the springtime to do unpaid or voluntary work. This can include tidying up the neighborhood or offering services to local hospitals, schools and other facilities.
Animals in Outer Space
Russia is well known for its eagerness in the space race, so of course there’s a monument to the first Russian to go in a rocket: a dog named Laika. Although America pipped Russia to the post, first with fruit flies and then with a rhesus monkey called Albert, these journeys were only suborbital flights. Laika, a "quiet and charming" mongrel, actually went into orbit on the Soviet Sputnik 2 in November of 1957.
A Meaty Treat
Do you like Jell-O? Then imagine it without the fruitiness and with meat products such as boiled chicken feet and offal instead. The dish is called kholodets and is regarded as a delicacy reserved for big gatherings or festive events. Kholodets can take more than seven hours to prepare.
A Whale of a Time
Way up north in Russia is "whalebone alley." You can kind of guess what this looks like by the name: There are whale skulls and other bones stuck in the ground, forming eerie structures.
The Terrifying Ticking
In St. Petersburg you'll find the iconic Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad. Underneath the monument is a vault where people could seek shelter during wars. It now serves as a subterranean museum, displaying things like documents, awards, soldiers' personal belongings, weapons and handwritten letters from young boys pleading to join the army.
Su-purr-b Pest Control
You've not heard the last about cats on this list. However, rather than performing tricks in funny outfits, there are around 70 felines with a more serious function in St. Petersburg's grand Hermitage Museum.
The Conundrum of the Chamber
This is another Russian relic that only exists in hushed whispers — because no one knows where it actually is. There was a lot of upheaval during WWII, with plenty of wreckage in its wake. One of the most puzzling mysteries is that of the Amber Room, which once stood proudly in the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg.
Time After Time
Russia has had more time zones — once a total of 11 — than any other country. However, since 2011 there have only been nine in use.
Swing High, Sweet Chariot
In Russia, you can have a go on the highest swing in the world, the SochiSwing, situated in the Sochi SkyPark. Home to the 207-meter-high SkyBridge, the swing flings riders 458 meters across a ravine. As if that wasn't enough, you could also try out the zip wire ride, which reaches speeds of around 90 miles an hour.
As if running a country wasn't hard enough, a couple of Russia's most renowned rulers have been keen to show off the rest of their skill sets. First up? Former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev. In 2009, a CD of Gorbachev singing was sold at auction for around $165,000. The album was called Songs for Raisa and featured a number of tunes that his wife, who died in 1999, loved.
The Secret Security Shuttle
Although this isn’t something that ordinary people can see for themselves, it is a secret exclusive to Russia. Legend has it that there’s another metro system, Metro-2, that connects a collection of military bunkers running parallel to the main Moscow Metro. It’s allegedly run by the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation and was built between 50 and 200 meters deep during Joseph Stalin's era.
The Island of Attractions
Vasilyevsky Island in St. Petersburg is a must-visit destination in Russia thanks to its sheer variety of curious attractions, including everything from a pair of 15th-century Egyptian sphinxes to the skeleton and heart of Peter the Great’s giant personal servant.
Gallivanting at a Gulag
Believe it or not, there are discussions underway about converting former gulags — Russia's hard labor camps — into tourist attractions. The Sakha Republic in Eastern Siberia is considering the controversial plan as a way to attract more visitors. While Sakha, which is almost the same size as India, is the biggest subnational governing body in the world, it has fewer than a million residents.
Feel the Chill
Also in the Sakha Republic, you can find the coldest inhabited place in the world. Oymyakon, literally meaning "frozen lake," has the lowest ever recorded temperature of −67.7 degrees celsius, which was logged in February of 1933.
Last Chance for a Language
If you’re a fan of all things linguistic, you might want to rush to Russia's Kola Peninsula. There, you can hear the last speakers of the ancient Ter Sámi language. Once, Sámi languages were spoken across parts of northern Russia, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Because the Ter Sámi language has no standardized written form, only a few examples of audio recordings and rudimentary dictionaries exist for study purposes.
Thankfully now filled in, Lake Karachay was a small lake in the southern Ural Mountains that the Soviets used in the 1950s as a dumping ground for radioactive waste. It was said that standing for just one hour beside the lake could be deadly, and in fact according to the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization, Karachay was the most polluted open-air space in the world from a radiological perspective.
An Infamous Phallus on Display
If you visit the erotica exhibition in St. Petersburg, be sure to take a peek at Rasputin's penis. Yes, you read that correctly. Although the display has its doubters, museum founder Igor Knyazkin is sure that the 30-centimeter-long pickled penis does belong to the infamous playboy priest.
Double the Fun
After that interesting, shocking and sometimes baffling tour of Russia's weird and wonderful, let’s finish on a positive note. Hoping to place Russia on the culinary map, identical twin chefs Ivan and Sergey Berezutskiy run a restaurant called Twins Garden. Their first venture attracted thousands to its tasty food and unique experience, owing to the fact that the whole restaurant was staffed by — you guessed it — twins.