Fun Facts About Russia
The 2014 Winter Olympics will take place in Sochi, Russia. While the Soviet Union hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics, this is the first time the winter games will be held on Russian soil. To get you ready for the games, here are some fun facts about the city and the country.
The Longest City in Europe
Sochi is a city that spreads out for 90 miles along the shore of the Black Sea near the Caucasus Mountains. Because of its narrow shape, its residents claim it is the longest city in Europe. It sits near the border of Russia and Georgia (the former Soviet republic, not the home of the Falcons) and is Russia’s largest resort city, with a population of 343,334.
Vodka: It Does a Body Good?
While everyone knows the drink of choice in Russia is vodka, not many people are aware of its health benefits. If you’re following a low-carb diet or are trying to lose/maintain weight, vodka is a good choice. The USDA’s Nutrient Data Laboratory says it contains only 64 calories per ounce (contrast this with beer, which is heavy on the carbs and often has well over 100 calories per serving). Some studies have also indicated that vodka, taken in MODERATION, can have positive effects on the heart similar to red wine. But before you start gleefully slamming back vodka shots, remember - the key is moderation (no more than one a day).
Even after separating from the other republics after the dissolution of the USSR, Russia is still the largest country by size in the world. At over 6.5 million square miles, it occupies more than 1/8 of the earth’s inhabited land areas. It stretches over two continents and nine time zones. With over 143 million people, it is the ninth most populous country in the world.
Russia in the Arts
If you’re interested in seeing Russia on film, a number of fairly high profile films were shot in Russia. 1990’s The Russia House (starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer), 1997’s The Saint (starring Val Kilmer), and 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy (starring Matt Damon) were filmed in Russia. While the Cold War was still in full swing, the 1985 film White Nights (starring Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov) covertly shot scenes in St. Petersburg (aka Leningrad) with a Finnish travelogue crew hiding the fact that their footage would be used in a Hollywood film about a defector.
For those looking to take a more classical approach to Russian education, the works of Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment), Tolstoy (War and Peace), and Chekhov (The Cherry Orchard) are considered to be the pinnacles of Russian literature and drama. If you’re looking for books set in Russia that won’t make you feel like you’re back in English class, try Martin Cruz Smith’s detective novels featuring Arkady Renko (Gorky Park is the 1st and the series spans from Cold War Russia to present-day Russia).
Like any country, Russia has its own unique culinary staples. Borscht is a beet soup stuffed with vegetables, meat, and often garnished with sour cream (Russians are fond of putting sour cream into almost anything). Pirozhki are pastries that can be filled with anything ranging from potatoes to meat to cabbage to cheese. A favorite snack is caviar on buttered bread. For dessert, Russians love ice cream, which they serve with a variety of flavors and toppings (fruit, nuts, and chocolate).
Getting There From Here
There’s no easy way to do it. First, you need a visa (your passport alone isn’t good enough). This can be obtained through the Russian embassy in the United States. You can fly to Sochi, but the cheapest flights are almost twice as expensive as just flying to Moscow (winter flights to Moscow from New Orleans can be had for $900-1000). Either way, you will be looking at 2 connections and an air time (not including connections) of 13-15 hours. If you fly to Moscow to save plane fare, you have to ride a train for 30 hours to get to Sochi.