While it’s the world’s largest country, bordering both Europe and Asia, as well as the Pacific and Arctic oceans, Russia is a country that most people know very little about.
Most travelers who visit Russia will tick off St Petersburg and Moscow, which, with their glittering palaces and cathedrals, are undoubtedly spectacular. But beyond these cities is a collection of ancient towns and landscapes that often lie forgotten by the rest of the world.
Urban life in Russia is a far cry from the adventure that lies further out, and it’s only here, among the icy Siberian tundra; among communities who have never seen a foreign tourist; among Nomadic desert tribes on the Mongolian border, that you’ll find the true soul of Mother Russia.
And it’s this soul that is so perfectly captured in Fabio Bertino and Roberta Melchiorre’s new book “Destination Russia. A ship and a cat in the tundra and other extra-ordinary encounters”.
Having recently been released in English after immense success in Italian, the book is a captivating collection of stories that takes you on a journey with Fabio and Roberta as they travel to the farthest corners of the country, discovering the treasures (and adventure) that lie beyond Russia’s increasingly westernized veneer.
Destination Russia: A Captivating Travel Read For the Intrepid Soul
An Intrepid Journey
Destination Russia is the narration of a truly intrepid journey across one of the most fascinating and mysterious countries of our time. The book is a collection of short stories that follows Fabio and Roberta’s itinerary, and brings to life the human experiences they have across the country.
Each chapter revolves around encounters with ordinary people, from Moscow to the Arctic tundra; heartwarming accounts that establish the warmth of the Russian people, despite how cold their environment may appear.
There’s dinner with three generations of Russians in Moscow, which describes the food in such detail you can almost taste it, and recounts the conversations so vividly that you’re there with them at the table, diving into Soviet history with an 80 year old grandmother who has actually lived it.
There’s the story of the cat they meet in the Arctic tundra, of the man they find ice-fishing in Siberia, and of two railway workers who live their love aboard the world’s longest railway line; the Trans Siberian.
There’s insight into the lives of people who can’t afford a plane ticket, so spend an entire week on a train just for the round trip to go to work further south; of young women who so desperately cling to modern culture that they brave high heels and mini skirts even though it’s 50 below 0 out.
From meeting nomadic reindeer breeders, to leaders of indigenous Siberian tribes, this book is far more than your ordinary travel tale; it’s a book about human connection, and telling the stories of the real Russian people, which would otherwise remain untold.
The Human Connection
The human element of this book is what makes it so captivating.
Roberta speaks fluent Russian, which puts the couple at a unique advantage over most other travelers; the ease of travel when there’s no language barrier opens doors to more immersive experiences, and the pages of the book offer the type insight that you wouldn’t normally have access to as a traveler.
With the ability to visit villages where people don’t speak English, and actually communicate with locals who are just as interested in their lives in Italy, as they are of them, Roberta and Fabio’s journey offers a fascinating insight into remote Russian life.
They have a natural tendency on their travels to really engage with people; to start conversations and inquire about people’s lives; the types of food they eat, the types of music they listen to, the types of challenges they face in every day life.
This in turn sees the chapters of the book adopt an emphasis on telling people’s stories, and it’s a really interesting insight into parts of Russia that you wouldn’t normally see, as well as the lives of people who you wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to communicate with.
In their account of the Trans Siberian Railway, as opposed to discussing what it’s like to travel on it, the chapter goes into detail about the lives of people on the train. The story dives into the relationships formed with fellow passengers as well as the actual people who live and work on the railway.
Here, we realize, it’s possible to encounter all of the varied humanity that populate the largest continent on earth, and this is one of the rare places where people live all together for days on end in the small space of a coach.
A Passionate Love Affair With Russia
Weaved into the human encounters are incredible stories of the small towns and rural villages they visit; the book dispels myths, and paints destinations stereotyped as grey and boring, with deep, new color, and captures your imagination with rich descriptions, and vivid storytelling.
Fabio and Roberta show us an extraordinary world through their eyes, and their deep, unadulterated love for the country spills out through their words and pages; their love affair with Russia is quite infectious, and their passion for the country quickly rubs off on the reader.
Passion drips from every word in this book, and their descriptions are often quite soul stirring. They talk of the hypnotic appeal of the endless expanse of tundra as they travel further north into the Arctic; just an empty expanse of snow; unlimited, mysterious and captivating all at the same time.
They recall how visiting Chernobyl feels as though they were the first humans to have come back since the nuclear explosion, and how this must be what the earth looks like after mankind; a ghost town overtaken by vegetation, devoid of all human life.
Their knowledge of each city’s history is in depth, and they truly manage to capture each destination’s unique personality. Their journey is a continuous discovery that unveils the true essence of a monumental country, and through their words they manage to overcome geographical boundaries to pinpoint Russia’s soul.
Russia Like You’ve Never Seen Her Before
Through visiting far flung destinations, and travelling well off the beaten path, Fabio and Roberta’s story presents a side of Russia you’ve likely never seen, or heard of before.
They tell us what it’s like to stay in a log cabin in the middle of Arctic Russia, where the walls of the main room are completely covered in the furs of brown bears, wolves, and for some reason the windows are decorated with Christmas garments all year round.
They tell us what it’s like to travel so remotely that your water supply comes from barrels because there’s no running water in the village. And how, as soon as you check in there are five or six metal shot glasses and a bottle of ‘herbal liqour’ (vodka), on the table, because it’s -2 degrees inside.
As they travel south towards the Mongolian border, the landscape changes into a lunar desert, and we learn about Russian legends that offer context for religion, trade history, and war.
In one specific chapter there are really interesting insights into the relationship between Russia and the indigenous Siberian tribes who largely still maintain their traditional lifestyle.
This is a world that is so far removed from the glittering palaces and domes of Moscow, and presents a very authentic look at a side of Russia you’ve never seen before.
Image: Sergey Pesterev / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Flickr
Start Reading It Already!
The book is a relatively quick read; it’s an easy 140 pages, and each short story has a separate identity, so you can pick up where you left off without having to re-read previous chapters.
What they pack into 140 pages is quite phenomenal; you genuinely feel as though you there on the journey with them, having the conversations they’re having, seeing the sights that they’re seeing; and after finishing the book you’re left with quite a remarkable sense of connection to a land you may not have ever visited before.
This book is for the intrepid traveler, and the adventurous soul. It is for anyone who is passionate about discovering other cultures, and connecting with people from opposite sides of the globe.
What are you waiting for? Click to buy the book already!
Destination Russia is available on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback. It’s been a hit success in Italy, Fabio and Roberta’s home country, and I thank them for having decided to release it in English!
Check out their Facebook page ‘Destination Russia. The travel book‘ for daily inspiration and wanderlust, where they share photos and further stories about corners of Russia you’ve never seen.
Other reader reviews:
Don’t just take my word for it – other readers LOVE this book too! Check out more reviews:
by Stephanie Craig of Historyfangirl.com
by Tamason Gamble of Travelling Book Junkie
by Lauren Yakiwchuk of Justinpluslauren.com
by Amanda Kendle of Notaballerina.com
by Karen Turner of Wanderlustingk.com
by Ashley Hubbard of wild-hearted.com
by Mar Pages of Onceinalifetimejourney.com
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