As the largest country in the world with over 16 million square kilometres of landmass, Russia has a lot going on—and some tales to tell. From a history full of interesting characters to strange superstitions and stunning architecture, this Slavic nation is full of secrets.
Here are 10 of our favourite facts about the place.
Russia is the coldest inhabited place on earth
Well, a little part of it is. Oymyakon, in the far east of Russia, is the coldest place on earth, with sub-sub-sub-zero temperatures. Apparently, the Oymyakon’s coldest snap was recorded in 1924—when temperatures plummeted even further than their winter average of -49 C to a terrifying -71.2 C.
The name Oymyakon actually means ‘unfrozen water’. It must have been named in the summer months when temperatures can rise to a strangely balmy 23 C. Get your swimming shorts ready.
Its president released a judo DVD
Right, so we were really surprised at this one, which is why we put it second (in case you guys don’t scroll—we still needed you to read about this). Vladimir Putin, the somewhat formidable and often controversial president, actually made a judo DVD.
We didn’t believe it but, true enough, after a very quick Google search, we found a German version on Amazon.
It was apparently an interesting advertising tactic to celebrate his 56th birthday and show the sporting prowess of his nation. After all, he himself has said, “The level of developing of sports undoubtedly defines the level of development of the country itself”. He’s also known to love fishing, tiger tracking, truck racing and skiing.
Russia has 11 time zones (but only uses 9)
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that Russia is the world’s biggest country, that it has 11 time zones—second only to France, with a higher number of time zones overall, thanks to a vast array of overseas territories like French Polynesia. Russia does win the award for most consecutive time zones, though.
Crossing through eight of these time zones is the famous Trans-Siberian Railway, which passes through 87 towns and cities and crosses 16 rivers!
Superstitions are common in Russia
And our favourite is the househunting cat. Meow. Legend has it that whoever goes into a new house first, dies. So, apparently, some Russians send cats in first to check things out, and they see if the cat survives (counting on it having nine lives, of course). If the cat won’t go in, the building is torn down or abandoned, and its owners would settle elsewhere.
Another favourite is counting flowers. Always make sure that when you give flowers to celebrate a happy occasion, you give an odd number of them. The superstition is that giving an even number of flowers brings bad luck, and this should be reserved solely for funerals.
Also, rub a dog’s paw with your left hand—it’s good luck!
Russia employs cats
Another feline fact! The Hermitage Museum is the second-biggest art museum in the world, trailing behind only the Louvre. So, naturally, it gets lots of visitors. One such visitor is the rat—in its thousands.
That’s why The Hermitage Museum decided to employ cats to be its guardians. They keep the rats away, protecting famous and invaluable artworks from the naughty nibblers. To show their appreciation for their special employees, staff at the museum decided to give each cat its own passport (complete with a passport photo)—and even a salary!
Russian people keep their streets clean
It’s been 30 years since the end of the Soviet Union and the beginning of modern-day Russia, but some Soviet traditions continue. A particularly lovely one is Subbotnik—a clean-up of cities by its own residents.
Subbotnik is a day when those living in Russian cities (and elsewhere in former USSR countries) tidy up the streets. The word ‘subbotnik’ comes from the word суббо́та (which would be subbóta in the Latin alphabet), meaning ‘Saturday’.
That’s because the clean-ups were originally held on Saturdays—as a form of punishment for naughty students! Nowadays, they’re an act of selflessness and care by Russian people for their cities.
Rich Muscovites stop the traffic
The World Economic Forum announced in January that Moscow is now the world’s most congested city. Many of the roads, originally built for horse-drawn carriages, haven’t been widened since—and the city was planned radially, in a ring-like form. This all means that traffic builds and builds, with nowhere to go.
This is why some wealthy Moscow residents rent fake ambulances to stop the traffic. Yep. These fake emergency vehicles can be rented for around £120 per hour, apparently, and have the traffic-stopping siren, too. In a bid to get to meetings on time, or simply move faster, the rich and famous have been known to rent these instead of hopping into a regular taxi.
…while the rest pile on to the metro.
Another, perhaps more legal, way to beat the traffic in Russia’s biggest city is to take the metro. That’s possibly why Moscow’s metro is the fourth busiest in the world, with 12 lines and an average of over 7 million people supposedly riding the network every day—coming in just behind Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo.
Built in 1935, the Moscow Metro is filled with grandeur and is known to be one of the world’s most famous and beautiful transport networks. It even has an incredible 428,900 square metres of marble tiling. London’s Northern line is crying right now.
Moscow is NOT the capital of Russia
Just as people think Milan is the capital of Italy, or Sydney the capital of Australia, Moscow’s a false friend. The capital of Russia is, in fact, St. Petersburg. Smaller than Moscow in area and population (with less than half the number of residents of its big brother), St. Petersburg is perhaps a calmer place to live.
It boasts the State Hermitage Museum (mentioned above in the crazy cat employee story), which is one of Russia’s most-visited tourist attractions.
You tell us!
Got a little-known fact about Russia? Tell us on your Instagram story, and don’t forget to tag us @transfergo. We’ll reshare our favourite facts!