What images spring to mind when you think of Siberia, a vast region in Russia? A place of harsh eternal winter, where there is frozen untraversable wilderness? A place of exile?Whilst those notions may have held some truth in the past, my desire is to show you the reality of modern Siberia.I explored the Altai Mountains of Siberia with Follow Up Siberia, a cross-cultural digital project sponsored by Nornickel and Euronews. They are showcasing different regions of Siberia in the lead up to the 2019 Winter Universiade, which will be held in Krasnoyarsk.
Winter in Siberia.
Despite my preconceived notion of winter in Siberia, it wasn’t actually that cold! I know, I know, you’re going to think I’m crazy for saying that, especially when I’m sharing photography of snow covered landscapes. However, I was anticipating it to be -30c and I predicting that we wouldn’t be able to stay outdoors for a long period of time, how wrong I was! I’ll admit, I panic bought a LOT of merino wool base layers before flying out and whilst I’m sure they did help in keeping me toasty, I shouldn’t have worried too much. Most days we were there, the temperature was around -2c to -8c, totally fine if you are prepared. I’m sure there are days during winter when the temperature drops to lower than you or I would believe possible, but people do not hibernate – life goes on as normal! That being said, winter in Siberia is soulful! Snow covers the incredible landscapes making them almost glisten in the light. The ground is crisp and crunches when you walk, the snowflakes are huge and float from the sky almost like there is magic in the air.
The frosty weather is contrasted by the warmth you are met with when you go inside, both physically and from the Siberian people. There is a stereotype that Russian people are stern and cold, but this couldn’t be further from the truth – they are kind, welcoming and generous.
No, people won’t smile at you in the street, but this does not mean they are rude, it’s very much a cultural difference. There is even a Russian proverb that translates to “laughter without a reason is a sign of a fool.” Isn’t this a joy of travel, to visit a new place and get an understanding of their culture? Don’t assume that Russian people are unwelcoming, rude or harsh because they don’t have the same customs as where you are from – and you know if you get a smile from a Russian it comes from the heart!
Whilst we were in Siberia we visited Taiga Zaimka, a picturesque village located in Belokurikha. We received a traditional Russian welcome, a man was playing music, there was singing and dancing and a lady offered us bread and salt. The offering of bread and salt is a traditional way of greeting important guests – once you break a piece of bread with the salt it signals that a friendship has began between the two people. To me, this symbolised the Russian hospitality we received throughout our visit, we laughed and danced together, such a great memory!
What to do:
There are an abundance of activities to enjoy in Siberia, during both summer and winter. We were able to partake in so many different experiences and I even ticked something off my bucket list, which had always been a dream of mine.
Explore Siberia’s incredible landscapes.
Siberia is home to some of the most naturally beautiful locations in the world, don’t just take my word for it, let these pictures speak for themselves.
We explored the Altai region of Siberia. One spot we visited was the Blue Lakes at Katun river, which do not freeze even during winter! The water is so clear and vivid blue, you can even take a dip if you are brave enough.
Walk on a frozen river!
Would you walk across a frozen river to reach one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever seen? For me, the answer is YES!
Walking on the frozen Katun river was an experience in itself. At first I was SO unsure, questioning the safety as there were signs around saying not to walk on the ice, but our guide ensured us that it was totally fine and local people who know the area walk across with no worries.
The ice crunched underfoot, surrounded by untouched snow-covered landscape – I was in awe of the magnificent nature of Siberia.
Take a horse-drawn sleigh ride.
Is there a more romantic image than taking a sleigh ride through a snow covered forest? The stunning scenery whizzing by as you enjoy the ride.
The horses did look well kept and healthy, so I took a short ride to show my appreciation for the hospitality of the local people. I then got off the sleigh and walked the remainder of the journey, I wanted to ensure the load was not too heavy for the horse and we were still able to enjoy the beauty of our surroundings on foot.
Ride Snow mobiles.
If you’ve never rode a snow mobile, add it to your wish list now!
We took a snow mobile ride through the forest, speeding past the snow covered trees and having so much fun, all in time to see the sunrise over the mountains.
I was so thankful that my driver was a speed demon like me and made sure that we had the most exhilarating ride!
Take a cable car to the top of Tserkovka Mountain.
Tserkovka mountain is home to some of the most beautiful scenery and a view that is not to be missed.
You can take a cable car to the top to enjoy the spectacular views of the surrounding landscape and walk through this winter wonderland.
As you can imagine, winter sports are widely available in Siberia and it’s definitely worth going skiing or snowboarding if you have the opportunity.
I’d never snowboarded before this, so I was really excited to try a new sport. Turns out, snowboarding is not my forte. I spend most of my time sat down haha! At least there are plenty of other options for activities in Siberia and we still had a great time giving it a go – we laughed a LOT!
Ice Skate on a frozen lake.
If you know me, then you would have immediately known this was my bucket list item! I love figure skating and have always dreamed of skating on a frozen lake, but that’s not possible where I’m from.
Whilst we were visiting Chemal, I saw a bunch of kids skating outside of their home and they were having so much fun, I mentioned to our guide that I would LOVE to do that and….. it happened!
I’m so thankful to Igor for renting the boots and hopping on the ice with me, so I could skate around on the frozen lake outdoors and live out a dream of mine.
Sample Russian cuisine.
No, Russian food is not all Borscht! We were treated to so many delicious meals, from Georgian food to traditional Russian cuisine and we even got to sample locally brewed beer, cheers!
It’s pretty common knowledge that I LOVE dumplings, so I was very excited when I found out we were trying Siberian Pelmeni – they were beyond tasty!
Experience Russian Banya!
Have you ever heard of Russian Banya? It’s a traditional and unique activity. You go into a sauna and are massaged using foliage – which is a much more soothing experience that it sounds, then you rinse down with water and relax.
We enjoyed cups of tea and snacks in the cosy cabin whilst the snow fell outside. And you can repeat the banya experience many times – if it gets too hot, go outside and jump in the snow!
It would be impossible to define Siberia in a blog post, there is so much to discover in this vast region that my travels barely scratched the surface! However, I do hope you got an insight into this incredible place and can now say for sure that stereotypes do not reflect reality. Siberia has naturally beautiful locations, welcoming people, an abundance of activities and is home to rich and diverse cultures.
Only in coming to Siberia do you begin to understand why so many of Russia’s famous exiles didn’t rush back to Moscow when their sentences were completed. There is a sense of serenity that you can find here. I wouldn’t hesitate to come back and explore more!
Let me know your thoughts on Siberia, is it what you expected?