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Why go to Fiji when you can come to Russia?

If you think that Russia means actually just Moscow and Saint Petersburg, you’re wrong. If you think the North is too cold to actually be something worth discovering, you’re once again wrong. Karelia’s beauty mainly consists of its wild and unspoiled nature, but there’s lots more to find out about this region. However, nature is the deepest and most essential part of Karelia’s soul, with its history and legends.

The first place to mention while talking about legends is the Kivach waterfall

Kivach waterfall

Traditional myths say that two sisters, Suna and Shuya (actually the two rivers that flow along the area), were running towards Lake Onega, when Suna decided to take a rest. Shuja took advantage of the fact that the sister was sleeping and kept running, to get first to the water. When Suna noticed it, she got so furious that she ran ever faster and destroyed everything on her way, creating Kivach Falls. The Kivach Natural Reserve also includes a small museum about local flora and fauna and a botanical garden, both really useful to find out more about the biodiversity of this place: the Reserve was founded in 1931 for study purposes (especially for botanics) both concerning local and non-local plant species in the fall’s area, but it was also founded to preserve a portion of the ancient baltic shield on which Karelia arose. Even stone here has a story of its own, forged by glaciers and lava through the time, tinged with such colours and a vaste source of income even today, being the pride of Karelia together with its unique birchwood.

Girvas volcano and Kizhi island

  • The history of the genesis of this place is even more visible when visiting the ancient crater of the Girvas volcano. Water, fire and ice contributed together on this ground to mould it and make it look so particular. Both Kivach’s and Girvas’ natural parks are worth a hike, for example down the lava slope and black and reddish rocks, to admire the view before your eyes.
  • If you’re really into history, besides being a lover of nature, you’ll find just the right place for you just in the middle of lake Onega, on Kizhi island: the complex of ancient peasants’ houses and of the two churches of Transfiguration and Intercession, are a stunning example of Russian traditional craf-tsmanship. Each building’s foundation was built without using a single nail. These old wooden constructions remain to this day an important cultural and historical legacy. Life itself on the island hasn’t changed that much (for example, there’s no running water inside the houses still) and the people who live there pretty much only travel towards the mainland using the hydrofoil Meteora. Many of the tour guides on Kizhi have actually been born and raised there: what better way than a professionally trained, local guide to guide you around and make your experience even more complete?
  • I personally felt as if I had been traveling to another time period and it had never occurred to me before. Bear in mind the fact that I come from a medieval village in Italy that is still very rural. The peculiarity of the churches’ architecture is really remarkable compared to what we see for example in my country. The whole parish is actually one of the only six similar complexes that haven’t been destroyed in Russia so it is really something rare and worth visiting.
  • So, why go to Fiji when you can come to Kizhi? Seriously though, Karelia is (at least in the eyes of an Italian) a place of its own where ancient and modern Russia meet, where cities and woods blend together without a firm boundary. Most importantly, it is such a good place to visit and a really cheap one: the trips that the school usually organizes have way lower prices compared to the ones I’m used to and those trips also try to give the students an overall view of this country and its core.

If you’re wishing for your journey to be something more, to be deeper and enriching, to be somehow different than the same postcard, picture-perfect view of Saint Basil’s, then Karelia is what you’ve been looking for.

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article by Lucia Bartolozzi