It’s an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, wrapped in something or other. Such is Russia, the world’s biggest country, and source of endless vodka-related commentary and snow jokes and mentions of caviar. Insiders and outsiders alike have spent forever trying to figure this place out, and fill people in on how things go down over there. Have they succeeded? Meh. So instead of trying to figure everything out all at once, here are some fun facts about Russia that’ll make it seem even more confusing than it was in the first place. Off we go!
It’s the biggest country in the world.
I said fun.
- Russia, during the reign of the Grand Duchy of Moscow, tried to claim itself as the successor state of the Byzantine Empire. It didn’t really work out, but that’s how they ended up with the double-headed eagle as their coat of arms, and the term Tsar, which comes from Caesar.
- The Russians were the ones who finally pushed the Mongols out of Europe, defeating every remnant of the Golden Horde and claiming the territory for itself.
- Russian territory once reached as far as California, where pioneers built the outpost of Fort Ross.
- Many Russian cities and other landmarks have changed names frequently throughout their history, particularly during the Soviet era. After the collapse, many places reverted back to their pre-Soviet names, but many citizens continue to use the Soviet names out of habit.
- Technically, Russia and Japan are still at war over World War II. They never signed a peace treaty due to the ongoing dispute over the Kuril islands.
- Russia once ran out of vodka. When Moscow finally got the news that Hitler had been defeated, the whole city threw a huge party, and drank every bottle in the city.
- Stray dogs in Moscow know how to use the metro. Yup, really.
- Speaking of metro stations, St. Petersburg has the world’s deepest metro, and the world’s tallest escalator, at 66 m (217 ft), with 3 stations tying for the record.
- The entire Russian railway network operates according to Moscow time, despite the country having 9 time zones.
- The Russian Coat of Arms features a horseman slaying a dragon. Though originally intended to be St. George, it’s now intended to be no one in particular, for the sake of secularism.
- Whistling indoors is considered bad luck, thought to bring financial misfortune.
- The very first Russian nesting doll set was made in 1890, by Vasily Zvyozdochkin. You can even still see them; they’re in the Sergiev Posad Museum of Toys.
- Russia’s space program was the first to put a satellite in space (Sputnik), the first to put an animal in space (Laika), the first to put a man in space (Yuri Gagarin), the first to put a woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova), the first to land a probe on the moon, and the first to land a probe on another planet, among many other firsts. The US pretty much only won the race to the moon.
- To combat the falling birth rate, the city of Ulyanovsk popularized the Day of Conception, on September 12th. Couples get the day off work to get busy, and whoever has a kid on June 12th gets a prize. It sounds silly, but the birth rate triples around that time of year.
- The Russian military only started wearing socks in the 2000s, finally phasing them out in 2013. The rest of the time they were using rectangular cloth footwraps called portyanki. Check them out:
- Russia is home to Europe’s tallest mountain (Elbrus), its longest river (Volga) and its largest lake (Ladoga).
- Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest and most voluminous lake, containing 20% of the world’s unfrozen fresh surface water, can be found in Siberia. It is also thought to be the world’s oldest lake.
- As you might expect, Russia is home to the coldest temperatures ever recorded in a permanently inhabited place, at Oymyakon and Verkhoyansk, both of which reached -69.8° C (-93.6° F). Only Antarctica has ever been colder, and even those records were recorded at Russian research stations.
- Contrary to popular belief, it can also get burning hot in Russia. The continental climate is prone to extremes, with certain summer days easily reaching body temperature in many parts of the country.
- Soviet irrigation projects have almost eliminated the Aral Sea, which used to be the 4th largest lake in the world, now reduced by a factor of 90%.
- Russia’s vast forests are known as the “lungs of Europe,” second only to the Amazon rainforest in the amount of carbon dioxide they absorb.
- Russia claims to own the North Pole. An agreement between the world’s northernmost countries allows each country to claim territory based on the country’s landmass, and since Russia claims the Lomonosov Ridge, which is part of Russia’s terrain, goes right into the North Pole. They even planted a flag there, to solidify their claim.
Contemplating the Russian Soul
So, what have we learned about Russia? Hopefully something. But it’s a massive, sprawling, diverse, complex nation that warrants far more exploration than its one-month tourist visa could possibly provide. Which means there are many more interesting, fun facts about Russia to be found…maybe it’s time for another visit.
Oh, I nearly forgot! Russia made its own version of Winnie the Pooh, right around the same time as the Disney version. They’re both based on a British book anyway, so neither one is the “real” one. But damn if it isn’t amazing. Check it out: