Review: Destination Russia by Fabio Bertino and Roberta Melchiorre

Destination Russia, a travel book worth reading

There are very few countries in the world that are as diverse and at times as inhospitable as Russia.  Imagine one day being able to wander around a city, brimming with life, only to find yourself in absolute wilderness just hours later.  Would you relish these changes? Would you be able to adapt quickly to the changes unfolding in front of you?

Moscow at night, Russia

Moscow at night. Image provided by Andrey Filippov

If Russia is on your bucket list, and I am sure it is for many of us, then reading the observations made by Roberta Melchiorre and Fabio Bertino in Destination Russia: A ship and a cat in the tundra and other extra-ordinary encounters is highly recommended.

Why should you read Destination Russia?

What do you think of when you think of the largest country in the world? Is it the fact that Russians are known for distilling some of the best vodkas in the world? Or that it is the only country to cross over not one but two continents? Or maybe it is the onion-domed cathedral of Saint Basil’s in Moscow.   For me, I envisage men walking around in large, furry papakha hats, wrapped up against the cold, sipping vodka shots trying to keep warm.  I never seem to imagine visiting during a sunny spell, perhaps then the magic would be lost. This is also possibly a good thing because in some parts of this vast country the snow is still falling during July which for the majority of Europe is inconceivable since it is for the rest of us, the height of the European summer.

Until reading Destination Russia however, I have never once considered visiting this enormous country for a prolonged period of time – but who knows, maybe a trip, travelling north to south, east to west would be extremely rewarding.

“…Destination Russia (is) about the journey even more than the destination, the anticipation more than the outcome, the desire more than the enjoyment.” (Page 10)

While reading the tales and experiences of Roberta and Fabio, it’s easy to feel like you are part of their story.

They take us on a trip through Minsk highlighting that while this city is still a Stalinist symbol, with its ‘greyness and austere’ exterior, it is also home to one of the greenest urban areas in Europe and its National Library is home to more than eight million volumes spread over 22 floors.  For that reason alone I need to book a flight.

The national Library of Minsk

The National Library in Minsk. Image provided by Minsk081

We, and I say we because through reading their somewhat descriptive prose, I felt like I was often looking at the same images over their shoulders, we visit the harrowing Chernobyl.  Now a hot tourist attraction, the devastation that took place here is 1986 is still evident.  It gave me the creeps reading about the way each tourist is provided with a radioactive bracelet when visiting, and how they are told not to eat or smoke or to wear clothes that don’t expose too much skin, just in case.   It gets me thinking though.  If I visited Russia, would I too have to visit?

Chernobyl abandoned ferris wheel

The abandoned ferris wheel in Chernobyl. Image provided by Ian Bancroft

Of course, the couple then follows in the footsteps of Tolstoy in Moscow and Pushkin and Dostoevsky in Petersburg before heading off to the Solovky Islands, a place I never even knew existed.

For me though, it is the experiences in the Tundra, a two day trip from Moscow, that appeal the most.  To be so welcomed by those that live in such an unforgiving environment so close to the arctic is something that very few have done.  If ever there was a place to visit away from the masses surely the Tundra would be it.  To explore a community of villages so remote that very few tourists ever visit would be such a thrill.  I would love to find myself sitting at a table reliving stories of long winters with locals who have learned to survive in a place where so many have tried and failed. 

“The more you go North, the more to world narrows”. (Page 63)

The most memorable story though for me, was of their experience with fellow passengers as they traverse the 5,771 miles on the Trans-Siberian railway: a journey I personally long to undertake.  They remain me that it is much more than just the journey and while the views out of the windows are not to be missed, the friendships that develop on this weekly trip are not to be forgotten about either.

“From every journey, I returned with the memory of someone more than of something”  (Pino Cacucci)

Would I recommend Destination Russia?

Whether you are already planning a trip to this trans-continental country or just an avid traveller looking for ideas for your next big adventure, this compilation of short stories is bound to spark something within you.  It may be that a certain city screams out to you or a particular area of the country rather than the country as a whole and if that is the case, then each chapter is clearly marked so you could jump around if you so wish.  However, I highly recommend reading it as a whole, after all, it is only 140 pages in length, and you never know, one of their memories may evoke something within you, causing your wandering feet to book a flight and head off once again.

Have you read Destination Russia? Could you recommend any other books people should read while planning a trip to this enormous country?

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