Articles tagged:

Russia

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From A to Z: Achilles to Zelensky

In this Letter from Europe we report from an island in the Black Sea that over the last 200 years has been variously controlled by the Ottomans, Romania, the Soviet Union and Ukraine. It is the place where the Greek hero Achilles allegedly dwelt after his death.

Magazine article

Allegro speculations

by hidden europe

No rail operator’s international operations were more brutally affected by the pandemic that those of RZD Russian Railways. Links from Russia to fourteen other European countries were suspended in March 2020, and none of those regular passenger services have yet been restored.

Magazine article

Erasing the tsar

by hidden europe

In the Russian town of Pushkin, not far from St Petersburg, there’s a district called Tsarskoye Selo – a sweep of palaces and gardens which was once the summer home of the Romanov family.

Magazine article

Flashback 1971: travels of yesteryear

by Nicky Gardner

There was a time when you could travel from Turin or Trieste to Moscow or from Istanbul to Beirut or Baghdad without changing trains. We look back half a century and explore the rail journeys which were on offer in the summer of 1971. It was a time when many premium trains between major European cities carried only first-class seating, with fares which were well beyond anything that many travellers could afford.

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From Bilbao to Murmansk: A Tale of One Princess

Large ferries often go through multiple incarnations and we developed a sort of vicarious attachment to the Princess Anastasia, a vessel which we saw in Bilbao in 2008, and which is now based near Murmansk where she has become part of the infrastructure for tackling the COVID pandemic.

Magazine article

Where Europe meets Asia

by hidden europe

Pull off the main highway just west of Ekaterinburg and you'll find a fairly new monument that purports to mark the border between Asia and Europe. The design recalls the Eiffel Tower in Paris, a nice reminder that Ekaterinburg iron was used to construct the Paris landmark.

Magazine article

Ice caves: a rare subterranean spectacle

by Nicky Gardner

The great Siberian cartographer Semyon Remezov approached the ice cave on the bank of the River Sylva with Christian reverence and a map maker's precision. We follow Remezov to Kungur in Russia to discover one of the finest European examples of a cave with perennial ice.

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The story of Luga Bay

Luga Bay of 50 years ago looked much the same as it would have done in centuries long gone. Fishing, forestry and the extraction of peat were local staples, and the only vessels using the bay would have been those belonging to local fishermen, some of them Izhorian and others Russian. But these days Luga Bay and the community at the head of the bay, which is called Ust-Luga, are very much in the minds of Russia’s industrial magnates and energy moguls.

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Breaking the Ice

This weekend sees the annual ritual of the opening of the ice in anticipation of the Orthodox Feast of the Theophany on Tuesday. Often this is done by creating a hole in the shape of a cross, allowing the faithful to totally immerse themselves in icy waters.

Magazine article

One Glorious Summer

by Nicky Gardner

In summer 1920, the Unovis collective of artists set off from Vitebsk for Moscow. Kasimir Malevich and his comrades were convinced they could realize the full revolutionary potential of art in the Soviet Union. But the rise of Unovis signalled change for a great champion of Vitebsk art. Marc Chagall left his home city. He never returned.

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A Four-Hour Train Journey for one Euro

Over the years we’ve tracked down many great-value international rail fares. We once wrote about the City Star tariff which offered extraordinarily cheap fares from Slovakia to Russia. But there is one cross-border fare in western Europe that even beats that. Have a guess where that might be.

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Chagall Centenary

Vitebsk is a provincial city. St Petersburg is about 500 km away to the north. Moscow, just slighter closer, is due east of Vitebsk. It lies today in the territory of the Republic of Belarus. In the run up to and after the Russian Revolution, Vitebsk developed into a bold hub of artistic energy and innovation – in good part due to the influence of Marc Chagall.

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Voice of a Nation

Across hundreds of French railway stations, millions of travellers every day would in normal times encounter Simone Hérault, for hers is the disembodied voice which proclaims the imminent departure of the TGV to Aix-les-Bains or the regional train to Annecy.

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The Power of Pots and Pans

Last night the government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti was forced to resign, making it the first government in Europe to be toppled by Coronavirus - aided by saucepans. The protest of the angry citizens of Kosovo was expressed by the noisy clamour of pots and pans banged on balconies. We take a look at how kitchenware has been deployed to deter locusts and topple governments.

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Visa changes: Russia and Belarus

As the United Kingdom tightens its entrance requirements, the progressive relaxation of visa regimes elsewhere in Europe is of course very welcome. In this Letter from Europe, we look at changes in visa regulations relating to Russia and Belarus.

Magazine article

Marking Time: New Train Services for 2020

by Nicky Gardner

The hidden europe award for ingenuity in creating new European rail travel opportunities is awarded to Austria's state rail operator, Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB). We look at what ÖBB will offer anew for 2020, and examine too what's new on the rails in Russia, Germany and elsewhere across Europe.

Magazine article

To the Urals and the Russian Riviera

by hidden europe
Direct trains from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius to such far flung destinations as Sochi and Adler (both on the Russia's Back Sea Riviera) and to Anapa and Chelyabinsk recall the days of Soviet travel. We scan the departure boards for a few exotica.
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New issue: hidden europe 57

We have this year visited the Baltic twice already. It's a region of Europe that's at its best in winter, we find, and sedate Binz was the perfect place to pen the editorial for issue 57 of hidden europe which is published tomorrow. Let's take a look at this new issue of the magazine.

Magazine article

In Search of the Old Believers Today

by hidden europe
The Old Believers fled from the tsarist heartland into the remotest corners of the Russian Empire. Some went to Manchuria, moving on to South America and then to Oregon and Alaska. Others found refuge back in Moscow, practising their faith in the city's cemeteries. We go in search of the Old Believers.
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Russians in Bohemia

by hidden europe
Where would the spa towns of Bohemia be without the patronage from the great and good? The Romanov family's enthusiasm for taking the water has encouraged generations of Russians to visit the region.
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The politics of memorials

In Russia, as more widely, the question of who is honoured in statues and memorials is deeply political. So too is the question of when the first memorial is erected and how long it remains. Felix Dzerzhinsky, the first head of the feared Soviet secret police, is a good example. But what of Ivan the Terrible and Vladimir the Great?

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One shot from the Aurora

100 years ago, on the evening of 25 October 1917 (in the Russian calendar), a single blank shell was fired from the Russian cruiser Aurora. It gave the signal for the Bolsheviks to storm the Winter Palace. Was that single blank shot from the Aurora perhaps the most famous gunshot in European history?

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Frank Lloyd Wright in Europe

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Frank Lloyd Wright. He is often regarded as a quintessentially American architect, a man who perhaps was never really comfortable in Europe. But the great advocate of Prairie Style has a legacy in Europe, where many architects were profoundly influenced by Wright's work.

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April 1917: Lenin returns to Russia

News of the revolution in Russia reached Switzerland in March 1917, and many politically active Russian émigrés immediately decided to return home. Led by Lenin, the revolutionaries boarded a sealed carriage and travelled by train across Germany.

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Tales from the East

With mention of fairy tales and film, thoughts often turn to Disney. The cinematic adaptation of fairy tales is often judged in the west to be a peculiarly American prerogative. But central and eastern Europe have a very fine tradition of progressive cinema and a vast store of fairy tales upon which to draw.

Magazine article

Between the Steppe and the Sea

by Nicky Gardner
For Odessa writer Issac Babel, his home town was 'the most charming city of the Russian empire'. For many visitors today, Odessa is one of the most striking Black Sea ports. Join us as we head up the Potemkin Steps to discover Odessa.
Magazine article

The Berry Seller

by Paul E Richardson
Two new books arising from the Spine of Russia project afford a look at everyday life in the Russian Federation. In this preview of one of the books, Paul Richardson swaps notes with Igor, who is selling berries on a roadside in Karelia.
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Summer excursions by train

New summer train timetables kick in across Europe this month, ushering in many new rail links and interesting changes in rail services across the continent.

Magazine article

Understanding the socialist city

by Nicky Gardner

Progressive socialist designs for homes and cities are no longer in fashion. Yet Europe's streetscapes still attest to the grand schemes of yesteryear, when architects and planners envisaged a society that stood opposed to capitalism. We go in search of some first-class cityscapes which were the product of communist Europe.

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New train services for 2016

New railway timetables kick in across much of Europe on Sunday 13 December - so here's a summary of interesting changes which we've noted in the new schedules. They include a useful new direct link from Moscow to Sofia - a journey which connects seven capital cities.

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A new issue of the magazine: hidden europe 47

hidden europe 47 is published today. It costs just 8 euros, and for that you'll get some of the finest travel writing around. If you like our regular Letter from Europe, why not support our work by taking out a sub to the print magazine? Find out more about the contents of this latest issue of hidden europe.

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Eastern connections: rail links through Ukraine

by Nicky Gardner

At a very practical level, the difficult relations between Russia and Ukraine - and in particular their competing interests in Crimea - is playing itself out in train timetables. No trains have run from Ukraine's Kherson Oblast into Crimea for almost a year now. But the effects of the conflict have been felt much further afield, with rail services from Moscow to the Balkans being disrupted.

Magazine article

The spine of Russia

by Nicky Gardner

Mikhail Mordasov is a very talented Russian photographer. Paul Richardson is a translator and writer who knows Russia well. When Mikhail and Paul decided to create a book from a long road trip across Russia, we knew something good was in the offing. Discover the Spine of Russia project.

Magazine article

Mennonite migrants

by hidden europe

Over 100,000 migrants left Kyrgyzstan in the 1990s, a good number moving to Germany. Many of them were descended from Mennonites who over a century earlier had walked from the steppes of southern Russia to Kyrgyzstan.

Magazine article

Ukrainian-Russian links

by hidden europe

The tit-for-tat posturing between Ukraine and Russia benefits no-one trying to travel to and from Crimea - or for that matter anywhere in the border regions between the two countries. In late October 2015, air links between Russia and Ukraine were severed.

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Jurmala, a victim of circumstance

Imagine a gorgeous sweep of white quartz sand backed by low dunes and pine forest. Add in several mineral water springs of therapeutic value and an endless supply of curative mud - and there you have Jurmala's prime assets. The Latvian coastal resort is not so very far from the capital Riga.

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Europe by rail: spring news

It is that time of year when rail companies across Europe tweak their schedules for the upcoming summer season. Here's an overview of some of the noteworthy changes for this spring.

Magazine article

A touch of Russia

by Nicky Gardner

Europe has so many very comfortable train services, but it's really hard to trump the top-of-the-range Russian trains used on routes from Moscow to many cities in central and western Europe. For inner-EU journeys, these trains are often great value. Hop on board for Russian style.

Magazine article

The road to Ishim

by Nicky Gardner

The Edinburgh Castle is a pub in the Welsh town of Holyhead (Caergybi in Welsh). The roundabout just outside that pub looks unremarkable. But it marks the very start of the road to Ishim, a route of over 5000 kilometres that spans seven countries.

Magazine article

Tall statements

by hidden europe

Faith has evidently replaced politics as the motivation for some of the world's tallest sculptures. In Europe, the largest such structure is the massive statue of Jesus Christ at Swiebodzin in western Poland.

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From the Barents Sea to Gagauzia

The ebb and flow of life in Brussels, London and Paris is well covered in mainstream media. We have instead opted for the road less travelled. hidden europe 44, which is published today, carries reports from offbeat and unsung communities right across Europe.

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Borderlands: the Pasvik Valley

by Nicky Gardner

Few borders divide societies which are so markedly different as the frontier between Norway's easternmost county of Finnmark and Russia's Murmansk Oblast. We take a look at life on both sides of the border in a region which was once a key part of the Sami homeland.

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Russia’s eternal winter

by hidden europe

They have fiddled with the clocks in Moscow. Not just in Moscow, but right across the Russian Federation. Russia has decided to move to perpetual winter – at least when it comes to time. For the clocks shall stay henceforth on winter time.

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A fine affair: Russians on the Riviera

by Nicky Gardner

Russia's love affair with the French Riviera (and the adjacent Ligurian coastal littoral to the east) has been one of Europe's defining cultural interactions of the last 200 years. We take at look at how Russian visitors have helped shape Riviera life.

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The power of song

by Nicky Gardner

It is forty years since Pete Seeger took to stages in Moscow, the Crimea and Prague as part of a world tour. Seeger died earlier this year of course, and in this postscript to his life we look at how Seeger's music was very similar to that of the guitar poets in eastern Europe in the post-Stalin period.

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Crimea notes

by hidden europe

The Ukrainian railway administration may still be advertising trains to Crimea, but not a lot of Ukrainians will be heading to the region for their summer holidays. Hoteliers in Crimea are having a lean season, but Moscow has plans to ensure that Crimean resorts are not completely empty in 2014.

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Russian Orthodox churches on the Riviera

by hidden europe

Visitors to the Riviera are often surprised to find the striking Orthodox churches along the coast. From the red headlands of the Esterel Massif to Sanremo in Liguria, there is a hint of the east in the ecclesiastical landscape - a legacy of the history of Russian visitors to the region.

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In search of Eden

There is something very pleasing about communities which display a strong architectural coherence. In some instances, the sense of order and unity might take its spark from one striking central feature. The Italian city of Palmanova is a good example.

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Second chance for the Northern Sea Route

by Nicky Gardner

Global warming means thinning Arctic ice, which is a tragedy for imperilled polar wildlife. But, for the merchant shipping industry, receding Arctic ice opens up new opportunities for exploiting the Northern Sea Route. The route from the Barents Sea to the Bering Strait is being transformed into an operational seaway.

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Meaningful partnerships for eastern Europe

by Nicky Gardner

The worrying developments in Ukraine highlight the challenges experienced by countries eligible for support under the European Union's Eastern Partnerships (EaP) programme. Tugged in one direction by Brussels and in the other by Moscow, it is no surprise that loyalties in the region are being sorely tested.

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Choreographing opinion

by Nicky Gardner

Did Prince Grigor Potemkin really try to fool Catherine the Great into thinking that life in Russia's Black Sea region was rosier than it really was? We think the idea of Potemkin villages is probably a myth, and that Prince Potemkin was guilty of doing no more than what PR agencies do every day - nudging opinion towards a favourable interpretion of reality. It's a fact of modern life, as common in Stockholm and Strasbourg as it is in Sochi.

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Defending Mother Russia

You might believe that a garage is merely a concrete shed where you park your car overnight. But think again! Alexey doesn't have a car but his corrugated-iron garage figures mightily in his lifeworld. It is his space, a secluded reserve away from the family where Alexey takes an hour out every evening. Today, on the holiday devoted to those who have defended Russia, the menfolk of the country expect a few extra privileges - even if they have never actually gone to war.

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The Chelyuskin epic

As Russian families gather today to celebrate Christmas (which in Orthodox Europe falls later than in the Roman calendar), they will be inclined - like families everywhere in the world - to look back to Christmas tales from yesteryear. There is barely a Russian alive - of any age - who cannot recount a heroic tale or two about the bravery of the crew and passengers of the Chelyuskin, who 80 years ago endured an ice-bound Christmas in the Chukchi Sea.

Magazine article

All points east

by Nicky Gardner

The new rail schedules for 2014 kick in across Europe in mid-December. Big changes are afoot as Russia rethinks its strategy for passenger services from Moscow to principal cities in the European Union. There are changes to night train services, a new international link from Austria and much more.

Magazine article

Fictional twins

by hidden europe

Do they have meerkats in Russia? Or in Market Harborough? And where exactly is Meerkovo? We go in search of Russia's most famous non-existent village.

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New ports for the Far North

by Nicky Gardner

The harbour front at Kirkenes could be transformed if the Norwegian port became a major transit point for freight to and from Russia. The key to this happening is getting Russian-gauge railway tracks to Kirkenes. But other ports in northern Norway are also developing similar plans. We look at the politics of laying tracks across frontiers.

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The Russian Season in Paris

No-one goes to the Avenue des Champs-Elysées (on the right bank) looking for revolution. But cast back one hundred years this month and the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées was the venue for some radical departures from choreographic convention. It is an extraordinary building, one that in its style presciently anticipates what later came to be known as art deco.

Magazine article

Brand power

by hidden europe

The number of Russians making cross-border journeys into northern Scandinavia to go shopping leapt by over a third last year. They head for small towns in northern Finland and some even continue into Sweden to visit the world's northernmost branch of IKEA.

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The Great and the Good: history distilled in Franz Josef Land

by Nicky Gardner

The maps of Franz Josef Land are a cartographic journey through the royal salons of a lost era. Here is territory where the relatives of explorers are locked in cartographic alliance with a Russian princess and the Viceroy of India. We look at the cartographic legacy of early travels to Russia's largest Arctic archipelago.

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Crimea connections

Foros is a place for holidays and for history. During the Soviet era, this resort at the southern tip of the Crimea was much favoured by Kremlin leaders looking for a little summer relaxation. Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev was at his dacha in Foros in August 1991 when the old guard in Moscow attempted to seize power. The coup failed, but it nudged the Soviet Union over the brink. Within a week, the Union was unravelling as constituent republics edged towards independence.

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Russia’s wooden churches

Many books cross our desks. This year, one particular volume has struck us more than any other. Wooden Churches: Travelling in the Russian North is a remarkable volume. Superb photography by Richard Davies complemented by evocative prose by Matilda Moreton make for a winning combination. The book is truly an object to treasure, just as the churches it describes are aspects of Europe's heritage that should be treasured.

Magazine article

Chance encounter: Cape Flora

by Nicky Gardner

In July 1893, a remarkable chance encounter took place at Cape Flora on Northbrook Island in the Franz Josef archipelago. The Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen and his companion Fredrik Johansen, who had failed to reach the North Pole, bumped in the British expeditioner Frederick George Jackson. This serendipitous meeting almost certainly saved the lives of Nansen and Johansen. Two decades later, another equally fortuitous meeting took place at Cape Flora.

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Look west

For generations of Americans, the West told of a promising new dawn and a land of opportunity. Wild it may have been, but the settling of the West was a process that helped shape American identity. The pioneer past is even today a strong thread in the fabric of American history and culture. Urbane east coasters who may never have seen the Rockies still know the stories of the settlers and prospectors who helped colonise the land beyond the Mississippi. Shift to Russia and the concept of the West has always had mixed overtones.

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The train to Tundra

Year by year, the population of Obozersky dwindles. Fifty years ago, more than 7000 people lived in this little town in the Russian Arctic. More than half have left. They took the train south and never returned. The cream and brown railway station is spick and span and, along with the Orthodox church, is one of the smartest buildings in town. Railways and religion are the mainstays of rural Russia.

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Reshaping mental maps

This evening, a train will speed from Córdoba to Valencia in just a shade over three hours, marking the inauguration of another link in Spain's growing high-speed rail network. True, the new stretch of line in this case is very modest, but it is enough to facilitate a new fast service linking the Guadalquivir Valley in Andalucía with the Gulf of Valencia. And it will help reshape the mental maps of citizens of both the Spanish Levante and Andalucía.

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Musings for May Day

Across much of Europe, May is ushered in by a night of bonfires and revelry. "All a matter of keeping the witches at bay," says our friend Milena who lives in a small village in Bohemia. Across the Czech Republic, the vigil of May Day is the cue for pálení carodejnic (the witch burning). There are bonfires and broomsticks aplenty and folk stay up till dawn. The shift from April to May is a liminal moment in the calendrical affairs of the European continent - one of those edgy, dangerous temporal boundaries that deserve to be taken seriously.

Magazine article

In the days of prosperity

by Nicky Gardner

The River Narva marks one of Europe's more conspicuous frontiers: that between the European Union (and the Schengen area) to the west and the Russian Federation to the east. But cultures do not always respect borders and in a visit to Narva, on the Estonian bank of the river, we encounter a city that is very Russian in demeanour.

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Shaping socialist history: Tampere

by Nicky Gardner

Lenin's promise that Finland would be granted her independence after the Bolshevik Revolution was first made in Tampere. This Finnish city has a fine industrial and political heritage, as we discover when we visit a museum devoted to the life and work of Lenin.

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Timing matters

by Nicky Gardner

Russia's decision this year to abandon seasonal changes of clocks has prompted much media comment. Belarus has followed Russia's example. Ukraine, after much prevarication, has opted to stick with alternating winter and summer time. In this short piece for hidden europe, we take a look at the politics and time.

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An Arctic outpost: Victoria Island

by Nicky Gardner

The story of Victoria Island, a tiny fleck of land in the European Arctic midway between Svalbard and Franz Josef Land, is a reminder that there are better ways of conducting international diplomacy than leaving a message in a bottle.

Magazine article

To name a train: from Easterlings to Tyrolean bacon

by Nicky Gardner

This summer marks the 80th anniversary of the launch of one of Russia’s most famous trains, the ‘Red Arrow’ fast overnight service between Moscow and St Petersburg. hidden europe editor Nicky Gardner has been taking a look at some of Europe’s most memorably named trains — and a few less memorable ones.

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The past is another country

by Nicky Gardner

To accompany our feature on Karelia in this issue of hidden europe magazine, we look at how Finland’s ceded eastern territories, now part of the Russian Federation, remain a potent symbol in the Finnish imagination.

Magazine article

The Russian Federation

by hidden europe

Kalmykia is the only political unit in Europe where Buddhism is the dominant religion. You think we jest! But it is true. We take a look at some of the lesser known republics within the European part of the Russian Federation.

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Train services of yesteryear

There is much talk today about how we live in a new age of the train, and that many journeys around Europe are now much more sensibly undertaken by rail rather than air. Only too true, but such rhetoric does imply that rail travel in Europe was utterly dreadful for an earlier generation of travellers. We have been taking a look at European rail travel 40 years ago.

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A tale of two Eltons

You could easily miss Elton. The train from Dublin to Cork speeds past Elton. You hardly catch a glimpse of the cluster of houses that make up this little Irish village. When the grandly titled Great Southern and Western Railway built a line through the district in 1849, they judged Knocklong, just a couple of minutes up the line from Elton, as deserving of a station. So Elton, a little smaller than Knocklong, lost out.

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The spiritual geography of Karelia

Are not some landscapes genuinely therapeutic? We crested wave after wave of rolling forests as we drove through Karelia last week. Writers looking to plot the spiritual geography of Europe might do well to start here, for Finnish Karelia is a landscape full of longing and nostalgia, a region that has a very distinctive sanctity. We did not start our journey as pilgrims, yet Karelia wove its spell around us and turned us into pilgrims.

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Rail update: Russia, Ukraine and Belarus

New rail timetables for the former Soviet Union come into effect later this month. There remains some uncertainty about some services, but for travellers heading east, here are a few thoughts on what to expect: the return of the Berlin to Kaliningrad night train, a new link from Riga to Minsk, a direct daily train from Berlin to Ukraine and more.

Magazine article

By ferry to Russia

by hidden europe

There is one very good reason for travelling by ferry to the Russian city of St Petersburg. For a short stay, ferry travellers are generally exempt from Russia's otherwise strict visa rules. So no surprise perhaps that St Peter Line, which already operates ferries from Helsinki to St Petersburg, is now adding new routes from Stockholm and Tallinn.

Magazine article

Girls on the bridge

by hidden europe

A line of red and green Russian border-posts skirt the Norwegian Parliament building in Oslo. Politicians turn and look, as do casual passers-by. It is a quiet reminder that Norway really does share a common land border with Russia.

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Polar nights in Spitsbergen

It was unusually warm in Longyearbyen in Spitsbergen this past Sunday. The temperature peaked at minus 7 degrees Celsius. And the jazz helped give Longyearbyen a more temperate ring last weekend as the remote Arctic community, capital of the Svalbard archipelago, celebrated its annual Polar Jazz festival.

Magazine article

Changing horizons: new hope for Kharkiv and Kazan

by Nicky Gardner

Look at the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable and you might think there are hardly any trains in eastern Europe. Indeed, the monthly timetable, which runs to over 500 pages, typically devotes less than a dozen pages to the eastern half of the continent. We make a friendly plea for visibility on behalf of rail travellers to Kazan, Samara and Volgograd.

Magazine article

Competing with the guidebook

by Nicky Gardner

Two new series of books, one from Oxygen Books in the UK and the other from Duke University Press in the USA impel us to reflect on a growing public appetite for anthologies of good literature about places in Europe.

Magazine article

Old submarines come home to die: Severodvinsk

by Nicky Gardner

Severodvinsk's most famous export product is nuclear submarines. No other shipyard city in the world has as much experience as Severodvinsk in the design and construction of such vessels. This remote community on the White Sea, even further north than a place called Tundra, reveals a side of Russia not seen by many tourists.

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Superstitious minds

by hidden europe

If you happen to know a good source of peewit's hearts, please let us know. We explore some of the zanier superstitions that we have run across on our travels across Europe.

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Cruise ferry update

by hidden europe

Catamarans compete for space with whales and dolphins in the crowded sea lanes off the south coast of Spain. Space is tight in some European waters as more travellers embrace ferry travel and an efficient and relaxing way of getting around.

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Border markers

We sensed we were crossing into another world as the Moscow-bound train rumbled over the long bridge that spans the River Bug. The reed beds are full of wildfowl which are not troubled by the frequent trains that rattle overhead. This is the border wilderness that divides Poland from Belarus. It marks one of Europe's great divides: the Curzon Line.

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The politics of heritage

Albi, Downe, Bikini Atoll and the Putorana Plateau are all in competition with each other next week as UNESCO gears up to announce a new round of World Heritage Sites. Securing a place on the World Heritage List can lead to a big boost in tourism revenue, but not everywhere that is on the list automatically becomes hugely popular.

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Polar dawns (Polyarnye Zori)

Polar dawns come in different shades, often with streaks of rare beauty lacing the skies. Not so in Polyarnye Zori, a town in northern Russia whose very name means 'polar dawns'. Most of the time a giant cloud hangs over Polyarnye Zori, while kids dive into the warm water outfall of the local nuclear power plant.

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The legacy of Katyn

It was twenty years ago this coming Tuesday that Moscow formally acknowledged that the Soviet secret police (the NKVD) had shot thousands of officers, priests, poets and professors in the forests of Katyn. The legacy of Katyn still scars the Polish soul, even more so today after the air crash near Katyn that claimed the lives of eighty-nine Polish politicians and officials including the Polish President.

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East of Trieste

Europe's Cold War borders were by no means ubiquitously impervious. Trieste on the Adriatic coast of Italy always had rather good links to neighbouring Yugoslavia. Earlier this week, we decided to travel east from Trieste, and found that the modern piety of open borders has done nothing to foster eastbound rail links from the port city.

Magazine article

A Russian diversion

by hidden europe

The Imperial Russian Standard, with the double-headed eagle so intimately associated with the Romanovs, still hangs in the living room of a wooden lodge on the bank of a river in southern Finland. We visit the former holiday home of the Russian tsars.

Magazine article

Disquiet in Kaliningrad

by Nicky Gardner

Is it no wonder that citizens of Russia's Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad are feeling a little jittery these days? Kaliningrad's inhabitants feel that they are a long way from Moscow, and also increasingly distant from the European Union countries that border onto the Russian exclave.

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The Black Sea Riviera by train

Europe has Rivieras aplenty. For many travellers, the word Riviera evokes images of the French coast from St Raphael to Menton. But we should not forget the Black Sea, which has along its north coast a Riviera style coastline that is surely the match of its Mediterranean namesakes.

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Last train from Russia

Remember Mlynary? Well we have news of Mlynary, the station that has long been unusual in being served only by Russian trains, even though it is in Polish territory.

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The Togliatti syndrome

Journalists in Togliatti (sometimes transliterated as Tolyatti), a town on the banks of the Volga, know all too well about the dangers of reporting in Russia. Tolyattinskoe obozrenie (Togliatti Review) was a minor star in Russian provincial journalism - a genuinely independent newspaper that started life as a weekly but later switched to daily publication.

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Wayward moose and reindeer

We chanced on a nice yarn from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) this week when they reported on the manners of the moose who roam the Arctic wilderness around the Pasvik valley, where the territories of Norway, Finland and Russia are hopelessly intertwined.

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Great travel myths

We were intrigued to read a recent account in an English newspaper of a journey along "he most northerly railway in the world". The Ofoten railway from Kiruna in Sweden to Narvik in Norway is without doubt one of the most remarkable train journeys anywhere in Europe - but it surely is not the most northerly rail route in the world.

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Train service changes for 2010

The Balkan region gets a new rail service tomorrow, with the launch of a once daily direct train between Belgrade and Sarajevo. It is a mark of how much the mood in the region has improved over recent years that routes severed during the nineties are now being restored.

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Key train to Kaliningrad axed

The new EU Kaliningrad programme is designed to promote contact and understanding between Russia's Baltic exclave at Kaliningrad and the territory's EU neighbours. But sadly, just as this new programme is announced, so comes news that a key train service linking Kaliningrad and Berlin is about to be axed.
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Vadsø (northern Norway)

You really know you have travelled a long way east when you get to Vadsø. The local church, which dominates the small town on the Barents Sea, is a late 1950s essay in poured concrete. But take a peek inside for a surprise. This is a Norwegian Lutheran church with an interior design that has striking Byzantine overtones. The chancel area has an almost Orthodox demeanour.

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Reindeer pay heavy price for global warming

One of the key points we learnt from an article on the Sámi of Russia's Kola Peninsula is how warmer autumns are making life much harder for the locals. They rely on frozen ground to allow winter mobility in the tundra. But these days the ground does not freeze till later - sometimes not until Christmas.

Magazine article

Arctic concord

by hidden europe

Cross-border confidence is the Barents Sea region has this year prompted a raft of new initiatives fascillitating contact between Norway and Russia. hidden europe reports from the town of Kirkenes in northeast Norway.

Magazine article

Invading Liechtenstein

by Nicky Gardner

Liechtenstein is one of Europe's unsung territories: a tiny Alpine principality by-passed by most travellers. We follow the route of an army of Russian soldiers that sought sanctuary in Liechtenstein in May 1945.

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Airport links

Is not the journey to the airport often one of the great hassles of modern travel? Not all of us can enjoy the relaxed approach taken in the Isle of Man where narrow gauge steam trains pause on request at Ronaldsway Halt, just a short walk from the island's airport.

Magazine article

Russia: the Kola Sámi

by Nicky Gardner

There is a Sámi proverb that says: "Don't try to predict today that which we shall know for sure tomorrow." So the local Sámi in Russia's Kola Peninsula will not venture any opinion on whether Sámi life has any credible future in their home region.

Magazine article

The train from Kazakhstan

by Nicky Gardner

we report on the only train that provides a direct link between anywhere in Asia and the European Union: the weekly train from Astana in Kazakhstan to Berlin's Lichtenberg station

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Crossing the border at Boris Gleb

Boris and Gleb are as saintly a duo as Peter and Paul or Cyril and Methodius. Travel round Russia and you will come across no end of churches dedicated to Boris and Gleb. The two were in fact brothers and evidently their tender humility marked the Russian soul. That very Orthodox quality of patient forbearance of suffering is often said to be inspired by Boris and Gleb.

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Tallinn's last Soviet soldier

Tallinn's Bronze Soldier highlights the difficulties of rendering recent history. Visitors to Potsdam, a city in the former German Democratic Republic very close to Berlin, will find many informative notices that unravel the story of the old Hohenzollern palaces that litter the Potsdam landscape. For those interested in architecture, landscape design and imperial history, the park and palaces in and around Sanssouci are magnificent.

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Not quite...goodbye, Lenin!

by Nicky Gardner

The former Russian leader may have slumped in the popularity stakes in recent years, but that doesn't mean that all the tributes to Lenin have disappeared. We explore a few Lenin museums.

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Turbulent waters

by Nicky Gardner

Freight boats that take passengers, new routes and change aplenty as hidden europe reviews what's new in Europe's shipping schedules for 2007.

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Another kind of Chernobyl

by Nicky Gardner

Pesticides, dioxins and nickel processing are among the worst culprits in some of Europe's environmental black spots. hidden europe reports from a few places that lie off most travellers' itineraries.

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Mere conventions: meridian lines

by Nicky Gardner

Meridian lines may be merely a matter of cartographic convention, but a lot of politics underpinned the selection of Greenwich as the prime meridian. We report from El Hierro in the Canary Islands, once known as Isla del Meridiano. Many old maps and charts reference longitude against the Ferro meridian - which skirted the western coast of El Hierro.

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Latvian border links

by hidden europe

Latvia's eastern borders mark the outer edge of the European Union. We look at a couple of frontier oddities in the areas where Latvia borders on to Belarus and Russia.

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Forbidden zones

by hidden europe

A note on the territories where foreigners may not tread: the closed cities and proscribed zones of the Russian Federation.

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A Polish port: Frombork

by Nicky Gardner

In Frombork, a tiny port on Poland's Baltic coast, the ferry terminal has closed down for the winter. A lone fisherman sits at the end of the pier and looks out over the lagoon to Russia. But the town where Nicolaus Copernicus lived and worked turns out to have a rare off-season appeal.

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By ferry to Russia

The whispers from Moscow last week that Russia will sanction visa-free travel to the country for visitors arriving and leaving on ferries is good news indeed. Cruise ship passengers have long benefitted from just such a dispensation, but only if they take part in a fully escorted tour. Hence the crowds of day trippers that are herded around St Petersburg during the cruise season.

Magazine article

Without let or hindrance: passports of yesteryear

by Nicky Gardner

The Russian writer Anton Chekhov travelled around Russia with nothing more than his university diploma as evidence of his identity and good character. Nineteenth-century Englishmen, if they had a passport at all, often opted for a Belgian or French one! We examine the history of the world's most travelled document.

Magazine article

Crossing the Urals

by hidden europe

What about the most northerly railway route across the Ural Mountains? Way up north in the Nenets regions, the train to Labytnangi makes the Trans-Siberian route over the Urals seem rather tame.

Magazine article

Divided by a common border: the Narva river region

by Nicky Gardner

Rivers are often the great links between nations. Not so the Narva River which divides Russia from Estonia. We review life in this border region and look at how the Saimaa Canal, on the frontier between Finland and Russia, might offer a good model for the Narva river area.

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Robocop R BOT 101

by hidden europe

R BOT 101 is a robot. He never loses his cool, nor can he be bribed. But otherwise he is much the same as the human police officers who pound the beat in the Russian city of Perm. Meet a Russian electronic cop!

Magazine article

Not just face value: European charity stamps

by Nicky Gardner

Micro-donations to charity have been a feature of European postage stamps for over a century. Letter-writers have supported athletes, orphans and unemployed intellectuals - as well as clothing naked Swedish soldiers - by buying charity stamps.

Magazine article

Kaliningrad conundrum

by Nicky Gardner

The Königsberg problem: start and end at the same place, and walk through the city, crossing all seven bridges once and no more. A mathematical puzzle from the Russian city of Kaliningrad.

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A dog's life

by hidden europe

Chtenia: Readings from Russia is a new themed literary journal that features good Russian writing, old and new, in translation. If it lives up to the promise of its first issue, which focuses on canine tales from Russia, it will be a huge success.

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From Prussia to Russia: Kaliningrad

by Nicky Gardner

With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Baltic port of Kaliningrad found itself strangely isolated from the rest of Russia. Hemmed in by the European Union, the city of Kaliningrad is rethinking its role in the modern world. It is a remarkable city in a remarkable region.

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In praise of birches

by hidden europe

Pause and listen, in the rustles of a late summer breeze stirring the majestic birch, for an echo of the Russian soul. Russians have a very special relationship with the birch tree. Find out more!

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Children of the Russian century

by Nicky Gardner

Berlin's most extraordinary cemetery is tucked away in the northwest corner of the city. It is a place where the Mentzels and Morgensterns rub shoulders with Molokans and Old Believers.

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All change: 2009 rail schedules

by Nicky Gardner

It is often said that Europe is experiencing a new "age of the train" as travellers rediscover the pleasures of rail travel. We take a look at what the 2009 timetables have to offer.

Magazine article

Pomor visa fiasco

by hidden europe

Way up north near the Barents Sea, Norway borders onto Russia. The Norwegian port of Kirkenes depends heavily on good links with its Russian hinterland. But all is not well in this Arctic wilderness.

Magazine article

Rallying support for the nation

by Nicky Gardner

In western Europe, long distance car rallies of the inter-war years came to symbolise glitz and glamour. Just think of the Monte Carlo rally. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union the car rally became an important tool in the building of socialism. We look at how sport blends imperceptibly into propaganda.

Magazine article

Focus on fish

by Nicky Gardner

Many a coastal community, and even one or two inland spots, have realised that there's no better way to promote trade and tourism than through a colourful display of freshly landed fish and other seafood.

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Abkhazia - the Adler connection

If Abkhazia were more secure and better promoted, it would surely be a holiday paradise to match anywhere in the Mediterranean. The area is spectacular with serene beaches backed by meadows, orchards and vineyards with - just a little further inland - wild mountain landscapes. At this time of year, the mountains are still draped in snow, but that does not deter locals heading up into the hills to go fishing in mountain lakes.

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Thoughts on Russia

Russian perceptions of Europe are much in the news this month in the wake of Moscow's response to the Tbilisi government's ill-considered adventure in South Ossetia. And yet Russian popular perceptions are shaped not merely by Kremlin dictates but by several centuries of Russian writing about western Europe.

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Russia's Baltic coast

It is that time of year when Baltic seaside resorts come into their own, reminding the rest of Europe that beach culture is not solely a Mediterranean prerogative. The sedate charms of Sellin (on the German island of Rügen) are a world away from Spanish sun and sangria, though only those with the strongest constitutions brave the chilly Baltic waters in late May.

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Across Siberia by slow train

Some of our most productive moments are while we are travelling. And Botton is surely right. A slow train that meanders around forests and lakes of Pomerania, stopping off at tiny wayside halts every few minutes, breeds a quite different set of musings from a sleek express that slices through the countryside at two hundred kilometres an hour. Somehow creativity, for us at least, is spurred by the slow train.

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Railway schedules: a look ahead

It is years since the blue and white sleeping cars of Russian Railways (RZD) have been seen in the Netherlands, Switzerland or Bavaria but all three look set to feature on a daily basis in the RZD schedules for 2008. A major revamping of east-west night train services will create a raft of new journey options.

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Hints of the desert

The land around the Cabo de Gata really does include many classic elements of desert terrain: a nice volcanic mesa, little alluvial fans and of course sand dunes. It is a landscape that has stood in for both the American West and the Middle East on the silver screen. Not just spaghetti westerns, but also many scenes in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. In the September 2007 issue of hidden europe magazine we shall take a look at the ways in which film directors create their own geographies.

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Remote mosques: Norway and Wales

Tromsø¸ has many charms, though they may not be quite evident at this time of the year when deep winter darkness still shrouds the town in Arctic Norway. The island town can pop a few surprises, however, for it turns out that Tromsø¸ has a small Islamic community. Ramadan is edging ever closer to the longer summer days.

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Celebrating Christmas

Christmas generates its own extraordinary traditions across Europe - but they differ greatly from country to country. Even the date on which the celebrations reach their apotheosis varies across the continent. In Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, children get a foretaste of Christmas on the eve of St Nicholas (5 December), or on the feast day itself (6 December).

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The road to Petsamo

Early European travel was hugely driven by Christian virtue. Those of the truly devout who had the resources would try to visit Rome, Jerusalem or Santiago de Compostela. The fifteenth century English mystic, Margery Kempe, managed all three, and then topped off the grand trio of shrines by travelling to Bad Wilsnack near Berlin, which was then one of the premier pilgrimage sites in northern Europe.

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Lost communities: France, Russia and more

Many are the European communities that have been lost to warfare, natural disasters or other agencies. The modern world's voracious appetite for water has spelt the death knell for many communities. On Russia's Volga River, the great Rybinsk dam project in the 1940s led to the flooding of a huge area, engulfing over a hundred villages and the entire city of Mologa.

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International Women's Day

While Saxony's womenfolk were treated to coffee and cake afloat, indulgence of another kind was evident in the industrial city of Perm, just west of Russia's Ural mountains. Light snow fell this afternoon on the thousands of couples gathered in Perm's main square in pursuit of a remarkable record.

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Film museums in Berlin, Amsterdam and Lyon - and a lament for Moscow

One European museum of cinema to keep an eye on for the future is the Dutch Film Museum in Amsterdam which has just this week unveiled detailed plans for a stunning new building. Delugan Meissl's avant-garde essay in architectural geometry should come to fruition in 2009 when the new building opens on a fine riverbank site next to the landmark Shell building.

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Swedish Lapland - racism in Russia - a tale of two ships

Minority language radio broadcasting takes a step forward in Sweden today, when a new dedicated Sámi language radio station hits the airwaves in the Lapland region of northern Sweden. The Sámi minority has always benefitted from some local language broadcasting in northern Sweden, often just a couple of hours daily, but commencing 16 January 2006, there will be 24 hour broadcasting in the Sámi language.

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The 'other' Channel Islands (France) - the Barents Sea

As always at this time of year, the calm of winter isolation has settled on the Iles Chausey. Most of the population have shuttered up their houses and left Chausey for the mainland. Only the real chausias remain, less than a dozen in number. The ferry from Granville on the coast of Normandy that brings in so many summer visitors has dropped back to its winter schedule with just two crossings a week.

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Lutepää (Estonia) - nocturnal Europe

In the picture perfect world of wooden houses and picket fences that is Lutepää (on Estonia's eastern border with Russia), every household has neatly stacked piles of wood ready for winter. The rich autumn whiff of burning wood has already eclipsed summer scents of newly mown grass, and the apples in the little orchards that surround every home are beginning to fall.

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The train to Siberia - a Kraków curiosity

Walk the royal road south from Kraków's magnificent central square and you cannot miss the great hill of Wawel with its palace and cathedral overlooking the Wisla river. Walk up to the cathedral in the quiet of night, or at dawn on a summer morning, and chances are that you may find one or two people sitting in silent meditation that may last some hours.