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Karelia

Locations and Lifehacks

While planning a trip to Karelia, many people include places such as Kizhi, Valaam and Ruskeala Mountain Park in their bucket list. So here I am telling you about some more locations and life hacks that can make your trip to Karelia even more interesting.

Petrozavodsk — The Capital of the Republic Karelia

Usually a trip to Karelia starts here - in the capital of the Republic of Karelia. All of the main transportation hubs are here: airport, train and bus stations. Tour buses and guided tours also depart from here. One day is quite enough to check out all the sights in the city itself. But a second day is definitely worthwhile to gain historical knowledge in the local museums. For example, to find out that Petrozavodsk is named in honour of Peter the Great, and not in honour of the Apostle Peter; or to learn that the weapons produced at the Alexander factory here in Petrozavodsk helped Russia to win 10 wars. You can do a lot of other amazing things in Petrozavodsk! For example, cook Karelian little pies «kalitki» with a famous local chef; take a walk through the oldest park in Russia and walk around Alexandro-Nevsky Cathedral; look closely at bots (single-mast sailboats) in the «Polar Odyssey» Maritime museum… But most of all you will like the embankment of Petrozavodsk! The 1.5 km long promenade along Onega Lake is an incredible and eclectic exhibition of gifts received from its sister cities.

 

So there you can see a plastic wishing tree with an ear, to which you may whisper your wish (I hope it will come true in the best way) and a statue «wallet» that you need to rub until it shines, as well as wooden totem poles.  Also, metal poles from Tübingen symbolizing friendship, and a steel sheet with holes symbolizing the sky. But the most beautiful monument was presented by sculptors from the American city of Duluth, Minnesota. By the way, all the monuments have cool nicknames, for example: locals call a statue of fishermen “dystrophic persons with a spider web”. What kind of sculptures are hiding under the nicknames «the gathering of lesbians» and «the teeth of the mayor»?  You’ll find out upon arrival.

  • Orange-fact
    Petrozavodsk is a port of five seas. From the city you can get to the Baltic, White, Barents, Caspian and Black Seas.

Khutor Kormilo

This is the kind of place you imagine when you think about Karelia: a quiet lake with an island, boats near the shore, a huge meadow where horses are grazing and dogs are running around. Log houses with a Russian stove inside. However, just 49 km from Kostomuksha there is a tourist village (kind of tourist camp) Khutor Kormilo, where you can find much more than you imagined before the trip. There you can see a quite rare breed of horses Tinker grazing in the meadow. There is a herd of goats in the village and even a herd of alpacas! There is a dog couple of the Samoyed (Bjelkier) breed, every so often they have wonderful offspring. I was lucky - right on my visit they had five puppies, those cute snow-white fluffy lumps were running around the meadow.

 

The guest houses have all the facilities including kitchenettes. However, Olga, the hostess of the Khutor Kormilo, cooks very well - you can have a meal in the common dining room of the main house. You may ask the owner Victor to give you a tour in his own museum of samovars, his private collection. All the exhibits are really impressive, they were bought in different countries and flea markets. You will not regret and definitely will have a good rest, if you stay at the Khutor Kormilo for at least a couple of nights.

 

Kinerma — The most beautiful village in Russia

  

Kinerma has been included in the list of the most beautiful Russian villages many years in a row. Probably, the old Karelian settlements could compete quite well, but the best one gets all the attention - every year there are more and more visitors. Kinerma is a village with only a couple of streets: 17 old wooden houses with platbands, some of them two hundred years old; 7 wooden Russian baths; branchy apple trees, the chapel of Virgin Mary of Smolensk. The village is located 100 km from Petrozavodsk in the Pryazhinsky district. Karelians lived there for five centuries, preserving their traditions and culture. You can hardly meet any locals on the streets though. But if you are lucky (or vice versa) you can meet a dozen cameramen and sound engineers in Kinerma, which is very popular for filming. I got to the location shooting of the movie "Flame" by the famous Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov. So I didn’t have an opportunity to walk through the village, because the shooting of some scenes was just in process. And I made a joke: “This is how it works - you travel a thousand miles from Moscow to visit Kinerma but there is Konstantin Khabensky coming out of the bushes!” Well, it turned out that he was actually starring in that movie.

Voknavolok — The village of runic singers

The best time to visit Voknavolok is during one of the festivals, when locals wear traditional costumes, they are very welcoming, and of course they sing old runic songs. They say local people even speak the old dialect of the Karelian language during the festivals, but who can check it? During everyday life, Voknavolok is a typical Karelian village of 200 houses, a place where it’s so nice to have a rest and enjoy the fresh air. People are going about their daily routine, working in vegetable gardens, fishing on Lake Upper Kuyto. An hour is enough to take a walk through the village. You will enjoy natural rural aromas, wet your feet in grassy dew, you will see huge milk churns, a curious dog that will accompany you to the very end of the village. And you will definitely see old houses and barns, which are the main reason for people to travel here.

 

The White Sea petroglyphs

Looking at the petroglyphs right under my feet, I had a funny thought. Why do most of the petroglyphs depict hunting scenes? And where are the scenes of jealousy or love, for example? Anyway I saw dozens of hunters, with bows and arrows, I saw fishermen on boats, deer, elks. There was one amazing thing though - a Homo Sapiens on skis!

 

There are several accumulations of petroglyphs in Karelia - at the mouth of the Vyg River, near the village of Vygostrov and the village of Zolotets. I went to the Old and New Zalavruga, which are 9 km from Belomorsk. A 1.5 km path through a forest full of mosquitoes leads to the petroglyphs. So you’d better stock up on repellent before the walk. Over an area of ​​about 200 meters ancient people of the 3000 - 2000 BC carved more than 1000 petroglyphs. Some of them are amazingly well preserved under a layer of soil. But local sellers of souvenirs share a secret: once every few years, restorers fix the petroglyphs for better preservation.

The Kivach Waterfall

Waterfalls, which seems to be given to us from Heaven as meditative places, also turn into great energetic places. Everyone is having fun near the waterfall and taking thousands of pictures. It is always crowded at Kivach observation decks, a lot of people want to admire the second largest waterfall after the Rhine Falls in Europe. The name of the waterfall comes from the Finnish “kiivas” - powerful and impetuous, but in fact, Kivach, which is located on the river Suna, is rather slow and does not have a boisterous spirit. The height of the waterfalls is about 10 meters. You can take a walk along the arboretum near the waterfalls or walk along eco-paths: “Sopokhsky Bor” or “1500 steps into nature”. The routes were created by the staff of the Kivach Nature Reserve.

 

Useful life hacks:

  • Mosquitoes
    Karelia is literally full of mosquitoes - there are 31 species of them. This is the national «beast» of the region! Mosquitoes annoy constantly, despite all the tricks and protection. The best way to travel around Karelia forests in the summer is using a mosquito suit and a mosquito face net. In addition to the mosquitoes, there is a big army of bloodsucking insects in Karelia: midges, gadflies and, probably, a dozen, unidentified insects. Even during quite calm evenings, it seems that you can be eaten to the bone and you will not have time to get out of the forest. So stock up on the strongest repellents, take all that you can: aerosols, creams, steaming and heating fumigators. Mosquitoes just need to be accepted as the nightmare of this journey.
  • Gas stations
    There are not many gas stations in Karelia. Plus, if you will take M4 toll motorway from Moscow to Petrozavodsk, you need to be prepared for pretty long parts of the road without any possibility of refilling your gas tank. Just remember gas stations in Karelia are approximately every 200-300km. There are also few stations on the Kola highway, and on local roads the only chance to get gas is right from the fuel truck.
  • Off road
    In general, roads in Karelia are the same as everywhere else in Russia. A few dozen km of toll roads, several dozen km of excellent roads, just as many km of terrible ones, some roads can be completely closed. North of Karelia is often “off-road” gravels roads.

Gifts from Karelia:

  • Shungite Tubes
    Shungite is a non-crystalline mineral similar to graphite, which is mined mainly in Zaonezhie. According to scientific research, the shungite deposits in Karelia are about one billion tons, so you can safely take couple stones with you. But the main question is - why? It is believed that shungite has some healing properties, but to be honest, this is not proven by science. So you either believe in those healing properties of shungite shampoos, creams and rubs, as well as talismans to attract money, or you can just skip by it.
  • Ivan-tea, pine-cone or -needle jams, Karelian balsam
    There are many mixes of willow herbs (Ivan tea) with different flavors. However, Ivan-tea is not a Karelian species at all, neither are the pine cones. But it is something you can enjoy as a gift. Karelian balsam drinks have a very specific taste, but for sure will serve as memories of Karelia.
  • Products made of Karelian birch
    There is a large collection of caskets, table sets, flowerpots and even night tables made of Karelian birch and covered with gloss. The prices of the old school design souvenirs are pretty high though.
  • Talismans
    You can easily find a bunch of Karelian runes in every gift shop. Usually runes are carved on little pieces of wood or stone. The only thing is that Karelian runes were sung, but in other Scandinavian countries they were used as amulets. Means that Karelian runes will not give you any «secret power». Just a nice gift.

How to get there:

You can get to Petrozavodsk from Moscow by train, plane, or car. For best options visit the website of Russian Railways and Russian airlines. But the best way to travel around Karelia itself is by car. If you go to Karelia by car it is 1021 km from Moscow to Petrozavodsk and 429 km from St. Petersburg.

Best time to travel:

Summer. The weather is quite warm and nice, sometimes even hot. This is the time of white nights. Very romantic for walking, but a bit bright for sleeping, so you might need sleeping masks or curtains. The water routes to Valaam and Kizhi are possible only in the warm season.

The Four Seasons of Russia project is supported by the Russian geographical society  www.rgo.ru
A trip to Karelia is recommended by the Russian geographical society.



Another read about Karelia:
Mountain park "Ruskeala": "Quarry stairs"
Valaam "Holy Island"
Kizhi "One Day in the Last Century»

Translation: Irina Romanova, Instagram: @astrabella1

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