A vibrant mix of Russian and German influences makes Kaliningrad one of a kind. Here are five things to do - besides watching football - in this fabulous city this summer.
On the 28th June England will compete in their last game of the group stage matches against Roberto Martinez’s Belgium in Kaliningrad. For Three Lions fans who have followed the team to Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod, Kaliningrad will feel a little more familiar than the other cities. Why? Well, Kaliningrad is cut off from mainland Russia, lying to the west, on the Baltic Sea and enveloped by Poland and Lithuania. Geography’s not all that sets this city apart either. Kaliningrad used to be the German city of Königsberg but after WWII it was incorporated into the USSR and given a suitably Russian name. This history gives the city a fascinating mix of Russian and German influences that make it truly unique. Here are five off-the-beaten-track things for you to do to while staying here.
1. Visit the Regional Amber Museum
The Baltic coastline is home to the largest deposit of amber in the world. Dubbed “the gold of the Baltic”, this honey-coloured material has been extracted here for centuries. Some say the stone has healing powers; others claim it’s a charm that’ll help you avoid quarrels and misfortunes. The one sure thing is that amber is unquestionably beautiful. This museum is dedicated to telling the story of how amber is extracted and put to use today and throughout history. Situated within an old fort, the museum houses a wonderful array of amber creations, a particular favourite being the three-foot-high replica of a sailing ship, carved in intricate detail and stunningly beautiful.
2. Step aboard Submarine 243
Ever wondered what it’s like inside a submarine? Wonder no longer! Built in 1969, this ex-military submarine was one of the Baltic Fleet’s long-range patrol vessels, tasked with patrolling the far flung waters of the world. Former crew members offer tours through the ship, showing off the original equipment and giving visitors unique insights into what life was like below the surface. This vessel is one of only a handful of surviving examples of submarines from the pre-atomic period, so be sure to check it out!
3. Feast your eyes on the Curonian Spit
Get in touch with nature by taking a short drive out to Kaliningrad’s Curonian Spit, a national park so special it’s designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This long and narrow stretch of land helps to form a natural lagoon and unique ecosystem of pine forests, home to numerous elk, deer and wild boar. One particularly special part of the spit is the Dancing Forest, a woodland area that features bizarrely-shaped trees that twist and turn in strange shapes that defy explanation. Known locally as the ‘Drunken Forest’, theories aiming to explain the contortions range from the scientific to the spurious, with one psychic claiming it was due to their being located in an area where massive amounts of positive and negative energies were colliding, forcing the trees into their curious shapes. We’ll let you decide whether to believe that one or not.
4. Get giddy in the Upside Down House
The Upside Down House is exactly what you’d expect. Entering the building is like stepping foot in an alternate reality where gravity is reversed: TVs, toilets and tables hang from the ceiling, glued to their place and presenting an altogether surreal experience. As you walk from room to room it creates the impression of walking on the ceiling. And as if that wasn’t challenging enough the floor is built on a slight incline, so watch your step! The house is uninhabited save for one well looked after but somewhat confused dog.
5. Celebrate space exploration at the Cosmonaut Monument
The space race was a big deal. On both sides of the Iron Curtain the USA and the USSR threw everything they could at ensuring their astronauts’ success in conquering the final frontier. And although the USA succeeded in taking the first steps on the moon, the Soviet Union beat the Americans to many other accolades. The Cosmonaut Monument celebrates three of the USSR’s space exploration superstars. The first man to complete a spacewalk, the man who held the record for the longest time spent in space (326 days, phew!) and finally Viktor Patsayev, who was tragically discovered dead when his capsule returned to earth in 1971.
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