It’s been almost 8 years since I traveled in Russia last time.
This year I was hoping to visit a couple of European countries but unpredictable economical situation in my country ruined those plans and I started to think where could I possibly go on my holiday. Thinking of that, I remembered my trip to Siberia 8 years ago and how I enjoyed it. I was 22 that time and that was my first trip ever. I remembered how I was nervous preparing for my journey, buying tickets and checking schedules. I couldn’t afford going there by plane that time because I was partly a student so I decided to take a train instead and that was a great choice, because I love trains since I was a kid and the 2-day trip by train seemed to be an amazing opportunity to see my country from the train window.
After a pang of nostalgia, I decided that I want to go somewhere in Russia again.
I’m fond of World War II history so this time I picked Kaliningrad city as my destination as it has a huge historical value. Kaliningrad Oblast (region) is a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic sea with a population over 900,000 people. The capital city was found in 1255 on the site of the ancient Old Prussia and was named Königsberg in honor of King Ottokar II of Bohemia. A Baltic port, the city successively became the capital of their monastic state, the Duchy of Prussia and East Prussia. It was the easternmost large city in Germany until it was heavily damaged during World War II and occupied by the Red Army in 1945 and joined to Soviet Union with nearby cities. Later in 1946 it was renamed to Kaliningrad in honor of Soviet luminary Mikhail Kalinin.
Königsberg Castle before World War I
Getting to Kaliningrad
Getting to Kaliningrad is very easy and convenient. There are dozens of flights and trains operating between Kaliningrad and major cities of Russia and the biggest European cities.
This time my holiday was just 4 days long so I decided not to waste my time on train and take a plane instead. I usually buy tickets in advance so this time I was really lucky and get one for 100$ both ways.
Like many others my trip started with Aeroexpress – the train link connecting 3 major airports and Moscow. The train ride takes about 40 minutes and cost around 6$ one way.
The flight was very smooth and pleasant, I watched a couple of episodes of the Big Bang Theory and before I knew it, the plane started to land.
I didn’t have any luggage, just a small bag, so after landing I went directly to the bus station just outside the airport. The bus was waiting for the arriving passengers and I was the first one. The bus fare is about 1.5$ one way, which is way more reasonable, compare to Moscow. Kaliningrad airport is located outside the city and it usually takes 20-40 minutes to get to the city center (depending on the traffic condition). However this time I was really lucky and just 25 minutes later I was at the central square, 5 minutes walk from the hotel where I booked my room.
I stayed in Ibis hotel, conveniently located right in the city center. It cost me around 50$ per night (excluding 9$ breakfast, which I considered expensive), the room was clean and comfortable, generally good value for money.
Observing the city
I rest a bit for a while and finally decided to go out to observe the city.
Königsberg Cathedral, the nearest and probably the biggest sightseeing place was just a few steps across the bridge on the other side of Pregolya river. The cathedral was heavily damaged in late August 1944 after British night ride which destroyed most of the old part of Königsberg including Kant island (former Kneiphof) where the cathedral was located. After the war, Kneiphof was made into a park with no other buildings. Before the war, it had many buildings and one of them was the first Albertina University building, where Immanuel Kant taught, which was situated next to the east side of the cathedral. Shortly after Kaliningrad was opened for foreigners in the early 1990, work begun to reconstruct the cathedral and by the end of 1998 it was fully restored. The tomb of the philosopher Immanuel Kant is today in a mausoleum adjoining the northeast corner of the cathedral.
Crossing the bridge from the Kant island leads to the so called “Fishing Village”.
The Fishing Village is a modern ethnographic, craft and trade center, a set of buildings and other constructions resembling a historical German-style neighborhood. The Fishing Village started to be constructed in 2006 and its first stage was completed several years later. The buildings of this complex are quite different from most of the buildings in Kaliningrad in their architectural style, mainly because of their timber-framed look inherent in many German houses since the XV century. From the outside, the complex resembles a cozy neighborhood of the XVIII-XIX centuries built somewhere in North or Central Europe. It is possible to climb to the top of the “Lighthouse” lookout tower (0,8$) and dine at the “River Station” or even stay in a hotel called “Skipper” (65$ for a double room). Cozy streets of the Village are decorated with original benches and street lamps as well as interesting sculptures. During the warm season, a boat trip on the River of Pregolya can be started here.
My next stop was Holy Cross Cathedral (former Kreuzkirche), an old german catholic church located in Oktyabrskiy island.
The easiest way to get there was a short bus trip, but since the weather was quite lovely I decided to have a little walk through the yards. I checked the map on my phone (I use Maps.me, which is an amazing app with worldwide map available offline) and turned to the nearest yard. I faced with the quite typical picture for a Russian small town right away; 5 to 10-storey buildings surrounded by tall trees; small shops selling vegs, fruits, fish and meat; elderly people peacefully resting on benches and talking.
A few minutes later I reached the church which turned out a gorgeous tall building, built of dark red brick decorated with stained glass. It was built in 1930s by evangelical community and Prussian government. The Cathedral was not touched by bombing during the war so it saved its natural beauty and charm. Later, in 1985 the cathedral was handed to orthodox community in Kaliningrad, consecrated by Russian Orthodox Church and became an orthodox church.
It had been a while since I had lunch so I decided to take a little break and grab something to eat. I was surprised to learn that shawarma, widely popular 10 years ago in Moscow, was being sold here on every corner. Without any hesitation I got one (1.5$ regular, 2$ with cheese), sat on a bench in the nearest park and
and plunged into pleasant
recollections about my college years.
By the time I finished my improvised dinner it was already late so I decided to go back to the hotel. I took a quick shower and totally exhausted fell asleep.
The next day I was planning to visit Baltiysk (former Pillau), a seaport town and the western most city in Russia with a population around 30,000. The easiest way to get there was by bus, leaving from the central bus station in Kaliningrad. The bus was leaving the station at 10am, so I got up early to have time to get there and see a couple of interesting places on my way to the station.
I passed the bridge and went down Leninskiy avenue directly to the central railway station. A few minutes later I passed by the cultural center building (former Königsberg Stock Exchange), one of the few buildings from central Königsberg to survive World War II.
The next notable building was former German Reich Railway Direction (Leninskiy Avenue, 111-117), 4-storey neo-renaissance structure served as an administrative building until the war. Later, in 1950 the building was restored and handed to Kalinigrad’s port workers.
Finally I reached the central railroad station. The station saved its historical look despite the major damages during the war. The first major reconstruction of the station took place only in 2003. The lobby of the station was decorated with new chandeliers and a fountain, were ennobled underground passages leading to the platform. The facade and lobby of the station were installed accurate clock.
The bus station was built after the war in 70s and stands right next to the railroad station.
The bus to Baltiysk was already waiting for the passengers.
All the tickers may be purchased inside the building at the cashier or inside the bus. The ticket from Kaliningrad to Baltiysk cost me 80 rubles (1.2$).
An hour later I arrived in Baltiysk, the western most city of Russia.
The city is quite small and easily explorable on foot or bike. Streets are narrow and remind small German towns (which it actually was before 1945).
Baltiysk is an important military port as well, so there are many different kind of warships at the shore, accessible to people.
There is quite an interesting Museum of the Baltic Fleet. Museum funds account for more than 20 000 exhibits: photographs, documents, award pins, ship models, models of weapons, works of fine arts and uniforms. Entrance fee is around 2$.
I spent about 4 hours in total, exploring the town, finally, I returned to the bus station. There is no need to buy return ticket in advance, it can be purchased from the bus’ driver. An hour later I was in Kaliningrad. On my way to the hotel I stopped in Konigsbacker, quite a good local bakery-chain with reasonable prices. A milkshake with an apple strudel cost me around 150 rubles (2.5$).
The next day, 9th of May, was a big Russian holiday – Victory Day, a holiday that commemorates the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945). It’s been celebrating every year since 1945 but became a non-labour day only in 1965 and only in certain Soviet republics. In Russia during the 1990s, the 9 May holiday was not celebrated with large Soviet-style mass demonstrations due to the policies of successive Russian governments. Following Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, the Russian government began promoting the prestige of the governing regime and history, and national holidays and commemorations became a source of national self-esteem. Victory Day in Russia has increasingly become a celebration in which popular culture plays a central role.
In the formerUSSR republics, including the Russian Federation, victory parades are held annually in every major city celebrating the victory.
This time lot’s of military equipments were involved in the parade, which is not very common for the small cities like Kaliningrad, and usually happens only in Moscow.
The parade starts at 10am but people started gathering at around 8am, some of them even earlier. The more I tried to get through the crowd the more difficult it was, and at some point I got stuck. Seemed like the whole city was outside watching the parade.
Watching the parade was quite interesting but exhausting as well so I left right before the end. Since it was the last day in Kaliningrad I decided to rent a bike and go around the city. I paid 700 rubles (11$) for 1-day rental which seemed to be a bit overpriced.
There are no high hills and mountains in the city so the bike ride was quite light and enjoyable. I went to the old distict where I found a number of old german cottages and villas untouched by the war and took some nice pictures.
I spent about 4 hours biking around and taking pictures. It started to get dark so I decided to go back and return my bike. That’s how I spend my last day in Kalinigrad. The next morning I took the bus to the airport and a few hours later was in Moscow, my hometown.
Overall it was quite a short but really nice trip. I’d recommend this place to seasoned travellers who are already familiar with Moscow and Saint-Petersburg and want to discover something new in Russia.
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