Russia is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic. Russia is the largest country in the world, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area. Russia is also the world's ninth most populous nation with nearly 144 million people in November 2014. Extending across the entirety of northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, Russia spans nine time zones and incorporates a wide range of environments and landforms. From northwest to southeast, Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland,Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland (both with Kaliningrad Oblast), Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China,Mongolia, and North Korea. It shares maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk and the U.S. state of Alaska across the Bering Strait.
Tourism in Russia has seen rapid growth since the late Soviet period, first domestic tourism and then international tourism, fueled by the rich cultural heritage and great natural variety of the country. Major tourist routes in Russia include a journey around the Golden Ring of ancient cities, cruises on the big rivers like the Volga, and long journeys on the famous Trans-Siberian Railway. In 2013, Russia was visited by 28.4 million tourists; it is the ninth most visited country in the world and the seventh most visited in Europe.
The most visited destinations in Russia are Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the current and former capitals of the country. Recognized as World Cities, they feature such world-renowned museums as the Tretyakov Gallery and the Hermitage, famous theaters like Bolshoi and Mariinsky, ornate churches like Saint Basil's Cathedral, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Saint Isaac's Cathedral and Church of the Savior on Blood, impressive fortifications like the Kremlin and Peter and Paul Fortress, beautiful squares and streets like Red Square, Palace Square, Tverskaya Street and Nevsky Prospect. Rich palaces and parks are found in the former imperial residences in suburbs of Moscow (Kolomenskoye, Tsaritsyno) and St Petersburg (Peterhof, Strelna, Oranienbaum, Gatchina, Pavlovsk and Tsarskoye Selo). Moscow displays Soviet architecture at its best, along with modern skyscrapers, while St Petersburg, nicknamed Venice of the North, boasts of its classical architecture, many rivers, channels and bridges.
The enormous size of Russia and the remoteness of many areas from the sea result in the dominance of the humid continental climate, which is prevalent in all parts of the country except for the tundra and the extreme southeast. Mountains in the south obstruct the flow of warm air masses from the Indian Ocean, while the plain of the west and north makes the country open to Arctic and Atlantic influences.
Most of Northern European Russia and Siberia has a subarctic climate, with extremely severe winters in the inner regions of Northeast Siberia (mostly the Sakha Republic, where the Northern Pole of Cold is located with the record low temperature of −71.2 °C or −96.2 °F), and more moderate winters elsewhere. Both the strip of land along the shore of the Arctic Ocean and the Russian Arctic islands have a polar climate.
Railway transport in Russia is mostly under the control of the state-run Russian Railways monopoly.
Major sea ports of Russia include Rostov-on-Don on the Azov Sea, Novorossiysk on the Black Sea, Astrakhan and Makhachkala on the Caspian, Kaliningrad and St Petersburg on the Baltic, Arkhangelsk on the White Sea, Murmansk on the Barents Sea, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean. Typically, major Russian cities have well-developed systems of public transport, with the most common varieties of exploited vehicles being bus, trolleybus and tram.
Education in Russia is provided predominantly by the state and is regulated by the Ministry of Education and Science. Regional authorities regulate education within their jurisdictions within the prevailing framework of federal laws.
Before 1990 the course of school training in Soviet Union was 10-years, but at the end of 1990 the 11-year course had been officially entered. Education in state-owned secondary schools is free; first tertiary (university level) education is free with reservations: a substantial number of students are enrolled for full pay. Male and female students have equal shares in all stages of education, except tertiary education where women lead with 57%.
Russia has the most college-level or higher graduates in percentage of population in the world. Russia has a free education system, which is guaranteed for all citizens by the Constitution; however entry to subsidized higher education is highly competitive. As a result of great emphasis on science and technology in education, Russian medical, mathematical, scientific, and aerospace research is generally of a high order.
Education in state-owned secondary schools is free. University level education is free, with exceptions. A substantial share of students is enrolled for full pay (many state institutions started to open commercial positions in the last years).
The Government allocates funding to pay the tuition fees within an established quota or number of students for each state institution. In higher education institutions, students are paid a small stipend and provided with free housing if they are from out of town.
The oldest and largest Russian universities are Moscow State University and Saint Petersburg State University. In the 2000s, in order to create higher education and research institutions of comparable scale in Russian regions, the government launched a program of establishing "federal universities", mostly by merging existing large regional universities and research institutes and providing them with a special funding. These new institutions include the Southern Federal University, Siberian Federal University, Kazan Volga Federal University, North-Eastern Federal University, and Far Eastern Federal University.
Russian cuisine is a collection of the different cooking traditions of the Russian people. The cuisine is diverse, as Russia is by area the largest country in the world. Russian cuisine derives its varied character from the vast and multi-cultural expanse of Russia. Moreover, it is necessary to divide Russian traditional cuisine and Soviet cuisine, which has its own peculiarity. Its foundations were laid by the peasant food of the rural population in an often harsh climate, with a combination of plentiful fish, pork, poultry, caviar, mushrooms, berries, and honey. Crops of rye, wheat, barley and millet provided the ingredients for a plethora of breads, pancakes, pies, cereals, beer and vodka. Soups and stews full of flavor are centered on seasonal or storable produce, fish and meats. This wholly native food remained the staple for the vast majority of Russians well into the 20th century.
Russia's great expansions of culture, influence, and interest during the 16th–18th centuries brought more refined foods and culinary techniques, as well as one of the most refined food countries in the world. It was during this period that smoked meats and fish, pastry cooking, salads and green vegetables, chocolate, ice cream, wines, and juice were imported from abroad. At least for the urban aristocracy and provincial gentry, this opened the doors for the creative integration of these new foodstuffs with traditional Russian dishes. The result is extremely varied in technique, seasoning, and combination.
Russian cuisine widely uses fish, poultry, mushrooms, berries, and honey. Crops of rye, wheat, barley, and millet provide the ingredients for various breads, pancakes and cereals, as well as for kvass, beer and vodka drinks. Black bread is rather popular in Russia, compared to the rest of the world. Flavourful soups and stews include shchi, borsch, ukha, solyanka and okroshka. Smetana (a heavy sour cream) is often added to soups and salads. Pirozhki, blini and syrniki are native types of pancakes. Chicken Kiev, pelmeni and shashlyk are popular meat dishes, the last two being of Tatar and Caucasus origin respectively. Other meat dishes include stuffed cabbage rolls (golubtsy) usually filled with meat. Salads include Olivier salad, vinegret and dressed herring.
Russian is an East Slavic language and an official language in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Estonia, and to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics of the Soviet Union and former participants of the Eastern Bloc. Russian belongs to the family of Indo-European languages and is one of the three living members of the East Slavic languages. Written examples of Old East Slavonic are attested from the 10th century onwards.
It is the most geographically widespread language of Eurasia and the most widely spoken of the Slavic languages. It is also the largest native language in Europe, with 144 million native speakers in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Russian is the eighth most spoken language in the world by number of native speakers and the seventh by total number of speakers. The language is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Russian distinguishes between consonant phonemes with palatal secondary articulation and those without, the so-called soft and hard sounds. This distinction is found between pairs of almost all consonants and is one of the most distinguishing features of the language. Another important aspect is the reduction of unstressed vowels. Stress, which is unpredictable, is not normally indicated orthographically though an optional acute accent (знак ударения, znak udareniya) may be used to mark stress, such as to distinguish between homographic words, for example замо́к (zamok, meaning a lock) and за́мок (zamok, meaning a castle), or to indicate the proper pronunciation of uncommon words or names.