Kostroma

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Kostroma

Population: 268,742

Main industries: Energy, engineering, metalworking, electronics, wood processing, textiles

Founded in 1152

Interesting fact: The nationwide outpouring of grief over Vladimir Lenin's death in 1924 moved some Kostroma residents to pass resolutions to rename the city as Lenin-on-the-Volga or Ilyich. The proposals were ultimately turned down — for which current city residents are overwhelmingly grateful. 

Helpful contacts:
Yury Zhurin, mayor (+7 4942-45-05-05; duma-kostroma.ru),
Zoya Yudicheva, acting head of the city administration (+7 4942-31-50-48; gradkostroma.ru);
Dmitry Uryadnikov, director of the city's economics department (+7 4942-31-41-08; fku@admgor.kostroma.net);
Yury Pastukhov, director of the investment department in the Kostroma region (+7 4942-62-05-06; dep-economy44.ru)

Sister cities: Ochamchira, Abkhazia; Durham, Britain; Samokov, Bulgaria; Hyvinkaa, Finland; Dole, France; Aachen, Germany; Berane, Montenegro; Cetinje, Montenegro; Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland; Rivne, Poland; Durham, North Carolina, U.S.

KOSTROMA — There is a rock in Kostroma with the inscription, "Walk forward, and you'll walk into a fairy tale." For the traveler heading into the city, the inscription lives up to its promise.

The story of Kostroma is a mixture of legend and reality, and even the locals are not always able to separate the two. Father Frost's granddaughter, Snow Maiden, calls Kostroma her home. Ivan Susanin's heroic life ended tragically in the marshes near the city, and miracle-making icons hang in its churches, resilient to the test of time and the onslaught of Soviet forces.

Tsars have historically come to show their respect to Kostroma, and the city still readily opens its doors to visitors, whether they are royal or not. Friendly and welcoming, the people of Kostroma pride themselves on their ample hospitality.

It is no coincidence that the city brands itself as the soul of Russia.

The Ipatyev Monastery is at the heart of Kostroma, standing with the same authority as it did in 1613 when Mikhail Romanov, who lived here with his mother, a nun, agreed to become the first ruler of the Romanov dynasty.

Major Businesses

Kostroma generally has good roads, but if something in your car does break, Motordetal (105 Moskovskaya Ulitsa; +7 4942-62-84-05; motordetal.ru) is the place to turn. Motordetal is the largest enterprise in the former Soviet Union that specializes in the production of cylindrical auto components. The company recently also started producing its own line of filters and filter accessories. 

The distinctive dome cap of the Svyatoi Istochnik bottled water is ever-present in stores throughout Russia and other CIS countries, but its roots lie deep in Kostroma. The water, which is produced by IDS Borjomi International (5 1st Derbenyovsky Pereulok, Moscow; +7 495-660-7312; sv-ist.ru), is drawn from a Kostroma source that formed during the ice age and has a unique system of natural filters. Svyatoi Istochnik also holds the distinction of being the first bottled water in Russia, entering the market in 1994. 

The Kostromskoi Jewelry Factory (27 2nd Volzhskaya Ulitsa; +7 4942-34-72-92; kouz.ru) is one of the major jewelry factories in Russia and a recipient of multiple industry awards. Together with Krasnoselsky Jewelry, which is also located in the Kostroma region, the factory produces half of Russia's gold and a quarter of its silver jewelry.

Kostroma will celebrate 400 years of the Romanovs next year. Memoirs and old photographs show that the city was never forgotten by the royal family, but that each Russian ruler was moved to visit the cradle of their dynasty.

And yet, it is not a tsar but a common peasant who is the main local celebrity.

Kostroma has streets, squares, monuments, restaurants, sanatoriums and even tourist walks named after Ivan Susanin. The peasant became a folk hero for diverting a detachment of Polish and Lithuanian soldiers who had wanted to seize Mikhail Romanov. The diversion was successful, but in the end the soldiers tortured Susanin and later chopped him into pieces.

Mikhail Romanov freed Susanin's descendants from all taxes and duties in gratitude for his sacrifice. Later, tsars continued to honor this promise, and even today some in the city are finding it hard to let go of the privileged status. Kostroma's former mayor claimed to be a descendant of Susanin.

The Romanov heritage is ever present in the current branding of the city, but Kostroma also bears the scars of the Soviet period. It is a city that is stretched between two epochs, local guide Vitaly Burmistrov said.

For MT

Yury Zhurin,
Mayor

Q: What attracts tourists and businesspeople to Kostroma?
A: Kostroma has the unique atmosphere of a city whose history spans centuries and that upholds the traditions of a trade center. The people also are known for their hospitality.

Q: How do the city authorities support investors, particularly foreigners?
A: Local authorities maintain constant control of the investment climate. This is a strategic issue. An investment board was created to work on this issue. Together with the regional authorities, the board considers projects and supports them throughout all their phases. Such support is necessary to remove the barriers that may emerge as a result of the current system of approvals, which is still fairly complicated.

Q: Which sectors have the most investment potential?
A: The textile, jewelry, woodworking and machine-building sectors.

Q: What is your favorite place in the city?
A: I like the waterfront and the center of the city. We have gotten these places into shape in recent years. Now, not only tourists but also Kostroma residents themselves like to walk there with their families.

— Lena Smirnova

Many of Kostroma's churches were blown up during 1930s anti-religion campaigns. The city's kremlin was destroyed in 1934, and the central Susanin Square was renamed Revolution Square.

Perhaps the most remarkable in this post-revolutionary makeover is the story of the massive monument to Vladimir Lenin, located on the banks of the Volga. The monument was originally designed to be a tribute to the Romanov dynasty, with 26 sculptures of tsars and notable historical figures positioned around the base. The seven-meter-high base was laid down in 1913 as the dynasty was celebrating a 300-year anniversary. Nicholas II and other members of the royal family took part in the ceremony.

But the 1917 Revolution shattered the dynasty, and Lenin was symbolically hoisted onto the top of the structure in 1928, where he stands now at an impressive 15 meters above the ground.

Kostroma has since become a key production center, with machine building, woodworking, textile and food factories operating within or near its boundaries. The city produces a large share of the total jewelry made in Russia and is nationally known for its branded cheese.

Through all these changes, Kostroma managed to keep attracting new guests and even residents.

Soviet poet and satirist Demyan Bedny wrote the following lines after leaving Kostroma: "Kostroma is a city — a smile. Jokes aside, what if I do take off forever from Moscow to Kostroma."

What to see if you have two hours

A short stay in Kostroma is best satiated by a sizzling excursion through the sites close to the "frying pan," the city's main square. The square, which is officially named after Ivan Susanin, has been given the "frying pan" moniker because it heats up so much in the warmer days that city residents practically boil on it while waiting for their buses to come.

Standing on the "frying pan" provides a good view of the city's unique road map. The city center is laid out in the shape of a woman's hand fan, with seven radial streets branching out from Susanin Square. According to legend, Kostroma officials asked Catherine II how the city plan should look, and the empress replied simply by opening her hand fan.

For MT

Nina Zaborskaya,
Head of sales and marketing department, Kostromskoi Jewelry Factory

Q: What sets your jewelry apart from your competitors'?
A: We are very attentive to the quality and design of our products. We employ our own artists and designers. Many of our designs have actually been stolen by other enterprises.

Q: Where is your jewelry sold?
A: We sell our items across Russia. Exports to other countries make up 8 to 9 percent. We sell to all former Soviet republics and to Germany and Canada. There is a big Russian expat population in Germany and Canada that wants our products.

Q: What challenges does the factory face today?
A: The main challenge is fighting with counterfeit products. A lot of private jewelers misuse our name.

Q: How does the city administration help you?
A: The administration doesn't help us. It probably can't help us.

— Lena Smirnova

The fire tower (1/2 Ulitsa Simanovskogo; +7 4942-31-68-37) is the main attraction on Susanin Square. The tower was completed in 1827 and until recently housed the regional fire department. It is now possible to visit the tower and look at firefighting artifacts displayed in its museum.

A walk through the center of Kostroma also provides a chance to see the city's old trade rows (4 Sovietskaya Ploshchad, 1 Ulitsa Molochnaya Gora, Ploshchad Susanina) and get a taste of what the city was like when it was a major destination for merchants. The rows are in working order and filled with locally made delicacies.

Although they are slightly out of the way from the city center, any Kostroma visitor is unofficially obligated to go to at least one of the key monasteries. The Ipatyev Monastery (1 Ulitsa Prosveshcheniya; +7 4942-31-75-91) is where Mikhail Romanov took his first steps as a ruler of Russia and is a good choice for history enthusiasts.

The Theophany Convent (26 Ulitsa Simanovskogo; +7 4942-31-83-94) is known as the location of the ancient Feodorovskaya Icon of God's Mother, which is believed to have miracle-making powers.

What to do if you have two days

A longer stay in Kostroma gives visitors an opportunity to get to the soul of the city that calls itself the soul of Russia. Keeping in tune with the locals' relaxed lifestyle, take the time to rest in the Ostrovsky Pavilion (Ulitsa Chaikovskogo). Playwright Alexander Ostrovsky used to come to this spot to sit in the original wooden pavilion and has mentioned the place in his diaries and letters. "The view from this pavilion up and down the Volga is such that we have never seen," Ostrovsky wrote.

The open-air museum of wooden architecture, Kostromskaya Sloboda (1a Ulitsa Prosveshcheniya; +7 4942-37-38-72; kmtn.ru/~kossloboda), offers another pathway to the heart of the city. At the center of the architectural display is the wooden church that is considered to be one of the oldest wooden buildings in the country. The museum includes another 28 architectural landmarks and offers interactive excursions and master classes in traditional Russian crafts.

In the summer months, lucky visitors to Kostromskaya Sloboda will be able to catch one of the performances by its amateur actor troupe. The youth group performs a dynamic play about the legends related to the Kostroma land, including scenes about Snow Maiden's love woes and Susanin's final minutes of life.

"We are using the sky, the water, the earth as our stage. It is very important to us to keep this theater alive," park moderator Lyubov Mikhailenko said on the actors' willingness to work for purely symbolic salaries just to promote the message of the play.

What to do with the family

Whether it is winter or summer, children will enjoy a visit to the Snow Maiden's fairy-tale mansion (38 Lagernaya Ulitsa; +7 4942-42-66-42; teremsnegurochki.ru). Kids will get to meet all of the mansion's residents during an interactive excursion, which includes puppet shows and games. In the meantime, adults can slip away into the mansion's ice room to look at ice sculptures and sample drinks from shot glasses made out of ice.

The Kostroma Elk Farm (Village Sumarokovo; +7 4942-35-94-33; moosefarm.ru) is another popular destination for those traveling with children. The farm houses over 40 elk and is Russia's only stable production point for elk milk, which has multiple medicinal properties, including the healing of ulcers.

There are no physical barriers around the elk in many parts of the farm so visitors can pet and feed them. Carrots are readily supplied by the tour guides, but the elk also don't mind getting chocolate candy and pastries.

Nightlife

The Kostroma State Drama Theater named after Alexander Ostrovsky (9 Prospekt Mira; +7 4942-51-47-31; kostromadrama.ru) will celebrate 205 years in 2013 and is one of the oldest Russian theaters. Members of the Moscow imperial theater troupe were evacuated to Kostroma in 1812 to save them from Napoleon's forces — a story that sets a fitting tone for the theater's dramatic repertoire.

Where to eat

Slavyansky Restaurant (1 Ulitsa Molochnaya Gora; +7 4942-31-54-60; sf-vl.ru) serves traditional Russian cuisine in a fittingly Russian interior. The restaurant has a VIP lounge that sits 12 guests as well as its own moonshine machine. A meal of cabbage soup, stuffed rabbit with barley and blini served with jam and honey will cost around 600 rubles ($18).

Restaurant Metelitsa (See Snegurochka Hotel in Where to Stay) keeps a countdown of days left until the New Year, but even if the number is over a 100, guests get to celebrate the holiday anytime they wish. The restaurant is part of the Snow Maiden mansion complex, so fairy-tale characters are regular guests. A pumpkin puree soup, tuna salad and fried potatoes with mushrooms cost about 330 rubles.

The cafe Horns and Hooves (2 Sovietskaya Ulitsa; +7 4942-31-52-40) lets you dine in the company of the beloved characters from "12 Chairs" and "The Little Golden Calf." Statues of the main characters are seated near the windows and visitors will enjoy taking pictures with them as much as eating their meal. A business lunch, which includes a salad, main dish, a nonalcoholic drink and bread, will cost 160 rubles. Separate meat dishes are more elaborate, but generally, all are under 300 rubles.

Don't forget to sample some authentic Kostromskoi cheese when you are in the city. Production of this type of cheese started 130 years ago. Other local delicacies include black salt and elk milk.

Where to stay

For a comfortably familiar stay, head to Azimut Hotel (40 Magistralnaya Ulitsa; + 7 4942-39-05-05; azimuthotels.ru/hotels/kostroma). The hotel is part of the fastest-growing Russian chain, which also has locations in major Russian and some Western European cities. The hotel in Kostroma is styled in the best Russian traditions and includes a banya complex as well as a log house restaurant. Standard two-bed suites cost 3,250 rubles per night.

Another good option for a business stay is the aptly named Business Hotel (24 Ulitsa 1 Maya; +7 4942-47-12-12; biz-hotel.ru), which is located close to Kostroma's city center. The hotel has welcomed a slew of Russian celebrities, including Larisa Dolina, Valery Leontyev and Kristina Orbakaite. A standard business suite costs 2,800 rubles.

Snow Maiden, the best hostess in the city, also has a hotel, which is a good choice for thematic stays. The Snegurochka Hotel (38/13 Lagernaya Ulitsa; +7 4942-42-32-01; hotel-snegurochka.ru) stands next to the mansion — a convenient location for Grandfather Frost, who comes to visit his fairy-tale granddaughter several times a year. The hotel even has a specially decorated Father Frost suite, where the New Year's matron always stays during his visits. The suite costs 2,200 rubles per night. A luxury suite in the hotel costs 5,500 per night.

Conversation starters

Kostroma is one of the most sung-about Russian cities. Along with songs that use traditional Russian instruments and melodies, Kostroma can boast that there is a rock album written about it. Boris Grebenshchikov's band Aquarium released the album called "Kostroma Mon Amour" in 1994.

Yet the most provocative of all these songs is the one that the popular 1970s band VIA Plamya wrote about the city. "Sporit Vologda and Sporit Kostroma" talks of two long-distance lovers who cannot help but debate which of their hometowns is better instead of focusing on their date. The question doesn't get answered at the end of the song, so it would be considerate to ask Kostroma residents to make another pitch in favor of their city.

Culture tips

Kostroma is often described as a "sleepy city." Ever since Susanin's fiery — and fateful — heroic act, Kostroma residents have preferred a quieter, peaceful lifestyle. They stayed true to this motto even during World War II. While partisan movements raged in neighboring Ivanovo, the level-headed Kostromichi preferred to support the war effort through zealous production work.

"People lead a very calm style of life," local guide Vitaly Burmistrov said. "They don't revolt."

Abstinence from physical confrontations has gone well for the city. Though it did not shine as a partisan center, Kostroma still managed to get 29 residents honored as heroes of the Soviet Union. Respecting this calm lifestyle will be key to getting along with the local hosts.

How to get there

A one-hour flight costs 1,600 rubles, only 200 rubles more than a ticket for a ride in a train compartment. The inconvenience is in that there are only two flights per week through Kostroma Avia airline. The propeller-driven planes leave from Vnukovo Airport to Kostroma on Mondays and Fridays.

Trains from Yaroslavsky Station leave for Kostroma several times a day. Prices for compartments are up to 1,465 rubles and tickets for express trains range from 424 to 650 rubles. The train ride is just over six hours, but an express train can cut the commute to four hours.

The bus commute is sizably longer at eight hours, but such travel also tends to be cheaper and easier to get a ticket for. Buses to Kostroma leave from Moscow's Shchyolkovsky bus station five times a day. The bus trip is around eight hours and costs 560 rubles.

Taking a personal initiative might pay off — if you don't get stuck in traffic jams. The 325-kilometer commute between the capital of Russia and the "heart of Russia" is easy to navigate, and the road is in good quality, though for the most part there is only one lane.