Myshkin

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Myshkin
Population: 5,934
Acting Mayor: Alexandr Lytkin
Main industry: Tourism
Founded in 1777 but first mentioned as a settlement in the 15th century
Interesting fact: The founder of the world-famous Smirnoff vodka, Pyotr Smirnov, was born here in 1831.
Helpful contacts: Yelena Vasilyevna Mikolova, deputy head of the Myshkin municipal district for tourism and international relations (+7 485-442-1462; e-mail: e.mikolova@yandex.ru); Svetlana Vladimirovna Chistyakova, director, the Myshkin Tourism Center. (18a Ulitsa Nikolskaya; +7 485-442-81-35, 2-27-77; www.myshkintour.ru; e-mail: MyshkinSvetlana@rambler.ru).

MYSHKIN, Yaroslavl region — While Rome might have been saved by geese, this tiny town in the central Yaroslavl region owes its fame and prosperity to a small mouse.

The place name Myshkin is derived from "myshka" — the Russian word for the small rodent. Legend has it that the animal was glorified in the name of the town after it saved the life of a prince who was resting on one of the banks of the Volga River. The prince, Fyodor Mikhailovich Mstislavsky, the founder of one of Russia's most influential families in the 15th century, was awoken by the mouse darting across his face. Angered at first, the prince then realized that the mouse had saved him from a snake that had been creeping toward him as he slept.

Centuries later, the mouse became the symbol of a revival in the town when local authorities decided to use its unusual name to attract tourists. The international Festival of the Mouse held in 1996 marked the start of a booming local tourism industry.

Today, Myshkin with a population of just under 6,000, boasts the world's only Museum of the Mouse along with 29 other tourist attractions, eight hotels and an increasing number of visitors from Russia and abroad. In 2012, 165,000 tourists visited the town, or 15,000 more compared to two years earlier, according to a 2013 report by local officials.

Major companies

With nearly no manufacturing on Myshkin soil, the town is an attractive, ecologically safe getaway. At the same time, industrial heavyweights such as Gazprom and Transneft have facilities operating outside of the town that account for 36 percent of the its budget revenue.
The Myshkin Linear Production Office (Myshkinskoe lineynoe proizvodstvennoe upravlenie; Zarubino village; +7 485-442-1321; e-mail: ks18@sgp.gazprom.ru) is a branch of Gazprom Transgas Ukhta Ltd. that supplies gas to five districts of the Yaroslavl region and one district in the Tver region through its 1,300-kilometer pipeline. More than 700 people work for the company, which recently built a stadium for Myshkin's children and renovated several sports facilities as part of a "Gazprom for Children" program.
The Palkino oil Pumping Station (NPS Palkino; Palkino village; +7 485-446-3210) is part of the Baltic Pipeline System and one of largest stations operated by state pipeline monopoly Transneft. From Palkino, oil is delivered to the pipeline's final destination at the port of Primorsk, a port located 140 kilometers northwest of St. Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland, and prepared for export. The Palkino Pumping Station employs more than 160 people.

Unemployment is hardly an issue here. The population is involved in tourism and they seem to never run out of ideas. You can see a blacksmith pounding out a needle that is supposed to protect you from black magic. A bit farther down the street, a miller's wife ushers you into her house to treat you to some tea and traditional Russian blini. And of course human-sized mice can be seen walking around the town, ready to play with you and give you useful advice.

What to do if you have two hours

Whatever man-made attractions might impress you in Myshkin, the humble beauty of its nature remains its biggest asset. The town is located on the high bank of the enormous Volga River — a great advantage for the fans of landscapes and views. Take a stroll down the Volga embankment with your camera ready. To get the best vantage point, it is worth climbing the 15-meter-high bell tower of the Assumption Cathedral (Uspenskaya Ploshchad; +7 485-442-1167) just a short walk away from the embankment. You might be asked for a small fee to go up.

The cathedral itself is worth a short tour, too. It is the result of a joint effort of the Italian architect Johannes Manfrini and a group of Russian artists headed by serf Timofei Medvedev who painted the interior. The construction of the church, which began in 1805 and was sponsored by Myshkin residents, did not stop even during Russia's fight against Napoleon in 1812.

Near the cathedral is the Russkiye Valenki Museum (Russian Felt Boots Museum, 18a Ulitsa Nikolskaya; +7 485-442-8135, 2-27-77). The museum is one of Myshkin's absolute hits. It showcases a huge collection of traditional handmade winter boots as well as toys and accessories made of felt. With summer models, models trimmed with fur, boots decorated with colorful embroidery, the museum's rich arsenal will stir your imagination. You can learn the many things that Russians used to believe that valenki could be used for, including fighting a hangover, rheumatism and even choosing a life partner. At the end of the visit, you can purchase a pair of the trademark Russian boots.

What to do if you have two days

For MT
Svetlana Chistyakova,
Director, Myshkin Tourism Center
Q: Do you offer any special programs to foreign tourists?
A: We do not offer special programs aimed at foreigners, although foreigners do visit Myshkin, albeit not very often. Foreigners are attracted by our unique 19th-century merchant houses and the opportunity to get a taste of Russian culture. Foreigners particularly like our program "Having Blini at the Millers" (V gosti k melniku na blini), which permits them to eat blini while learning to sing chastushki to the music of the balalaika. Another popular program, at the House Museum of Family Traditions, allows foreigners to learn to chop cabbage, welcome the spring, bake a kulich (Easter cake) and sing and dance in a ring.
We have several times organized family dinners for foreign tourists in which Myshkin families welcome the visitors into their homes and tell them about their life and family traditions over a meal.
However, only one employee at the tourism center can provide excursions in English. Foreign tourists usually bring their own translators.

Q: Who invests in local tourism?
A: Most investors are Muscovites. For example, Muscovites built the Summit Hotel and the eco-friendly Straus i K (an ostrich farm in the Logunovo village, just outside of Myshkin, follow the road signs; страус-к.рф; +7 980-744-5817; e-mail: 7712032@bk.ru).

Q: When is the best time to visit?
A: Myshkin is attractive in any season. The main inflow of tourists begins in April or early May at the start of the river navigation season. The high season usually ends in September.

— Yekaterina Karasyova

The Museum of Wooden Architecture (21 Ulitsa Uglichskaya; +7 485-442-1592; 2-79-73; myshgorod.com/muz_sky.html) features authentic, centuries-old buildings, including peasants' huts, a blacksmith's shop and a pottery. Make sure you book a full tour in advance so you can also take a class in traditional smithery and pottery. Although the training does not require a lot of verbal explanation, you might want to take an interpreter along to participate in all the interactive programs the town provides.

Also stop by Myshkin's Folk Museum, which comprises indoor and outdoor exhibitions (19 and 21 Ulitsa Uglichskaya; +7 485-442-1592; 2-79-73; e-mail: myshkin-museum@mail.ru). The complex includes a museum of the town's history, a tribute to river pilots and the house museum of the well-known vodka producer Pyotr Smirnov.

Treat yourself to a trip to Martynovo, a village some 30 kilometers from Myshkin. It is home to an ethnographic museum (27 Ulitsa Muzeynaya; +7 485-443-2736, +7 906-636-6090; katskari.com) describing the everyday life of Russian peasants in the 19th century. Museum guides are knowledgeable and exceptionally polite, allowing you to touch all the objects. Guests are treated to traditional Russian meals cooked in a Russian stove including pies, sour cabbage soup (shchi), pelmeni, blini and pickles. The entrance fee with dinner included is 360 rubles for adults and 340 for children. A tour guide can be arranged for 1,000 rubles per group.

Where to stay

When it comes to booking a hotel in Myshkin, the golden rule is to contact the hotel early and follow up on your reservation ahead of the trip. Despite Myshkin's tourist-friendly atmosphere, blunders can occur, and you might arrive to find that your room is also registered under another visitor's name. The two best choices in Myshkin are the three-star hotels Summit and Koshkin Dom, which charge from 1,600 to 2,400 rubles a night.

The Summit Hotel (7 Ulitsa Uglichskaya; +7 485-442-2755, 2-11-20, 2-14-77; s-otel.ru) is situated on the Volga River, right by the quay, and provides a grand view of the river. Koshkin Dom (27 Ulitsa K. Libknekhta; +7 485-442-2480, 2-80-05; cathouse.yar.ru) is right next to the town's main square and is popular for its rustic-style coziness.

Where to eat

Since Myshkin cherishes its Russian customs, there is no shortage of traditional pies, pelmeni, meat baked in ceramic pots and kvas, the slightly alcoholic rye drink. To enjoy an authentic interior, visit Myshelovka (27 Ulitsa K. Libkhnekhta; +7 (48544) 2-24-80), which boosts wooden furniture and a real Russian stove decorated with glazed painted tiles. Among the hits are fish soup or ukha, baked meat, pelmeni and the chef's specialty, a meter-long sausage. A three-course meal costs 700 rubles per person.

For a more formal setting and less traditional food, try the restaurant at the Summit Hotel. Hash browns with meat in cowberry sauce, dumplings stuffed with honey fungi and borscht are definitely worth trying. A three-course meal for one costs 700 rubles.

Nightlife

A tiny touristic getaway in the heart of a Russian province, Myshkin cannot boast a busy night life. Some bars and restaurants are open until 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. Among the most popular is the Summit bar at the Summit Hotel.

Myshkin festivals

Ever since the first festival took place almost two decades ago, local residents seem to have developed a strong liking for the public celebrations, treating them not only as a way to make money but also a way to socialize and simply have fun.

In mid-July the locals celebrate City Day with the Festival of the Mouse whose highlight is a midday parade in which young and old residents dress up as mice of all stripes and march across town. From early morning and well into the night, stalls offering souvenirs, prepared food and local produce are open, while visitors can also participate in singing, dancing, games and sports events. The festival ends with a concert and fireworks. The date for the festival is floating and usually falls on a Saturday, so contact the local tourism center — see Useful Contacts in the sidebar — in advance.

Another annual summer attraction is the All-Russia Family Circle Festival, or Semeynyi Krug, designed to promote family traditions and authentic Russian culture. The festival offers classes on long-forgotten skills such as flax breaking, spanning and metal smelting, as well as hobbies like making wicker, sewing, weaving, dancing, archery and rifle shooting. Organizers say the main goal of the event is to relive the lives of Russian ancestors and learn various ways of survival under extreme conditions.

Myshkin's winter calendar is filled with events, too.

For MT
Anatoly Kuritsyn,
Head of the Myshkin municipal district
Q: Have you achieved the success that you sought when you started developing tourism with the first Festival of the Mouse in 1996?
A: When we started, we dreamed that one day the tourist boats that sailed by Myshkin would make regular stops in our town and that the town's tourist infrastructure would begin to grow. I think that we have done a lot over the years. We receive more than 300 boats and more than 1,000 tour buses every year. But that is not enough.

Q: Do foreign tourists visit Myshkin?
A: We welcome no more than 3,000 foreigners every year, and the visitors — from as far afield as the U.S., Germany, China and Turkey — mostly arrive on boats that are passing by. Boat operators say our town is exceptionally interesting. But the tourist routes were developed long ago to meet the demands of foreign tour agencies and tourists, and no one wants to make any changes. Just two hours by boat from here lies Uglitch, a town that foreign tourists have been visiting for decades. It is hard to convince tourists, especially elderly people, to embark on another long walk after a tour of Uglitch.

Q: How profitable is tourism?
А: Most investors in the local tourism sector are from Moscow and other Russian regions. In any case, they own the local hotels. At the moment, 750 local residents are involved in tourism, and the turnover at local stores grows by 2.5 times in the summer.

Q: What will Myshkin be like in five years?
А: I would like to see all of our cathedrals and merchant estates fully restored, convenient sidewalks, great infrastructure and roads that do not make us blush. Since we are located in a farming region, I would really like to see investors come here to build big dairy farms.

— Yekaterina Karasyova

For those into Russian blini, traditional humorous songs, or chastushki, and dancing in a ring, Maslenitsa in late February or early March is a must. Held over a week, it culminates with the burning of the effigy of the winter on the last Sunday before Lent and can make a great weekend adventure.

The New Year — Russia's most popular holiday — is celebrated in style here. Festivities begin at least a week before Dec. 31 and include an entire fairy tale played out on the main square. The main characters are, of course, mice.

What to do with the kids

Myshkin is designed as a big amusement park. Sparkling eyes and smiling faces are guaranteed if you manage to time your visit with one of the city's many festivals.

Even if you miss a festival, young visitors will appreciate a tour of the Museum of the Mouse (14 Ulitsa Uglichskaya; +7485-442-7973; 2-15-92; myshgorod.com/muzmish.html), featuring mice made of different materials from across the world.

A real adventure is awaiting kids at the Mouse's Palace (Myshkiny Palaty; 4 Ulitsa Nikolskaya; +7 485-442-2777, 2-81-35; myshkintour.ru). Guardians at the gate will ask children for a password, the mysterious inhabitants of the palace will take them around the place and show off a collection of live mice, and the hospitable tsar and tsarina will explain how to outwit cats.

Cultural Tips

When you walk down the beautifully renovated Myshkin Embankment, the results of a smart tourism policy seem to be speaking of a new tomorrow for Russia. Signaling a quick and visible transformation from Russia's socialist past, foreign words such as "brand" have become part of the everyday vocabulary of ordinary Myshkin residents, and the notion of making a profit from new ideas has become enshrined in their lifestyle.

But it is the town's long and unique history that was key to creating the tourism mecca that Myshkin is considered today. The humble image of an old, independent and prosperous provincial town shines through the flashy costumes, billboards and colorful, newly constructed buildings.

Back in prerevolutionary times, Myshkin was a town of merchants and marine pilots who were considered the best on the Volga. The town had its own typography, a theater, a weather station and a rich library — something that locals thought was enough to justify their statement that the only difference between Moscow and Myshkin is that Myshkin lies on six instead of seven hills.

Historians say that even back in those times Myshkin was distinguished for a population that managed to take its future into its own hands and contribute to an overall spirit of entrepreneurship and success.

One such example is Pyotr Smirnov, the founder of the famous Smirnoff vodka and a peasant-turned-millionaire who was born here. Today tourists flock to the small museum dedicated to him.

The 1917 Revolution forced successful merchants to flee the town and the country, while the less lucky ones were repressed. Yet the unique style of the town survived years of unrest. The mansions built by merchants still bear the curious fashion once appreciated by the Russian trading class. Monumental and moderately decorated buildings in wood and stone line the quiet streets of Myshkin. For the best examples of the authentic architecture, take a walk along Uglichskaya, Nikolsky Ruchei and Ananyinskaya streets.

Another historical trademark of the town is its cathedrals. The grand building of the early 19th-century Assumption Cathedral dominates the main Uspenskaya Ploshchad and offers a vivid example of classicism.

The 18th-century Nikolsky Cathedral is officially considered to be older than the town itself. The church was turned into a Soviet Dom Kultury, or House of Culture, to host cultural events in 1934 and a discotheque operating within its walls only closed in 2003 when the site was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church.

How to get there

There is no direct way to get to Myshkin unless you travel by car or boat.

The 270-kilometer road trip lasts five to six hours and will take you through picturesque places such as Sergiyev Posad, Kalyazin and Uglitch. Take Yaroslavskoye Shosse to Uglitch, cross the Volga via the Uglitch dam, drive another 30 kilometers down a small provincial road, and you will reach your destination.

Direct boat cruises can be booked from Moscow. A roundtrip takes three days, including a daylong stopover in Myshkin, and costs 12,000 to 15,000 rubles through a cruise company such as the Moscow-based Infoflot (+7 495-363-2060; 380-36-33; russian-river-cruises.com) or the Tekhnotour agency (+7 495-542-4072; 540-4350; tehnotour.ru).

Thrifty travelers can take a train or bus to Rybinsk or Yaroslavl and then transfer to a bus to Myshkin. The trip takes about 10 hours and costs 500 rubles.

Contact the author at bizreporter@imedia.ru