“Damn my education, I can’t find the words to say for all the things caught in my mind” – Noel Gallagher.
This was a magical place – Kaliningrad. Another travel dream of mine and another chance to add another ex-Soviet Union country or region to my growing repertoire. Also, this marked the end of my journey around the world. Yes – this is it for now! A lunatical journey which saw me tour about 135 countries and 830 cities/towns, came to a rocking end in Kaliningrad. It was to be my final backpacking venture before deciding to settle in Gdańsk in Poland, at least for a while. No need to cry.
“Shed a tear cos I’m missing you” – Guns’n’Roses.
I’m not sure how long I have spent in ex-Soviet Union countries now but cumulatively it must be at least 12 months – 3 months in Bishkek and a fair whack of time in the Caucauses for a start. But after somehow getting a 72 hour online visa for Kaliningrad, I crossed the border from Poland to Kaliningrad and here I was – back on Russian soil for the first time in 9 years. In the end I actually had 4 days (3 nights) here as it’s not exactly 72 hour visa, it’s really almost 96 hours you get.
At the start I stayed in the Ibis Hotel in Kaliningrad city centre for a night and later I headed out into a residential neighbourhood to spend a couple of nights at the Crazy Dog Hostel. It was time to get a tourist map from the Tourist Information Office and head out to explore the sights.
Kaliningrad city is huge so you will need a few days to see everything you want. I didn’t quite get round to seeing absolutely everything I wanted, nor did I leave the city limits during my short visa time here. But I still concocted a backpacking top 25 for you all, some of them based on my friend Ola Mueller’s trip there just a few months before me.
1.Ploschad Pobedy (Victory Square)
Reminding me of the fact that cities like Minsk and Bishkek also have Victory Squares, this is a sombre and relaxing place to hang out. The main attraction is just the square itself, fountains, locals and the buildings around it.
2.Crazy Upside Down House ( перевернутая комната), Yunost Park
About two months before I turned up in Kaliningrad, I had a Polish friend (her words, not mine) based in Russia and her name is Ola and she was touring the sights here too. Ola had shown me a photo of this crazy upside down house and told me it was in Kaliningrad so I had to find it. I walked to Yunost Park, which was near my hostel and there I saw it!
For 150 Rupees (£2) you can go inside and get some truly wacky photos taken to make it look like you are walking on the ceiling! This could really have been a whole separate blog post, but times are busy with me now.
3.Ferris Wheel, Yunost Park
It is rare for me to get into a Ferris Wheel on my travels. Normally I find they are dear, have long queues and are never worth the money. Here in Kaliningrad, it is cheap, there was no queue and it offers brilliant views of the city! It cost me 120 Rubles (so $2 US).
There is so much history in Kaliningrad, the city used to be called Konigsberg and was protected by inner walls and outer walls. The tourist office gave me a guide to visiting both the inner and outer walls. Many of the bastions, towers and walls still remain.
I toured a few of them, most are free to walk around, some will charge to get inside. The Wrangel Tower was the first one I toured.
5.Peace Lane (Пусть мир возобладал на земле), Yunost Park
Again my friend Ola backpacked this place about two months before me, making me jealous and she came across this lane of peace and a sign in Russian – I had to ask friends what it meant. For some reason, I just kind of liked this post and lane in the Yunost Park. I’m a real man of peace these days. Love and like others, don’t hate and don’t have wars.
6.Grey Palace (Center for Development of Interpersonal Communication, Yunost Park)
Sometimes on my travels, I just admire buildings. You cannot help but notice charming buildings scattered throughout Kaliningrad. Though I didn’t go inside most of them, they are worth checking out. The Grey Palace (as I called it) is right opposite the crazy house and is in Yunost Park. I found out somehow that it is used for the development of Interpersonal Communication.
7.Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
At the bottom of Victory Square, you can visit the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. It’s a Russian Orthodox church with golden domes and green rooves. It is the largest church in the whole of the Kaliningrad region. The smaller building to the right is also a place for prayer.
It can house 3,000 people and it is 73 metres high.
8.House of Soviets
How I love buildings like this. The “House of Soviets” is a textbook Soviet Union era Lego Black building! The local people often refer to it as “buried robot” because its appearance resembles the head of a giant robot which is buried in the ground up to the shoulders. The chief architect was Yulian L. Shvartsbreim. It was built on the original territory of the Konigsberg Castle. Similarly to the crazy Ryuygong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, this building was never properly finished and now sits a bit lonely on your walk through the city!
9.Kaliningrad Regional Government Building
As Kaliningrad is an autonomous and geographically separated region of Russia, there is a regional government building here, but it’s not so obvious and I didn’t even see it the first time I walked past. This was originally used at the financial administration of the East Prussia region, which ended its existence in 1945.
10.Frederick Schiller Monument
The monument by Cauer is an important part of Kaliningrad history. According to legend, after the assault on Konigsberg an unknown Russian soldier wrote on it “don’t shoot. He is a proletarian poet”, and as a result the monument remained intact.
11.Fighting Bisons Sculpture
The sculpture by August Gaul was presented to the city in 1912 and became one of the symbols. Konigsberg citizens once called the two bisons “Prosecutor” and “Advocate” as it sits outside the courts.
On Lenin Boulevard sits a statue of the man himself. I visited the city 99 years after the Revolutions of 1917! I do draw some comparisons between Bishkek and Kaliningrad in fact and the fact that both have a Lenin statue is one of them. I still have a dream to visit Ulan Ude and see the world’s biggest Lenin head.
One of my loves of touring ex Soviet Union states is about the architecture in their theatres. This one is not dissimilar to the theatre in Tiraspol in Transnistria.
14.Oktyabrskaya Street (Fishing Village)
The English name of this place as a Fishing Village confused me somewhat, as it’s not really that! What it is is a street with a lighthouse by the river and with some nice buildings, coffee shops and a bridge with locks on it.
Oktyabrskaya Street was a really pleasant Saturday morning stroll for me.
Kaliningrad reminded me a bit of Stockholm as it is a city with lots of rivers and lakes within it. The one nearest my hostel was a huge lake – Nizhnee Lake. Again it’s good for strolls and very peaceful. Lots of locals go jogging here.
This building was constructed for an insurance firm before the second world war and is now a hotel. From the front, apart from the words Moscow Hotel, you wouldn’t really know what it is. I went inside to see the reception and it wasn’t that impressive but worth a check as it’s on your walk through the city sights anyway.
17.Queen Louise Church
Another church on the list and worth checking out is the Queen Louise Church – this is now used as a puppet theatre and while you are here you can also enjoy the leafy central park of culture and leisure. Within the park is a House of Artists and some statues of famous people from Kaliningrad.
18.Park Pobedy (Victory Park)
Victory Park is different from Victory Square, and just a 10 minute walk down towards the river. It is known as Park Pobedy and also features an eternal flame for the unknown soldiers. It is a war memorial for the Second World War.
19.Konigsberg Cathedral and Imannuel Kant Museum
Head over to Kant island and check out all the sights here. It is mainly the large Konigsberg Catherdal, which also houses the tomb of Immanuel Kant, one of the greatest philosophers. Unfortunately you now have to pay to get into the church.
20.Kaliningrad City Administration
Situated at Victory Square, this building is the administration centre for Kaliningrad city. Three flags fly above it – Russia, Kaliningrad Oblast, Kaliningrad City.
21.Commemorative Token to Countrymen Cosmonauts
The Soviet Union was massive on space exploration back in the days of Yuri Gagarin and the Cold War and moon race with the Untied States. Kaliningrad played its part here too – Aleksey Leonov, Viktor Patsaev and Yuriy Romanenko all hail from the city. There’s a cool monument to mark this, and it’s on Prospekt Mira Street.
22.Football Stadium – Arena Baltika
I was surprised to learn that Kaliningrad is one of eight host cities to feature the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which is less than 2 years away! I saw two football stadiums on my trip here, though I couldn’t get inside either – I saw both from a distance.
I did see the development of Arena Baltika which is apparently the one being upgraded to a 25,000 seater stadium for the World Cup. Outrageously, the exact fixtures and dates are already known here:
|Date||Time||Team #1||Res.||Team #2||Round||Attendance|
|June 16, 2018||D3||–||D4||Group D|
|June 22, 2018||E4||–||E2||Group E|
|June 25, 2018||B2||–||B3||Group B|
|June 28, 2018||G4||–||G1||Group G|
23.First World War Monument in Kaliningrad City
Kaliningrad was the only part of Russia that experienced the First World War (or the ‘Great’ War) and as such a monument is here to remember those who died in the Battle of Kaliningrad.
24.Kutuzova Street District
So I was recommended to visit the famous old district of Kaliningrad, Kutuzova Street. This turned out to be a total disappointment. There was basically nothing there. Just a mini roundabout and some grass. Unless of course, I got the map wrong and went to totally the wrong place. I’ve included it on this list as it is recommended and was on my walking tour of the city.
25. Kaliningrad Train Station
Acting as an odd Russian central station in Europe, you can go in and out of the country from here. Because I was on a restricted 96 hour (4 day) visa, I had to come in by bus. I could have left by train if I had wanted but the timings didn’t suit. Kaliningrad borders Poland and Lithuania and there are trains to Vilnius, Warszawa and other cities in Poland and Lithuania. However the real adventure is that you can go from here to Moscow. You will need a Belarus transit visa in most cases as it passes via Minsk. The train station is worth checking out – textbook Soviet style interior and exterior.
The bus station is also beside it – I arrived and left from here to Poland.
I haven’t included any bars, cafes, restaurants or shopping centres in this list because I aim to write some more about that soon. I also didn’t tour any museums – it kind of says it all really – I was ready to hang up my backpack. This city has loads of cool museums and I didn’t visit any of them.
It’s a busy time and the travel dream ends for me now so I will have time to reflect soon, hopefully. Here are some videos from Kaliningrad City, which won’t be forgotten in a hurry as it was my last backpacking trip.