The big slide is a huge slide made of wood that can provide some fun for adults missing their kids' days. When I first saw it, I thought it was the ultimate tourist trap, but after having visited the village it actually looked like one of the least "touristy" things on display. If anything else, at least it was free - which in Verkhniye Mandrogi is a real rarity.
The vodka museum is possibly the only truly interesting sight in an otherwise boring and tacky tourist trap. The museum is a large room displaying about 2500 different sorts of Russian vodka bottles. if you believe it's many - consider this: it's about only half the number of vodkas existing in the country - so the collection can grow and grow. One interesting thing in the museum is its smell, produced by a samogon boiling quietly in the corner. of course you can sample some vodkas (everyone does!) and officially you are supposed to pay for it, but no one asked us for money while we were there, secretely toasting to a big fire that would get rid of the ugly and untraditional houses.
The bakery is a lovely, if slightly pricey, place to sample some pies and pirogies away from the big tented eateries feeding the hordes disembarked from the cruise ships.
Favorite Dish: Pies - or better "berries" tarts were absolutely yummy, especially the blueberry one.
Pirogies ranged from excellent (cheese, meat) to quite bad (mushrooms). They all costed about 60 rubles.
Verkhniye Mandrogi is a village on the banks of the Svir River, about 300 kilometers northeast of St. Petersburg - so it kind of make sense to get there by boat; in my case it was part of a Moscow-St. Petersburg river cruise. Let's face it: the place is such a well-known tourist trap that one would never choose to go there unless forced to go there - for instance by a boat.
For the lovers of tacky architecture and fake places, it's possible to visit the village independently: the nearest railway station is Podporozhie. If you phone ahead, someone from Verkhniye Mandrogi will pick you up with his or her car.
Verkhniye Mandrogi has a resident population of about 40 people, but their number increases with the summer seson, when many out-of-town artists and craftsmen and women move to the village to work. Most hope to turn their skills into money, before returning to their homes in winter, often teaching art classes at various schools and universities. Their task is noble - apparently - and it is that of to continueing some traditional Russian crafts, especially those on the verge of dying out.
The crafts centre is the village's ultimate tourist trap. In this building, and in the one next to it, many craftsmen and women are busy making matioskas, lace, ceramics, and other souvenir type items. The prices, however, are incredibly high.
Unique Suggestions: See the craftpeople in action and try to steal some of their secrets.
Fun Alternatives: Unless you're related to Bill Gates, buy your souvenirs elsewhere.
The elk farm is located next to a farmhouse outside the village. While the farm building is not as tacky as the buildings in the village, I must say that the elks in the nearby fenced field were "invisible". I don't know how many there are - but very few, I guess. We met someone who managed to see one, but it was far off in the distance.
Verkhniye Mandrogi is a slice of unreal Russia among real Russia. It's a place that was created by the St. Petersburg entrepreneur Sergei Gutsait, who wanted to build a tourist village to serve as a magnet for river cruise ships travelling between St. Petersburg and Moscow. The village is an idealized representation of a traditional Russian village, only it does not look so - with its very untraditional intricately ornated wooden houses.
Fondest memory: My fondest memory is the visit to the vodka museum. Some vodka bottles are really peculiar and interesting, like the bottle shaped as a kalashnikoff - or the chess game made entirely of vodka bottles and glasses. Expensive, though...