Syktyvkar is the capital of the Komi Republic, which is part of the Russian Federation. The city is the most north-easterly capital of Europe, up near the Ural Mountains. It is larger than the united Germany, has a population of just over one million, several billion trees and not much else. The native Komi people, who number about 200,000, speak a language akin to Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian. The remainder of the population is Russian, many of whom are descended from inmates of the Gulags1 and the rest are more recent immigrants who work in the oilfields of the Republic's second city, Ukhta. The least fortunate work in the bankrupted coal mines of Vorkuta in the extreme north-east of Komi. Locals will tell you, as you drive from Syktyvkar to Ukhta, that you are passing over the bones of those who built the road - the prisoners who were tossed in the roadway as they died.
Syktyvkar, with a population about 250,000, is one of the least appealing towns in Russia. It has no nightlife, nothing in the shops, dreadful restaurants, a high crime rate and its hotels are full of cockroaches. There is a marginally picturesque quarter of the town with old wooden buildings known as 'Paris' because it was from that area that captured French soldiers were deported during the Napoleonic Wars. The immigration police are sticklers for the rules, so if you have the misfortune to go there, make sure your visa is in order.
If a local invites you to a sauna in their dacha2, go. You should endeavour to bring a bottle or two of vodka, try the birch twigs, roll in the snow and hope that the driver hasn't got too drunk to take you back to your crummy hotel, and most importantly, to take you to the airport to catch the plane out to St Petersburg in the morning.