Q: Artemy, tell us something about yourself.
I was born and grew up in Moscow. I am a designer, blogger and traveller. In terms of design, I have a Russian design studio that builds websites, corporate identity and industrial design. I have a blog, where I write about everything and anything three times a day – it could be about the situation in the world or me having a cup of tea. My blog gets four million unique visitors a month, around 200.000 a day.
Q: And what about Artemy the traveller?
It started as a remedy for my laziness. I was afraid I would never leave my chair and would never go anywhere so around 15 years ago invented a rule that every month I would be out of Moscow. If I had no money I would go somewhere near. My main ignition was that if I worked all my life and travelled later with the money I made, then I would die just after. I would be entertaining my older self and not have anything to tell my grandchildren. So I decided to start travelling and have many stories to tell. It wasn’t easy at the beginning, because I had a business to manage and travelling meant I had to let go of the need to control it all the time. But the result is having many stories to tell.
Q: So tell us an early story that has marked your travels.
Before I went to Egypt, I always thought that the pyramids were very far away, hidden in the desert, maybe 5-6 hours drive from Cairo. I have always had a rule not to read anything about a place I visit, because if I did I would already form an opinion and don’t like that. So, when I went to Cairo, I realised that the pyramids were right there, in the middle of things. I got a hotel room overlooking them. So, I decided that I would tell the truth about the world, and this is what I try to do in my travel site. I would never add photos of a church on a main square – instead I focus on real life, on the aspects of places that people never see. I may take photographs of trash cans for example. Do you know what the trash cans in London look like?
Q: What kind of travels do you prefer?
My main aim is to visit cities. I am not really into nature – I am not against having a glass of wine and looking at the sunset, but this is not really what I seek. Instead, I am attracted by anything man-made that makes up the urban world. In Russia, I could say that I really like St. Petersburg, Tomsk and Khabarovsk. I also like Yelets or Staraya Russa, a small town in Novgorod Oblast. On an international level, I feel that Porto is a must. It is a great place in terms of location and architecture and how the two interact well. Also, Novi Sad in Serbia has a fantastic atmosphere. One of my obsessions are abandoned cities: Chernobyl for example, because it is the essence of a city – it’s all there but without anything. Bechevinka in Kamchatka is a submarine secret base, which was once called Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky-54.
It takes two days to get there, sailing from Petropavlovsk. There is a crazy ‘mayor’ living there but there is nobody else.
Q: Do you have a favourite country?
Italy. Italian cities often offer water, mountains and architecture all in one. But once again I will mention Portugal, which is really great and too under-visited in my opinion. I believe Europe is a true cradle of civilisation, and the density of things happening in European urban communities is unmatched anywhere else.
Q: What are some obstacles you have faced on your travels?
I only hold a Russian passport, which means I don’t enjoy visa-free movement for some places. Believe it or not, my greatest difficulty was getting the visa for Turkmenistan, I had to wait 7 years to get the visa! I was also denied entry into Tokelau, and had to sail in the night to a second island and walk around at dawn before the local authorities could figure out I was there. I got malaria in the Central African Republic, but the symptoms of that only appeared once I had returned to Moscow, and Russian doctors are not too familiar with malaria...
Q: How does it feel now that you have done your last UN country?
The same feeling as finishing a book. Most of the time I don’t finish books, I seem to get two-thirds down and then drop them. But this book of countries is very interesting… you can really read it till the last letter. My personal list has three countries more, as it includes the French South and Antarctic Lands, Heard and McDonald and US Minor Outlying Islands. When I finish these I will certainly celebrate, it’s not often one achieves something of this scale.
Q: Artemy, thanks to your mention of thebesttravelled.com on your blog, we have got a very great number of Russian members. What do you like about TBT?
I like the way countries are presented on TBT and the division of the world. The website shows you where you have been very clearly, and also makes it clear where you are missing out and should still go. It really highlights the territories. It’s educational and informative at the same time. When you publish this interview, I will give you another reason for liking TBT!
Q: If you could invite any four people to a dinner, who would they be?
Mark Twain, because he writes books that I have finished, I like the way he thinks and the way he formulates his ideas. I would invite Steve Jobs because he knew how to go straight to the point without any bullshit. Another writer I admire is the Hungarian Istvan Rat-Veg. Finally, I would invite my grandfather Nikita when he was twenty years old; I got to know him when he was 70, and he was a great man, it would be interesting to see exactly how he was in his youth.
Q: So, where are you off to next?
This year I have really travelled around a lot, on a long cruise to the Antarctic followed by a 3-week trip to India, trips to Bermuda and Alaska, as well as fitting in Saudi Arabia. So now I am staying in Moscow for a while to take care of business...