A brand new hotel in the 'city that Russia forgot'
It's Russia, Jim, but not as we know it
This (story) is bound to become emotionally charged very quickly. First of all, we're talking about a hotel which, by definition, is a word we barely remember in 2020. What the heck is a hotel anyway? Do we even remember? Has anybody visited a hotel recently? Most of us haven't, and even if we have, it was probably a one-off experience that feels totally alien in 2020.
Secondly, on a more personal note, Kaliningrad automatically makes me think of a friend I know, her name's Anna, and a writer I never met, his name was Adrian Anthony.
Kaliningrad is what Wikipedia - and Wiki knows everything - calls an 'exclave'. Because that's what it is. The term 'exclave' refers to a territory which is geographically separated from the country to which it belongs. Kaliningrad, geographically surrounded by Lithuania and Poland, is part of Russia. Because of its unique location, EEA* nationals can travel to Kaliningrad without a proper Russian Visa, which makes it a million times easier (and cheaper) because getting a Russian visa can be expensive and the whole process is cumbersome.
Kaliningrad also happens to be the subject of one of the best articles I ever read, written by my favourite author - hands down, bar none - Adrian Anthony 'AA' Gill.
In his 2002 book 'AA Gill Is Away', a collection of newspaper columns, Gill described Kaliningrad as the 'city that Russia forgot'. In the story, he says "Kaliningrad boasts the most stratospherically ghastly building ever conceived: the people's palace. It was built in the 1960s by Khrushchev, who ordered that a 14th century castle be dynamited to give it space. The castle had the posthumous last laugh, though. Its dungeons and subterranean tunnels made the monster unsafe. It has never opened".
I've never been to Kaliningrad but the stoic, desperate version that AA Gill depicted in the early 2000s doesn't sound much like the modern, vibrant Kaliningrad that my friend Anna showcases on her Instagram. Then again, she was born here.
I'll travel to Kaliningrad sooner or later. I want to see the people's palace in person so I can add it to my own personal collection of Soviet-era monstrosities, which includes buildings that are indeed extremely ugly such as the UAZ factory in Russia, and other buildings that are actually quite majestic, including the Romanian's people palace in Bucharest. It was so huge it wouldn't fit in a photograph.
And maybe I'll be staying at the Mercure hotel, the one you see here. I think I might be able to afford it. Chiefly because 2020 delivered a colossal blow to the travel industry, prices have been plummeting and it's our duty to kick-start the travel economy back into life. It's a tough job but, you know.