Alex Smolyar takes us on a trip around his hometown of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on the island of Sakhalin, in Russia. We take a look at places to visit, sites to see, and of course, the motor racing scene.
WHERE IS YOUR HOMETOWN?
“I am from Russia and I was born on an island called Sakhalin. I grew up in a little town on that island called Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. It’s based in north Russia, really, really far away from the capital of Moscow.
“Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is actually really close to Japan and back in the day, around the time of World War 2, half of the island was Japanese, so it has a completely different culture to places like Moscow – where I live now - and St Petersburg. That’s what makes it special for me.
“Although I haven't properly lived there for a long time, I really like it and I visit a lot because my parents still live there. It is a really small city, a really nice place to chill and spend time with my family and to prepare for the start of the season.
“A lot of the food and a lot of the culture there is still Japanese, as are a lot of the buildings in the city, which remain from when half of the island was Japanese. Compared to Moscow, where I live now, it is really, really different. It has a village sort of feel to it.”
WHERE SHOULD TOURISTS VISIT?
“There are mountains just next to the city and that’s my favourite place to spend time. I love going up to the mountains, the forest and enjoying the nature. My favourite thing to do is to spend time with the family, enjoying the nature and the beautiful areas of the city.”
WHERE SHOULD PEOPLE EAT AND DRINK?
“As a family, we actually prefer to cook ourselves and we don't often go into the city to eat. We will cook Japanese style food with a lot of fish. A lot of the fish in the country comes from here and there is also big seafood culture in that part of Russia. Unfortunately, I cannot eat seafood as it makes me sick, but that is a big part of the culture.”
MOST IMPORTANTLY, WHERE CAN WE GO KARTING?
“People from Sakhalin don't actually recognise me as their person, because they know that I left when I was young, but you have to if you want to start a motorsport career because there is nowhere to drive in that area of the country.
“There are no karting tracks, so I needed to leave unfortunately. I really hope that someday, somebody will open a karting track there and open some karting clubs. Admittedly, it would be very difficult to fit a racetrack there as it is such a small place.
“Because there are the mountains there, you get a lot of athletes from snowboarding and skiing who come to the area to train.”