We left Moscow without much hesitation: the city is overwhelmingly busy, noisy and, well, exercises on you the same effect that any huge megalopolis would do in the summer. So we hopped on our fancy double-Decker train, occupying the top shelves of the first floor, to finally set off on the Trans-Siberian Trip. And we headed off to the old merchant city on the Volga River, Samara. It was still quite early for sleeping (which is normally what you would do on a train regardless of the time of the day), so we spent several hours playing Goroda (Cities) in Greek 🙂 It’s an almost never-ending game for travelling – you have to name a city which starts with the last letter of the city proposed by your companion. And so it goes… and although Russia gives you an enormous heap of cities, they all seem to end either in -sk (i.e. letter ‘K’) or -a, as many other cities around the world would. In fact I named so many of them which ended in ‘k’ (most of which are in the Urals region) that my friend got suspicious if I invented half of them 🙂
distance: plus 1049 km
total distance from St Petersburg covered so far: 1778 km
local time: Moscow time + 1 hour
train: double-Decker train Moscow-Samara with all the amenities, departing from Kazan Railway Station; takes you to Samara in 14 hours 59 minutes
Already from the train you could feel we were moving towards the South: the morning welcomed us with sun and a whole bunch of herbs and flowers along the rail track, while the grass was apparently burnt by the sun in late June (time when our Northern summer just starts to finally come into action). But Samara is not only to the South of where I live, it’s also considerably situated to the East. And immediately was I transported somewhere back in time:
[Pochta – Letters, apartment 5]
Our first destination in the city was the river – and somehow we stayed there, close to the embankment, for the rest of the day while we were waiting for the next train which would take us to the following stop. I have never been to the south of Russia apart from Rossosh, so Samara to me represents what I imagine it to be. The city stretches along the elevated river bank which makes you first go down the stairs which are incorporated in the street and then go up the hill when returning back to the city center. And with all the sun and the (well-organized!) beach and the overall relaxed atmosphere, Samara makes you a little bit of a lazy tourist. After we got used to the loads of sun we were getting, I think we enjoyed its laid-back atmosphere particularly given the fact that we just left quite a crazy-busy city called Moscow.
While we were walking along the street towards the river we gathered not only the impressions but also some local food (fresh bulochki from a bakery and some mors or berry juice to go with it) for our second lunch. And by the way, people-watching in such small and relaxed places is a pleasure. Partly because people just move slower. Also, Samara is a multicultural city with such nations as tatars, mordva and chuvash living there (we could get a notion of who they were by visiting the Museum of Ethnography in St Petersburg). Local babushka in a classic summer attire (note her galoshi, rubber overshoes now mostly worn by the dacha people) accompanied with a woman in a no less (and all-time) classic dressing-gown with flower pattern:
And here’s a local dedushka in a traditional Grandpa style grey pidzhak (suit coat) which my Grandpa tends to wear all year round:
And although a short boat tour which we took along the bank of Volga gave us an idea of what the nowadays Samara strives to look like (in fact you don’t even have to move from the city’s ‘ultra-modern’ railway station for that), I think we mostly preserved in our memory the old houses. The city is old after all (older than St Petersburg by some 117 years) and does not feel ashamed of it, it seems. Moreover, it definitely ‘plays’ with it:
The late 19th century city theater looks like a polished gingerbread house:
While some of the merchants’ houses are craving for the renovation:
Also on this photo: the Soviet car called Volga :). And here’s one of the city’s symbols, Buratino with the golden key, a re-worked Pinocchio by the Soviet writer Alexei Tolstoy who lived in Samara in his early years. I had to explain to my friend the whole story about the Russian version of Pinocchio which is the only ‘true’ version we get to know as children unless we watch the Disney’s cartoon.
boat tour along the broad and long Volga, with wind in your hair and upbeat ‘hard-core’ pop music
old houses, some provincial but lovely Art Nouveau and even Constructivism
people-watching – slow-paced and thus enjoyable + try to notice a different sort of Russian they speak there
Volga river – why not have a swim in one of the world’s largest rivers (I did!)?
Samara in a few words: all in all the city is sunny with Volga as its nature-given gift and, well, southern-like provincial.
We skipped almost the entire Soviet and post-Soviet parts of the city but spent most of the time in Samara’s heart where you can still experience that old city with merchants competing with each other in building their mansions. We didn’t see Stalin’s bunker reserved for him in case Moscow would be seized by Germany, nor did we see the city’s later Soviet legacy with its booming aviation industry. By the way, Samara renamed Kuybyshev after guess who? a bolshevik leader, used to be a closed city for that matter. On our way we would come across several more closed cities which opened their doors to foreigners only in the early 1990s. I was not planning it however, cause my main point was to see only those cities I haven’t been to yet – and old cities with history as much as possible.
An attempt to catch the fleeting beauty of the sunset from the window of our overnight train:
… which would take us to the next stop: Zlatoust.