So, the last two weeks of my 2008 vacations are over. We spent the first week in a riverboat voyage along the Volga river. The idea was born two or three years ago, when we returned from a trip to the Gold Ring of Russia. At last we gathered the sufficient amount of free time, money and lazyness at one point of space and time and on 3 August we went on board of "Valery Chkalov", named after the famous Soviet pilot of the 1930s. We went to the north, up the river, and soon we reached the dam of the Kuibyshev hydroelectric power station near Togliatti. The city was named Stavropol but after the dam had been built it was flooded and the people relocated to a new settlement which was named after Palmiro Togliatti, an Italian communist. We went throught the dam gates and entered the Kuibyshev water reserve, or the Kuibyshev sea as it is sometimes called. We stopped in Togliatti for only about 30 minutes and didn't see the city. We kept going north for the whole night and a half of the day and finally came to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan.
Three years ago Kazan celebrated its 1000th anniversary. Frankly speaking, until recently Kazan was thought to be much younger and the discoveries that increased the age of the city were inspired by political rather than historical motives. However, the archaeologists did find the evidences of the early history of Kazan.
The first and, actually, the only place we have seen in details was the Kazan Kremlin. It is a fortress located at the confluence of two rivers: Volga and Kazanka. The Kremlin occupies a large territory and includes many buildings, both old and new, many of which are used now by various state institutions. So, the residence of the president of Tatarstan is also in the Kremlin. The most interesting places in the Kazan Kremlin are the remains of a 10th century stone wall, the first wall of Kazan; Suyumbike tower, which, like the tower of Pisa, declines from the vertical line so that its top is 2 meters away from the place where it should be; and Kul Sharif mosque, built in 2005, a white elegant building, one of the most beautiful I have seen. There is the museum of Islam in the mosque, but, unfortunately, we had no time for a visit there. We climbed to a gallery whence we could see the internal construction, decorations and the hall for prayers. Inside it looks just as good as from the outside.
After the Kremlin, we had an hour for a walk along Bauman street, the main walking street in Kazan. Nothing special, but I think that if we had some more time to see the city we might like it much better.
Cheboksary, the capital of Chuvash autonomous republic, was named the cleanest city of Russia in 2002, if I remember correctly. It is also often called the most comfortable town or the town with the best living conditions. Because of these rumors my expectations were too high and I was slightly disappointed by Cheboksary. Indeed, it's a pleasant, green town, but I bet it was not the cleanest city I have seen.
But we were pleasantly surprised by the way they met us: with folk songs and dances, in folk costumes, with bread and salt, as the Russian tradition says.
Cheboksary are located on the bank of a relatively new water reserve and after the flooding the reserve formed a little inlet right in the centre of the city. They built three high fountains in the middle of this inlet and the place became one of the best sights in Cheboksary.
But most of all I liked the museum of mineralogy. When I was a boy, I was deeply interested in geology, but there are no geological museums in Samara, so I enjoyed this small, but packed with showpieces, museum. But once again, we didn't have much time and I could not make all photos I wanted to :).
This small town is located in Mari El republic. It was raining when we came there and we were all wet when we came back. Actually, during all our voyage the weather was quite cold (down to 13-15°C and rainy). In spite of all this, I liked Kozmodemyansk. We saw the old part of the town and it's really cozy. Old houses decorated with the ornaments carved in wood remind of the time when they were typical for all cities on Volga, including Samara. Unfortunately, the land they stand on is too attractive for our newborn capitalists and the old houses burn way too often. It's a shame that in Samara most of old houses are already lost. In their places new ones are built: kitchy, rich-looking and tasteless.
In Kozmodemyansk we went to see the ethnographical museum where the life of Mari families of 18th-19th centuries is presented. They have a large peasant's house, a mill and a number of other buildings necessary in the peasants life, like a smithery or a summer kitchen. A really interesting place.
On the way back, when my family ran to hide from the rain, I visited yet another museum: the museum of the merchant's life. It is located in the old house of a local 19th century merchant and features many things from that time. The museum seems to be very young and even the two museums of S.Aksakov I saw recently have better expositions. And yet, I wasn't sorry about visiting it: the atmosphere is very warm and nice people work there.
Of course, it was the culmination of our trip. Nizhny Novgorod (literally, "the lower New Town", as opposed to Veliky Novgorod, "the great New Town") was founded by knyaz Yuri Vsevolodovich in 1225, I think. It was built at the confluence of two important Russian waterways, Volga and Oka, and quickly became on of the important cities, a centre of trade and industry. In 17th century, during the Times of Trouble, knyaz Pozharsky and a kraftsman Minin gathered an army here, led it to Moscow and forced the army of Wladislaw, prince of Poland, elected tsar of Russia, to leave the country. In 19th century Alexey Peshkov was born here. Later he became famous under nom-de-plume Maxim Gorky. In the Soviet times Nizhny Novgorod was renamed to Gorky after this Soviet writer (he was very angry at this). After the fall of the USSR, it became Nizhny Novgorod again. In the 21st century, when Putin reformed the adminstrative system of Russia, trying to take as much as possible under his personal control, Nizhny Novgorod became the capital of the so called "Volga river federal district". When I saw the city, I understood why Samara had no chances in the competition for the name of the capital. Nizhny Novgorod reconciles the best features of a large centre and a typical city of Volga merchants. It is both huge and comfortable, administrative and industrial, rich and artistic.
Nizhny Novgorod is separated by Oka in two parts. The southern part is the oldest, the Kremlin is located here and the best places for tourists are here. The northern part is where the city works and makes money.
We saw only the southern part and it was full of historically meaningful places. So, we saw a restored 16th century building, a number of small wooden houses that reminded us of the small Kozmodemyansk, 19th century apartment buildings and modern administrative palaces.
There are no especially interesting buildings in Kremlin, unlike what we saw in Kazan, but there are some good places on the hills, whence the valley of Volga is seen for tens of kilometres to all sides.
At last we had enough time to take a walk around the city and we thought that the city shows some very distinctive spirit that makes it different and we liked it.
Makaryev is best known for its famous monastery. It happened so that we arrived there one day before the day of St.Makarius, who the monastery and the village are named after. I am all fed up with monasteries and I preferred to have a look at the ostrich farm. Unfortunately, I didn't take the camera. Anyway, I'm sure you've seen enough ostriches in your life, so I got an even better photo here. The dog is lying on a haystack and there's the monastery wall behind. It reminded us of "The dog in the manger" by Lope de Vega (even more so because the Russian title of the play is "The dog in the hay") :).
Kozlovka is a really tiny town and it gets smaller each year as its denizens leave to larger cities for work and "luxuries" of the megapolis. Being an idle tourist from a city with more than a million people living there, I liked the feeling of freedom that comes from walking in the middle of the road and knowing there won't be cars honking at you and drivers expressing their opinion about your IQ. But we found at least two other people who live there and like Kozlovka. They are two ladies from a local museum. The museum is not an average nature and history exposition that is not visited by anyone but the staff and that you sometimes find in such small charming places. No, it is the Nikolay Lobachevsky museum. People with math background certainly know who is Lobachevsky, others are kindly asked to follow to Wikipedia. Besides being a genius mathematician, Lobachevsky was the head of the Kazan university. I was really glad to learn that he was also the director of the university library. I myself spent some years working in a library and deep down in my soul still proud of it. After the retirement, Lobachevsky bought a house in a village that later became a part of Kozlovka. The house was saved from demolition and moved to a new place, where it now stands.
The exposition includes many documents (copies, of course), books by Lobachevsky, photos, etc. Of course, the museum tries to make the exposition as wide as possible and it covers the geography, zoology and archaeology of the region quite well.
Kozlovka was the last place on our way and it was a good way to end the voyage.
And finally, some photos from somewhere on Volga.