Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Towards the Russian heartland

From the Solovetskiy Islands, I planned my journey southwards, to the cities Vologda, Yaroslavl' and Nizhny Novgorod. However, I first had to get of the island. And on the boat from Solovetskiy back to Kem', I got a bit seasick again. The White Sea was very wild that day and with a cold northern wind, I wasn't feeling that good. On the boat I met a German guy, Florian, who studies in Moscow and I met two girls from Vologda, Alina and Lyuda. The two girls from Vologda were on their way home, and as Vologda was my next destination as well, we went to the trainstation together. We bought tickets for the next morning (6am) and we slept on the trainstation, waiting for the train. As soon as I boarded the train and got my bed sheets, I fell asleep and didn't wake up until the late afternoon. I really started to like Russian train journeys, as it is a great way to meet people and to enjoy the landscape. The journey from Kem' to Vologda takes over 24 hours and I spent it mostly with a couple of guys who I met in the restaurant wagon. Most of the guys I met came from Murmansk, were they served the Russian navy on a submarine. We spended our time drinking, Russian style (which means a lot), and talking about life in the Netherlands and Russia.
Arriving the next morning in Vologda, I said goodbye to the submarine guys and together with Alina and Lyuda, I searched for a cheap place to stay. However, all the places we went to were either too expensive or full. Alina called one of her friends who was not in town and arranged a place in his apartment. Later that day we walked around Vologda and both girls showed me the nice spots of the city. We went to St Sofia cathedral and the nice kremlin. We visited a history museum and spent some time in a park.
The city of Vologda is a provincial town and it is famous for its religious importance. The St Sofia cathedral especially, but also the Spaso-Prilutsky monastery make Vologda the religious center of the region. Besides the religious buildings, the city has a historical town centre with colourful wooden houses and cozy streets. On my second day in Vologda we had lunch in a really nice restaurant and we visited the monastery. Later on, I hopped on a train further south, to Yaroslavl'.
My arrival in Yaroslavl' wasn't that pleasant actually. I arrived late in the evening and I couldn't find a suitable place to stay. Also I ended up walking in a huge crowd of local football supporters who just lost a match against Rubin Kazan'. Around midnight I finally found an affordable place to stay, called Kotorosl' hotel, where I met two guys, Roman and Dima. They invited me for a couple of beers in the lobby with their friends.
The next day I wandered around Yaroslavl', which is quite a large city on the Volga river. Famous for its large amount of Orthodox churches and its relaxed atmosphere along the river banks, I was happy to stay in Yaroslavl' for a couple of days. I went to the river side kremlin, visiting the city's most important church and I saw a bear called Masha. I visited some more churches, strolled along the Volga and I used the internet in a fancy hotel. In the evening I met Roman and Dima again, with whom I drunk some beers again before taking a rusty tram to the trainstation. I booked a ticket on a nighttrain to Russia's third city: Nizhny Novgorod.
Arriving in Nizhny the next day, I called Lena, another person I contacted through hospitalityclub. We met later that day and strolled a bit around in Russia's third largest city. Nizhny Novgorod lays on the intersection between the Oka and Volga rivers and it is famous for its car factories. The 'GAZ' car factory (Gorkovskiy Avto Zavod) is situated in Nizhny and produces high quality car brands like Lada, Volga and Oka. The city is nicknamed as the 'third' capital of Russia; Moscow being the political capital, St Petersburg the cultural capital and Nizhny Novgorod Russia's economical capital. Historically Nizhny is a trading post, but during Soviet times it became heavily industrialized.
During my stroll around the city center, Lena showed me the nice kremlin and told me about Nizhny's history. We took a tram over the beautiful Oka bridge to Lena's apartment, where we made ourselves some diner. The next day, I walked a bit in Nizhny's center by myself and in the evening I said Lena goodbye and hopped on the next night train to Kazan', capital of Tatarstan republic. On the train I met a lot of nice people again, who made me really exited about the historical city Kazan'.