Experiencing Russia-love (it’s probably not what you think) from my first trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Heading east from Moscow, my first stop was the city of Nizhny Novgorod. Going back long enough, Nizhny rivalled Moscow as the main administrative area of Russia but now it’s night and day. While central Moscow had a lot of work being undertaken to clean up areas, likely in preparation for the World Cup, Nizhny seemed lacking in comparison.
Nizhny is around six hours on the train from Moscow, which by Trans-Siberian standards is a mere heartbeat. For the first leg of the trip across Russia I fancied somewhere near-ish to Moscow rather than one of the long, overnight trips. Nizhny, Vladimir and Kazan all stood out.
The immediate different upon arriving in Nizhny was noticing how tourist-friendly Moscow was in comparison. Nizhny doesn’t offer a great deal to justify staying for a few days and I chose an overnight trip, timed to give me almost two full days there.
The main part of the city runs from Maxim Gorky Square along Bolshaya Pokrovskaya St to the Nizhny Kremlin and Chkalov Stairs. Along this route there’s a good amount of history, some lovely architecture, places to eat and drink and a few shops. The main attraction for me was simply being in a place in Russia that felt off the beaten tourist track, somewhere a bit different to see. After ducking into a pizza place to avoid a brief thunderstorm, I spent plenty of time around the Kremlin and the waterfront.
For some reason I can’t now recall, my train out of Nizhny to Yekaterinburg was booked for 11.30pm the following day. With 12 hours in Nizhny after checking out of my hotel, I ended up wandering around much of this area of the city. The route down the giant staircase, along a charming little street in the lower area and back up to the top of a peak overlooking the bridge and the stadium for the 2020 World Cup took in some interesting sites and good views.
The copy and paste Soviet style housing blocks and dilapidated streets and houses often bookend some lovely churches or European style buildings, and this contrast was all over the place. When I was travelling onward from Nizhny to Yekaterinburg I listened to a podcast which mentioned the travel writer Ian Fraser. He wrote extensively about Siberia and coined the term “Russia-love”. It was described as the feeling of seeing the stunning parts of Russia – the cathedrals, the Kremlin(s) – alongside some truly brutal relics of the Soviet era, which brings about a feeling of ‘what the hell am I actually doing here’ with still thoroughly enjoying the visit.
I ended up feeling a bit ‘wandered out’ with about four hours before my train so jumped on the subway to take me across the river to the west part of Nizhny. The area around Moscovskiy Station is certainly busy, in parts a little seedy, but not the greatest place to spend a few hours. This is compounded by an horrendously hot train station, and a sweaty wait before a night on a train isn’t that appealing. I stocked up on some supplies at a supermarket to prepare for the next journey: 23 hours on the Trans-Siberian Railway.