Lower Newtown

Saturday, September 29, 2018
Nizhny Novgorod, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, Russian Federation
We had no trouble finding the place where we had left our luggage in the morning at Kazan Vokzal (unlike our experience the previous night at Yekaterinburg Vokzal). For a change, our train's origin and destination matched our own, a novel experience. Restless at the waiting hall, we proceeded to the platforms via the underground walkway as soon as our train was announced well ahead of its departure time. The wind and the rain were still at it as we walked past unlit coaches to the very end of the train the last coach's number matching the one on our reservation. The door was closed but a lit green button beckoned invitingly and the doors obliged on pressing. We had never boarded a Russian train without a provodnitsa (or -nik) inspecting our passports, but then we had never boarded a Russian train at its origin either. Maybe the passport check will happen inside. We had to beat a hasty retreat as the shocked provodnitsa shooed us back onto the rain drenched platform. It turned out that the length of the train just exceeded the covered section of the platform by a few feet and these few included the doorway to our coach. We slunk back towards the middle of the train where the elevator room provided us refuge from the cold wet air. We did not go back to the waiting hall, they had already announced the train, how will we pick up another signal to board? Better to stay in sight and board when others do. 
When we saw the other coaches start boarding, we walked back to the end and found the door open but the provodnitsa standing inside (the normal practice is to stand outside) as hers was the only door exposed to the elements. No mention was made of our premature boarding attempt as we got inside legitimately. Unlike the friendly elderly gentleman who accompanied us from Yekaterinburg to Kazan, our company for the train to Nizhny Novgorod were two men with limited social skills and with no qualms about dressing and undressing in front of strangers. One of them knew enough English to translate the provodnitsa's question "What would you like to eat?". Fully aware that nothing on the menu would suit our culinary requirements and with no appetite left after the Govinda meal, we shook our heads without regret and feeling once again that we would have been better off with two lower berths, we took our rest from our exertions in Kazan's stormy evening.  
Nizhny Novgorod (Lower Newtown) goes back to the 13th century as an important trade center and then industrial center, even earning the sobriquet "Detroit of Russia". Its automobile industry was a target for the Luftwaffe. After the wars, the city (renamed to Gorky) became one of the Soviet Union's closed cities. These cities were not only inaccessible to outsiders (except those with special permits from the KGB) but were omitted from maps, rail or bus timetables. Mail deliveries were effected through indirect means - special postal codes attached to some other big city. The city's very existence was classified and residents were expected to not divulge their place of location to outsiders. This lack of freedom was compensated by better living conditions.
After 1990, Gorky regained its old name and is now shortened to Nizhny (Lower?) - a reference to its "downstream" location of the bigger cities to the west. The Oka river empties into the Volga here. Having missed our attempt to see the Volga at Kazan the previous evening, we were looking forward to seeing it on this chilly Saturday thankfully dry. We had arrived early enough by 8:15 but our onward train (to Saint Petersburg!) was at 7pm, but we did not have too many places on our list for the day and so took it easy. The area outside the station was deserted (understandably, it was early and cold and a weekend) and we did not have to wait long for our bus bound for the Kremlin (which we could soon see up on the hill across the Oka river). Passing by the grand Nizhny Novgorod Fair building, we cross the Kanavinsky bridge across the Oka and then turned left onto the lower embankment of the Volga. After turning right and climbing for a bit we got off just outside the deserted Kremlin walls. Grand buildings lined the wide boulevard outside. Are we in Saint Petersburg already? Not quite! 
The big "Russia 2018" sign, the Georgievskaya Tower and the Volga river views (including the new Nizhny Novgorod Stadium where WC18 games were staged and the Alexander Nevsky cathedral) got our attention first before we stepped inside the Kremlin for a brief walkabout. In front of an array of tanks and military vehicles lined up along the wall was a column with rampant horse and helmeted figure. Further inside are stately buildings (Administrative), a monument to Prince George and Saint Simon of Suzdal, the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael and an eternal flame monument to the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). This brought us even closer to the staircase walkways down to the river's lower embankments. That will have to wait as we headed back out of the Kremlin for brunch at Coffee Cake before strolling down pedestrianized Bolshaya Pokrovskaya. 
Despite the breakfast and the later morning hour, we still felt the cold. There was more activity on this street with its fair share of clowns and attractions. Please do take a look at some of our photographs. There were several striking buildings on the street - some museums and cinemas. Bank Rossi - with its turrets, conical hats and pyramid entrace did not escape our attention. Well dressed Bactrian camel and pygmy horses were at hand to amuse the children who had braved the cold to make an appearance on the street. At the end of the street is Maxim Gorky square, we were content to get a zoomed shot of his statue before moving on towards our next set of destinations.  
We headed off towards the side streets in the neighbourhood that contained the mansions of the 19th century merchants, historic wooden structures like the ones we saw in Irkutsk a week ago. None of the names struck a chord with us, but the buildings were striking and it was nice to be able to wander off quiet streets with just residents walking about. 
We found ourselves back on the embankment and spied a couple of brides in their finery being photographed in the cold outdoors. They kept their warm furs on until it was time to bare their shoulders to the cold air. Incredibly a musical band were setting up on a platform overlooking the river. We wondered if the weather would warm up in the afternoon for the audience. We finally succumbed to the lure of the lower embankment and walked down the hillside - enjoying the views of the Volga and the Spit (Strelka) as well as the colorful Church of the Nativity. We did not linger too long at the Church but went around the corner towards Khachapuri, a Georgian restaurant and ordered ourselves a tasty vegetarian meal. If you must know, we had Adzhapsandali, Khinkali and Migrelian Khachapury. Aren't you just a wee bit jealous? Admit it!
We still had a couple of items to check off our list before heading back to the station. We caught a bus to the Strelka for upclose views of the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium and all the WC18 related paraphernalia around it before getting into a nearby Metro station for a single stop ride to Moscovskaya Metro station, the only one in the ex-USSR with 4 adjacent tracks. 
A couple of hours later it was time for us to board the last train on our own version of the Trans Siberian Railway trek. We began 9 days ago in chilly Ulaan Bataar when we boarded the Moscow-bound train and we would arrive tomorrow morning at Saint Petersburg's Moscowsky station to complete the journey on the 10th day. Here too, we boarded at origin with Saint Petersburg, the destination. But something else was completely different. We had booked ourselves first class for this final leg and we were looking forward to it.
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2019-06-17