Volga Voices

Volga Voices
Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

Nizhny Novgorod, Russia


I was wanted to take a ride across the Volga River on a massive new cable car. It must travel at least a kilometre and the two river bank pylons must be 80 metres high. I didn’t have a purpose to get to the satellite town of Bor on the northern bank opposite Nizhny Novgorod. I was just going for the views.

I had been walking from the ancient kremlin and was now down on the River Volga’s edge. I followed its concrete trained banks downriver until the concrete walls gave way to natural banks. A Saturday arvo, people were strolling and fishing. I’ve been amazed at the number of young women I’ve seen all taking posed photos of each other. Maybe I never noticed this in Australia but it really seems to be much more prevalent here. The quintessential pose involves photographee prepping their hair and make up. The photographer then giving tips on location and pose. Then without fail the photographee strikes the pose: slight sideways stance or sitting, legs slightly crossed, one hand on hip, head turned toward the camera, and flick of the head to get the long curls to fall just right. It all starts again when the photographee and photographer change roles.

Further down the banks I saw a sign for banya and then I came upon the huge sandy sections back from the waters edge where families played beach volley ball. Near here a section had been dredged out forming a long canal back-filled by river water. A makeshift motor and a cable system was being used to tow skiers. It was a bit noisy as the dat dat dat old motor kept stopping and starting as the skier was always falling off.

I kept heading toward the cable car and soon realised that the terminal was actually back up the hill on the southern embankment. I was looking for a track up. I asked a young guy walking down for a track that I though went back up that way. He ended up walking back up with me on a narrow bush track. It was clear he wanted to practice his English. I was happy to oblige despite only needing his directions for a shorter time.

The queue was a 15 minute wait to get the 50 rouble (AUD$1.20) one way ticket. I wasn’t sure if it was one way or not at the time.

After some great views over the river I alighted on the other side and immediately went to ticket office to buy my return. I was a little anxious as it was 21:00 and my overnight train to Perm was departing at 23:00 and I still had to walk back from the cable car station to my room at the linguistic university student college.

When I approached the end of the return boarding queue the cable car just filled had a few empty seats. In front of me were a family wishing to wait for the next car so as to travel together. So I raced around them and jumped in the car to join a young crew of cool types. One had an out of tune guitar but this didn’t stop them all singing some great songs on the 10 minutes ride back over the Volga. I actually really enjoyed it. They were quite oblivious of me. But I did offer my applause, to which they smiled politely. I didn’t understand the lyrics of course in Russian but they sang them well and with so much passion. Rock ballads I would classify them as. I managed to grab a video on my camera and sound recording on the phone.

I thanked them again as we arrived back at the terminal. And after walking 20 minutes I found the college. I bought some supplies for the train. Instant noodles seemed popular given hot water was readily available in the wagons. Vera, with whom I’d left my luggage this morning was there ready to call me the taxi at the cheaper rate. I grabbed my washing off the narrow balcony while she called the car. But it didn’t come straight away and I was starting to panic. She was telling me it was a 40 minute ride to the station. I found that hard to believe as it didn’t seem that long when we’d arrived the night before with Yuri and that was after we’d walked for 20 minutes looking for hotels. Anyway in broken Russian I tried to explain that I was just going to go and hail one on the street. She rang a third time to check. Got the car number. And I took the stairs all the way down. I didn’t see it immediately but the guy was there just having a smoke away from his car. He raced me in 15 minutes to the station and all was good.

The train arrived and I waited until there was space for me to manoeuvre down the narrow dormitory aisles. I walked too far and the provodnitsa came and guided me back. Just doing an about face with my front and back packs was difficult in the narrow aisles. A young couple, Aleks and Ina (Inga) with their ten year old son were sitting in our four bunk section. The provodnitsa on inspecting my ticket discovered that I hash paid the linen surcharge. I paid her the 100 doubles without questioning. It seemed reasonable. After making my bed I fetched hot water from the samovar for my noodles and sat down to eat.

I asked Aleks to take a photo of me once I was wedged into my top bank and settled in for a rather early night, not long after midnight.

I woke at around five and it was very light outside. I think hunger pangs were what brought me to life. I waddled down the aisle past the varied crowd of babushkas, families, young single men and Japanese girls for my morning ablutions at the end of the carriage. The place was a riot of white tossed linen and staring faces. It momentarily reminded me of some kind of prison scene.

Back at my partition my compartment companions were up and I was prompted to sit on Ina’s white sheet bed. Outside the green festival of trees continued. And they helped me name them in Russian: beroza (birch), sozna (pine), queyedra (cedar), el (spruce/fir), taparl (poplar), eva ( willow) and doob (oak) (my attempt at phonetics).

We spoke for a few hours swapping the most basic of information only as we didn’t speak each other’s language. Ina gave me a recipe for her homemade Russian version of baileys. Occasionally they would ask their son for a word but he was quite shy.

I’d been sitting all this time opposite Aleks (a factory worker) and Ina (home maker) in my underwear but such is the dormitory space that the outside world’s rules just don’t apply – well so it seemed.

After eating my dry bread supplemented kindly by Ina’s apple-filled sweet breads I felt tired and went back up into the bank to sleep. and sleep I did. The new provodnitsa woke me shaking my feet, which protruded quite pronouncedly into the aisle. It was 30 minutes to arrival in Perm.

Boots back on and things stowed. Phone charged in the communal power outlet. I was ready to alight. We swapped emails and Ina promised to send that recipe to me. Aleks kindly helped me done my pack and suddenly I was on the non-elevated platform of Perm II.

I walked in to the station terminal and spied a large rail network map of Russia. I saw the most northerly point on the network and bought a ticket for the following day. An unplanned and impromptu act on impulse. Not sure what I’ve got myself in for.


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