21 Feb 2013

Nizhny Novgorod: & 3rd class train journey

Arriving in Nizhny Novgorod (NN) in the dark, we set about following the guidebooks instruction on taking tram No. 1 to the centre where we would, it said “be dropped off at the Kremlin” – perfect as our hostel was close by.  That all sounded very simple, but deciding to ask each tram that came by, I asked “Kremlin?” and got a very long winded Russian answer in reply – we waited.  Unfortunately the same happened when eventually the No. 1 tram arrived, so we decided to get a taxi, but that wasn’t an easy option either - so we got our hostel involved!  

Day No.
Countries travelled
Kilometres travelled
Kilometres total
Hours travelled
Night accommodation
Train – 2nd class
Hostel Gorkiy
Nizhny Novgorod
Hostel Gorkiy
Train - 3rd  class

Murals in Hostel Gorkiy - very apt!
We arrived at the hostel (*Hostel Goriky*) from a dodgy looking back entrance – it had some interesting murals on the wall & a map of Russia on the ceiling of our room! 

We had been put in touch with a friend of a friend, Veronika, who kindly agreed to show us the sites of NN.  She had been an English teacher in the local university before having twins – so her English was perfect and her knowledge of the city vast.  We lived on the main pedestrian street – Bol’shaya Pokrovskaya Ulitsa – wandering up this street was a pleasant change from the noise and chaos of Moscow. 

Bol’shaya Pokrovskaya Ulitsa
Veronika showed us the Kremlin, which housed governmental buildings, a church and an eternal flame, as well as a tank.  She explained that NN was a key manufacturer of tanks and other vehicles and weaponry during WWII.  The Kremlin also gave great views of the meeting point of the River Oka and Volga – both were frozen over but Veronika said this was beautiful during the Summer and that as OAPs we should return to do the popular River Cruise from NN to St. Petersburg – so that’s that holiday sorted!



Further discoveries unveiled a statue of the first pilot who flew from Russia to the US via the North Pole who was from NN and the Church of the Nativity of Our Lady – we learnt that in a Russian Orthodox Church, women had to cover their heads and men had to remove hats.  It was a very impressive and beautiful church and a stark contrast to the minimalist churches of Scandinavia.


We lunched in the famous Pyatkin – a traditional Russian restaurant, with a great atmosphere and good menu.  Veronika made sure to order everything traditional from the menu which was followed by a traditional tea.  Sounds simple, but there was a ritual to it which we both loved - a large ornate metal samovar which has a small teapot on top was delivered to our table.  The teapot contains the tea leaves & is left to brew throughout the tea drinking experience – you then top up the tea in your cup with hot water from the samovar.  And for the final luxury – this is served with a small bowl of jam which you eat (just with a spoon) neat.  John was in heaven!



Having said our goodbyes to Veronika later than a normal lunch would end, we decided to see what the bars of NN had to offer.  Veronika had showed us a new bar that had opened just 8 days previously called “Franky” – we went for a drink, which turned into a few drinks following the decision that this was likely to be our last splurge before entering Siberia.  We met and spoke to the 21 year old barman who was itching to get out of Russia and travel to somewhere…anywhere.  He prepared us some great drinks and also introduced us to some local Vodka’s.  We agreed that it felt like a bar that could have been in London, but was cheaper!  Excellent!


Our journey from Nizhny Novgorod to Yekaterinburg started with a mild panic, as we hadn’t yet understood the ticket system.  We had booked tickets but then had to use a machine in the station to dispense our tickets.  We arrived on the platform with minutes to spare.  We found our beds in 3rd class (platzkart) – a new experience in itself but most interesting was the man we found in John’s bed.  We decided to let him sleep and take the opposite bed, so we had one bottom place and one top place.  The Russian lady opposite us helped us with finding hooks and nooks for our things but despite speaking no English.  The man woke up a few hours later and heard us speaking English – he spoke very little but we managed to determine he was 26, called Konstantin and was on his way from Moscow to Tuymen where he lived with his parents.  This short exchange was obviously tiring as he went back to bed after offering us some traditional and very yummy chocolate wafers.  “спасибо/Spassiba” is today’s most used word, meaning “thank you.”



It was strange to spend so much time on a bed either sitting or lying down…but also nice to have some time to think, read, drink tea and chat.  It reminded us of Churchill’s answer to the question: “to what do you attribute your success in life?' to which he answered: 'Economy of effort. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.'  This sums up travelling for most in our carriage – most were indeed lying down!

Outside the window are beautiful snow scenes with datcha’s, wooden houses and many concrete soviet style industrial buildings.  We also noticed that the train was moving quite slowly, so even the lorries on a parallel road were overtaking the train at one point.  We saw there was a speedometer in the hallway which read 123km/hr – that didn’t seem so slow – but then when we stopped in a station it still read the same – so clearly some propaganda here!


Inside the carriage a stream of vendors came through selling everything from crystal horses with blue lights to children’s duvet covers.  A mix of Russian traditional and pop music was being played to keep everyone lively - that wasn’t working!  So, failing that the train seemed to honk every 10 minutes either by co-incidence or if another train was passing.  We wondered how we would sleep that night – and it proved quite difficult!


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