A Quick Visit to Nizhny Novogorod

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Nizhny Novgorod [Нижний Новгород], another long overnight journey from Ekaterinburg on the train heading west, is the fifth largest city in Russia and an important economic centre. We wouldn’t have really known this – partly because of course our brief visit focused on the pretty part of town, and partly because it just didn’t seem that big. It was, however, rather gorgeous.

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The city was founded in the thirteenth century, when a wooden fortress was built on the site now holding the Kremlin by the Grand Duke Yory II. A few decades later it was occupied by the Mongols, but avoided destruction due to the significance of the city. Incorporated in the late thirteenth century into the Vladimir-Suzdal Principality, the city later became the seat of the principality and the Grand Duke sought to make it a capital to rival Moscow. By the late fourteenth century it had been incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Moscow, so I guess Moscow thought it was rather nice. And then there was a lot more history that I don’t know a lot about. It didn’t help that we were there on the official Museum Closure Day – must have been Monday.

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I’m not sure how much of the extant city dates to that period, but what’s left today is certainly attractive. Our hostel was just across from the Kremlin on the main pedestrian street, and the historic buildings lining the cobbled streets were softly lit up at night. We arrived early in the morning and so had the whole day ahead of us. We couldn’t check into the hostel until after 2pm, so we left our bags there and went for a long walk around the town. We didn’t have a particular plan in mind, which is often the best way to explore. As museums were closed, they weren’t an option, and this was a little disappointing as I’d read of a few that sounded interesting. Still, you can’t be everywhere at the right time.

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We headed off down the pedestrian street and the first thing we both noticed was that Nizhny Novgorod has a real thing about statues. They’ve got heaps of them. A man with a bicycle, a lady looking into a mirror, shoeshiners, a boy playing a violin and more.

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We both rather liked the look of the bank on the arbat street, and were a little surprised it was only built in 1913. It was one of those odd days where the sky was gorgeous in one direction and cloudy in the other, so our photos look a little odd!

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We walked down from the main tourist zone towards the rive, past apartment buildings and along precarious footpaths. Along the way, as we walked high above the road, we got some great views across the river.

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We crossed to walk along some other beautiful old streets on the way to the southern Kremlin entrances. A lot of construction work was going on there and the roads were all ripped up. John didn’t think we could go there but there was a gap in the fences and a few locals were walking through, so we joined them.

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A little further up was a beautiful Orthodox church with Moscow-style onion domes in bright colours. I was taking a photo of the church from the outside and a lady with a dark floral headscarf stuck her head out and shouted something at me. I don’t know if she didn’t want me to photograph the church, but I’ve never heard of that being a problem so I just went around the corner and took them from a different angle.

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We didn’t enter the Kremlin from the bottom, instead deciding to walk around the walls.

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We went down a little road beside the wall that had some old wooden garage doors with fading, peeling paint.

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Walking around, along the river, we eventually came to a giant set of stairs. I was pretty sure this was going to be the best way to get back, although it was a very threatening set of stairs. You could just see them glaring down at you, daring you to try to climb them. Sneaky, arrogant stairs they were and damn them if I wasn’t going to beat them! All 436 of the bastards. We were glad of the view once we reached the top…and glad of a nearby bench.

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It was just about time for some lunch by this point, and the cheap pizza in the shop beside the hostel was not as delicious as it was filling. At last, however, we could check into the hostel and have a much-needed shower.

In the afternoon we visited the most popular sight in Nizhny Novgorod – the Kremlin. To our surprise it was free – a price we’re both fond of. Inside, parts are still used by government but the majority of the walled fortress is parklands. It’s a popular place for locals to walk and we saw a lot of prams.

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The entrance is lined with carefully maintained gardens and the top part of a submarine. We couldn’t decide if the rest of the submarine was underground or not, but if it was it probably needed a new name.

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Then there was a church that was rather cute sitting in a little grass square between a stack of government buildings.

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Walking towards the river there’s a memorial to the two wars that’s guarded by four rather young people in oversized military uniforms. I swear they looked about sixteen, and the two girls had huge white ribbons in their plaits. Just around the corner we saw a squad of teenage girls, again in oversized uniforms with ridiculous ribbons, practicing marching. It was too comical to take seriously. I don’t know if it was part of a school program or what it was, but those ribbons just made them look even more ridiculous…as did the fact that they all wore different coloured ballet flats. I’m just going with Russia’s a bit strange sometimes.

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We headed through a low arch in the wall, through which was a path heading around one of the towers and along the outside of the walls. The views from here were amazing.

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That tower also seems to be the place that teenagers go to profess their undying love in white out and permanent markers. Almost every brick had a couple’s names, or initials inside hearts – except one that we both found rather odd, and equally entertaining.

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We had a rather early and extensive dinner at a little cafe halfway down the arbat street, before heading back to the stairs beside the Kremlin for beautiful sunset views.

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It was one of the nicest sunsets we’d had in Russia. And the city itself, at night, was rather romantic.

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We were glad we’d only had one night in Nizhny Novgorod, planning to leave early the next morning. While there are plenty of places around the city we could have gone, we managed to see a lot of the city itself in a day and other activities – such as boat trips – would be nicer in warmer weather. And so it was that we were up early, ready to take the tram to the train station in peak hour.

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