After almost a year spent in Nizhny Novgorod and other places in Russia, I have to admit – the country is much more interesting, absorbing and complex, than it might seem at first sight. I took lots of pictures during my project, I want to show you some of them and take you for a trip, following the chronological order. This is Russia in my eyes.
One visiting Nizhny Novgorod for the first time will most likely go to Kremlin, embankment of Volga and two main pedestrian streets. Although these places are quite picturesque and undoubtedly worth seeing, they leave very shallow and perhaps misleading impression. City has many hidden cultural layers. Street art was my first step towards creating own mind map of the city. It turns out to be unique phenomenon in Russian contemporary art.
1. One of my favorite street art themes in the city is artwork created by Nikita Nomerz. It is a series of a bit spooky, human-like creatures, painted on the walls of usually abandoned or collapsing buildings. Scattered in the city, they leave strange feelings as one passes by them.
2. Usually they are hidden to some extent, it’s not easy to notice them at first.
3. The city has very rich wooden architecture, however, most of the buildings are being forsaken by their inhabitants. Unfortunately, they disappear from local urban space, as people trade wood for concrete and glass. They are often set on fire or left alone, collapsing slowly.
4. Picture taken a few minute walk away from our volunteer flat in Kanavinsky District, one of the ‘sleeping districts’ of Nizhny Novgorod. Neighborhood reminds a sea of blocks of flats from Soviet Era. The wordplay is extremely meaningful and catchy. Has the concrete land turned into the promised land?
5. Immortal symbol of remembrance of the Great Patriotic War, painted on the back wall of one of the local shops. The myth of the Great Patriotic Wall is still very alive among Russian society, monuments of GPW are scattered across whole Russia and can be found in a vast majority of towns and cities.
6. Orange color of buses, marshrutkas and trolleybuses. It is the thing I find so distinct and deeply rooted in the image of the city, it’s one of my first associations that comes to my head when I think about Nizhny.
7. Windows 95 desktop found in Aleshkovo, nearby village.
8. Barbecue (or rather Russian шашлик) at the local artificial reservoir called Gorky Sea, which is in reality dammed Volga, the longest European river. Since it’s relatively close from Nizhny Novgorod, around 70 km, the ‘sea’ is popular destination on weekend getaways. Russians love spending time outdoor in nature, pitching a tent and enjoying the moment with friends and family. It is something that seems to be disappearing in other countries, unfortunately.
9. The colloquial ‘sea’ in the name of the lake is not a gross exaggeration. Reservoir is 430 km long and it took 2 years to fill it with water, starting from 1955.
10. Camel met in Gorodets, standing still and indifferent at local bus station. It seems no one was surprised or interested, I guess they already saw everything.
11. For some unknown reasons, some people in Russia love placing plush toys at entrances to the blocks of flats. I was trying to get to know why and understand this a bit creepy phenomenon, but I’ve never got the clear answer. Does anyone know it? Imagine how they look on rainy November nights.
12. My flatmates, volunteers from Germany and Poland – Laura and Anna, plus a wind in the hair at Volga.
13. Social realism in Avtozavod, in my opinion one the most underestimated districts of Nizhny Novgorod. I don’t know why it has bad reputation among many Russians. It reminds me Nowa Huta in Poland.
14. My first long train trip to the south of Russia, 2 days in a train and first real try to communicate in Russian after 2 months of learning . Sleepy railway town, just few kilometers away from Ukrainian border. Lessons learned from the time spent in a train – you will never be hungry when your neighbor is babushka and drinking coffee without any sweets is a serious crime in Russia that won’t be forgotten. Besides, it’s the perfect way to spot a foreigner.
15. The Western Caucasus in Adygea. After whole day of hitching from Goryachy Klyuch, I finally got on trail. Without any doubts, hitchhiking remains the best way of getting to know the unknown, as it takes you to places you didn’t know that exist and binds you with the others. During just one day I met Russian yogin who lived 12 years in ashram in India , warmhearted local guy who showed me best bakery in Maykop and the couple from Yamal Peninsula. The latter decided to go to the Caucasus and the Black Sea for holiday. For someone unfamiliar with the size and geography of Russia, it’s at least 5000 km one way, by car.
16. Moody weather and mesmerizing, completely still clouds at your fingertips.
17. It was the view I saw when I unzipped a tent and peeked out after the stormy night at Fisht basecamp.
18. Untethered wild horses met in a mountain pass.
19. My route was a part of 93 km long old Soviet trail, from the mountains to the sea (Через горы к морю).
20. The name of the trail holds a true, direct meaning. It leads hikers through different climate zones, glaciers, alpine meadows, foggy beech forest or extremely humid subtropical zone with trees covered with lianas and mosses.
21. It means that during one day, on a distance of 20 km, one might need to get changed, starting with warm jacket and thermoactive underwear, ending with shorts and t-shirt.
22. The explosion of green color is striking and has absolutely knocked me out. Caucasus Nature Reserve is one of the most biologically diverse places on planet.
23. Despite a small elevation difference, the last day the was the most challenging and memorable. That day I learned that waterproof covers are no longer waterproof during Caucasian storm. The longer I walked, the more indifferent to the rain I was becoming. By the time I reached the nearest village – Solokhaul, I got soaked to the point where this abandoned unfinished hotel was one of the nicest places I’ve been to.
24. Cool cable car building in Sochi. Surprisingly, cable car takes people to the uppermost point of Arboretum Botanical Garden, recognized as one of the main attractions of Sochi. How is Sochi? It’s the most popular sea resort in Russia. It’s a strange mixture of everything. Humid air making even 27 degrees hard to stand, open air stalls along the coastline selling ice cream and Chinese inflatable mattresses, luxurious shops for the New Russians and Svetlana Loboda coming out of loud speakers.
25. Because Sochi was a bit overwhelming for me, I escaped to the north, having found a small camping site in the village called Ashe. Few lazy days, slow life, swimming in the Black Sea, watching long sunsets and drinking wine. I got some rest.
26. Soviet vibe found on a beach.
27. Moscow, New Arbat Avenue. Characteristic social modernism, breakthrough in Soviet architecture, seen as a new wave from the West.
28. Today meets yesterday. Temple of Nikolay the Miracle Worker, squeezed between modern glass skyscrapers, headquarters of giant corporations.
29. Botanical Garden in Tomsk, the first stop on my journey to Siberia. I spent there 9 days, participating in eco-workcamp, meeting volunteers from Russia, Mexico, Indonesia, Austria and Japan. Enormous greenhouses are divided into separated zones, each of them reflects different climate types with climate-specific plants. Walking around in tropical, steamy ecosystems, is definitely not an experience that one could expect in the middle of Siberia.
30. I spent in Tomsk awesome summer days. It is one of the oldest Siberian cities, where 20% of population is students – the city is known for numerous prestigious universities. It has unusual atmosphere, unlike most of the Russian cities I saw, it is really lively, there are also many international students from all over the world, which bring diversity and youth vibe. Another surprise in the middle of Siberia.
31. Ulan-Ude in Buryatia. This massive Lenin’s head is the world’s largest monument of this kind. Ulan-Ude is a place where you can feel how far from western Russia you are. Even Lenin seems to have Asian features.
32. Eastern coast of Baikal Lake, Maksimikha. Two nights at the world’s oldest and deepest lake, the Sacred Sea of Buryats. Swimming in a crystal clear water reminds floating in the abyss. The visibility in the water can reach up to 40 meters in fine weather. One of the strangest, yet the most existing feelings in my life. And the childhood dream that came true.
33. Kurumkan in the Barguzin Valley, the end of the world. Literally. The valley is inhabited by indigenous Evenks and Buryats, Russians came here in the XVII century as the expansion of Romanov’s ruled Russia continued eastward. Despite harsh winter with temperatures dropping up to -50 degrees, people live in wooden, often half-collapsed cottages. Many of them don’t speak Russian.
34. The tranquility and the silence of the place is mesmerizing, it’s one of the most sunny places in Russia.
35. I spent there 5 days, sleeping in a tent at the back of local Datsan, the Buddhist temple, few kilometers away from Kurumkan. Buddhism is official religion of Buryatia, however it coexists smoothly with shamanism which has survived up till now.
36. There are a few small wooden houses at the back of the temple. Place is run by self-proclaimed spiritual teacher Dima, mysterious and a bit chaotic character, yet very hospitable and friendly guy. His beliefs are mixture of Lamaism and local shamanism. Every year, tens of people visit him to take part in a retreat. They wake up at 6, meditate, practice yoga, study sacred books, and in return – do small repairs or collect herbs for Dima. People come from different parts of Russia and world, from different backgrounds, they are different ages, however, most of them are young adults. Sometimes they stay for a few days, sometimes for a few months.
37. Place is believed to be sacred, both by lamas and shamans. I don’t know if I got biased, but I did feel at peace being there.
38. The Barguzin Valley is unusually picturesque place. Sharp mountain ridge at the horizon is Barguzin Range, which separates the valley from Baikal Lake in the west.
39. The wide valley of Oka on a rainy and foggy day, southward from Nizhny Novgorod. Beginning of the fall.
40. The biggest book store at Sovetskaya Street. Every day becomes visibly shorter, temperature continues to drop, Russia is falling asleep, getting ready for a long winter.
41. The lone wanderer at the Oka Embankment. Russia in winter turns into totally different country.
42. Kanavinskiy Most, the link between upper and lower part of the city and my everyday commute to the office.
43. Ice fishing turns out to be very popular in Russia. Fishermen keep fishing even on warmer days, when snow and ice start to melt. Sometimes it looks really scary and gives me goosebumps.
44. The same university building you already saw. I visited Tomsk once again, 3 months after workcamp. This time temperature was 50 degrees lower. It looked like fairytale and for someone who isn’t used to harsh winters – seemed unreal.
45. New Year’s trip to Perm and one of the symbols of the city. Happiness is not behind the mountains.
46. Frozen Kama and steaming industrial chimneys at the horizon. Spooky.
47. This is the actor that played a small role in the movie ’The Geographer Drank His Globe Away’. He actually played himself, he got only 2000 rub for the role. Despite freezing cold, he keeps singing Russian songs from the Soviet era, sitting in front of railway station in Perm, hoping to get some extra money to increase his modest pension.
48. Frozen channel next to still operating shipyard in Navashino, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast.
49. Famous UAZ Buchanka facing blizzard at the local lake.
50. Maslenitsa – first day of long awaited spring in Russian culture and long awaited shashlik.
51. One of the first warm days after winter in hilly Switzerland Park, my favorite place in Nizhny Novgorod. Soon after I found that it was my last weekend in Russia, I had to come back to Poland. I’m happy I could come and live here for almost a year. Everything I saw and experienced came unexpected and was new to me. I have many reasons to return one day.
Marcin Gorczyczewski, 2019/2020