Read my previous post here;
Volgograd is a really brutal city. It’s the kind of place that you couldn’t instantly fall in love with – it’s a city that might take you a few weeks, or even months, to truly understand.
It doesn’t have a real tourist infrastructure, but that’s not the perspective I saw it from. I saw it as a new home, a city which I had to be comfortable enough in to go to a supermarket everyday, know where to get a coffee, which pharmacy to use, find a gym to go to, find places to go when there’s nothing to do.
I had to discover, and did discover Volgograd, as a home, not a destination.
And maybe that’s why I would say it’s brutal, but then again, I have a feeling that many cities in Russia come off like this. Once you discover under the surface, you can actually begin to understand and come to like these cities.
Volgograd was more brutal than most though.
One of the first judges of place most people get when going to a new place is the entrance place, i.e., the airport, train station etc.
For me, this was the airport. And boy, what a let down it was.
Volgograd (International) Airport, as I have described in my first post as a ‘tin shed’, was actually kind of a giveaway. There were no gates, so all airlines used stairs and then a bus to get to the terminal. The departure terminal was a big, concrete, rectangular block, most likely pre-fabricated for the purpose at some stage during the Soviet Union. Nothing had changed since, and inside it was basically one, big, empty space, with tiny little areas of seating for departure gates.
However, my first impression came from the arrivals ‘shed’, which was, literally, a tin shed next to the concrete box.
Volgograd Gumrak Airport – Departure Terminal
I took about 60 flights in my year in Russia, and all of them ended or originated in the concrete confines of Volgograd’s airport. And all of the other airports I visited on the way, were noticeably better than Volgograd’s (even in Murmansk, the world’s largest Arctic City!)
In some ways though, this airport grew on me though. They were in the process of upgrading Volgograd’s airport (the finished version I was able to use in August 2016), however the concrete box and tin shed really began to make me feel comfortable. I knew which room to go to, and knew that I would only need 5 minutes to check in and go through security, meaning I could give myself less time to wait and still not miss a flight.
Another thing I noticed in my first couple of weeks in Volgograd was the state of the city’s roads (or dirt tracks in many cases).
Not that I knew this before I arrived, but Volgograd has the title of having Russia’s worst roads. And they were really pretty bad.
My first car trip from the airport to my apartment was pretty insane. We jumped, bumped, veered all over the road. I kept on wondering why the driver was making such erratic turns and driving all over the road (on the wrong side for much of the trip too). As it was dark though, I couldn’t see anything, so just assumed he was drunk 😉
But in reality, it was to avoid the insane amount of potholes and just non-existent roads.
Within the central district, roads were slightly better, however still in a state of disrepair. Below for example, is a picture of an access road to my apartment blocks.
This was really common all over the city – as soon as you turned off one of the main roads (of which basically there were only a couple), they turned into what is pictured above.
And because of the holes, if it rained once, there would be puddles for weeks. (I found one puddle which my friend and I decided must have given birth to human life and existence, as it was there for the entire 10 months I lived in Volgograd).
The roads were really a problem, and apparently city council just doesn’t really do much about it. Funnily enough however, the roads and pavement directly outside the city duma (council/government) are immaculately paved. Funny that, right?
Footpaths were also prone to disappearing – which was quite amusing.
It felt as if once they ran out concrete blocks for the day, there was no possible way for them to return 😉
Normally footpaths were made of bitumen, which collapsed in the snow and ice similar to the roads, which made walking on the footpath about as intense as driving – avoiding holes and massive puddles of water, sometimes which were actually impossible to walk around.
The roads out of the city were the worst – once you crossed out of the central district, the condition became progressively worse. The airport was actually around 20km from the centre, and the road to this was probably one of the poorer ones. The ‘best’ part was right at the airport – you drove over a bridge crossing train lines – you could see the airport, just ahead of you, but then you turned right. And did a big circle around some of the most dilapidated apartment blocks I saw in Volgograd. It was almost like a tour – you had to drive on this dirt road, passing these apartment blocks, at around 5km/h due to the road condition. Being tall, my head would constantly bump on the roof of the taxi if it was a Lada (they are really small!) but all the while I would be fascinated by what we were driving past. Normally airports are a place to show off your city in a sense – display the best of what you can build / provide a good impression. But not Volgograd. They did things differently.
And, you know what? I liked it.
Initially, because of these, it does add somewhat to the cold, brutal front that Volgograd has.
You can’t look at it, with it’s Soviet architecture and blocks of apartments lining streets lacking in upkeep for the most part, and say that it’s ‘beautiful’.
This picture below almost shows this – this is from an rail overpass, looking back towards my apartment block, Prospekt Lenina (the main road in Volgograd) and the Volga River.
The colours are pretty bland, the buildings aren’t exactly pretty or modern, the roads are pretty..average..but the more I look at it, I kind of miss seeing this.
Part of the reason that I chose to move to Russia was because I find this brutality almost endearing. And, initially, despite the negative appearance, I kind of enjoyed the challenge that these things brought to everyday life.
Walking to work became like walking a flood zone, getting in a taxi was better value than Luna Park in Sydney for thrills.
And, bit by bit, over my first couple of weeks, all of these things which could be perceived as problems, actually made me begin to, deep down, come to like Volgograd.