Read more of my stories here.!
After my first night out, I woke up on Saturday morning, now 2 days since arriving, feeling pretty awful. I still had no phone connection or way to get in touch with anyone, so I decided to spend the weekend to myself, getting to know where I now called home.
As mentioned previously, Volgograd was formerly known as Stalingrad, the site of one of the worlds bloodiest battles in history, which took place during WW2. The city was named Stalingrad by the Soviet leader Stalin, and was to be developed to a city of model Soviet living.
However the name caught the attention of Hitler during WW2, and as a matter of almost pride, he decided to focus a large portion of his forces to take the city of Stalingrad, thus crushing the hope of the Russian people in Stalin himself.
All seemed well, but after almost 6 months of bitter fighting, door to door and room to room throughout the city, the Soviets emerged victorious – some 2 million men and women were killed, wounded or captured during the process.
Volgograd found its name in 1961, due to its location on the Volga river, one of Europe’s largest river systems.
It is one of the worlds longest cities, stretching a long way along the banks of the river. Within the central areas, it is really hard to get lost, as there are only about 4 blocks between the river and the train line, meaning you will always find a reference point to point you in the right direction.
My flat was in the Central District of the city, close to Ploshad Lenina, which was a grand empty space with a really massive statue of Lenin. Just because.
My flat was also really close (around 100m) to the Panorama Museum of the battle of Stalingrad, and Pavlov’s house.
It was about 20 minutes walk from the centre of the city, with the main pedestrian street known as ‘Alleya Goroev’, or Alley of Heroes. About 10 minutes by tram in the opposite direction would take me to ‘Mameyev Kurgan’, which was one of the worlds largest stone statues, which was the main war memorial as such in Volgograd, situated on Mamayev Hill – one of the bloodiest spots in the battle of Stalingrad.
Of course, waking up on Saturday morning, I had no clear idea of where anything was, and decided to start out by walking down to the school, which I knew was close to the Alley of Heroes.
This was a pedestrian street, running down the city to the riverbank. It was really wide, with a Obelisk at one end, and the river at the other (and the middle of the river embankment walk).
It looked best at night, as the picture below shows, with the fairy lights giving a really pretty effect.
By the time I got here, it began pouring with rain, so I decided to have some lunch in a cafe that happened to be underneath the Hotel Volgograd building, one of the cities bigger hotels. It was located at the top end of the Alley of Heroes, which had the obelisk and large square behind.
Volgograd is missing many of the brand names which you become accustomed to in bigger cities like Moscow – there are so many chain restuarants and cafe’s in Russia, which are average at best, but you know what to expect. Funnily enough, Volgograd had none of these, with McDonalds and KFC the only notable chains present – no local ones. This was probably good overall, but on my first weekend, I wanted something familiar, but instead tried what was available. Cafe Volgograd was the name of the first place I did go, and basically mimicked the other chains such as Kofe Haus in Moscow, but just not as well ;).
Food is another story altogether, so I won’t go to much further into it now.
After getting something to eat, I decided to go back home as the weather was really miserable. However by the time I got back, it had started to stop raining, so I decided to go towards where the panorama museum was (conveniently next to my flat!)
This was at the end of the embankment area, and had a large dome which contained the museum itself, one of the last standing structures from the battle, and also a whole heap of tanks, planes and even a massive Soviet style train on display.
The weather was holding, so I decided to get on the tram, and head up to Mamayev Hill, as this is the major attraction in the city.
The trams are really quite cute that they use in Volgograd – mostly they are above ground, however for 4 stations on the central line, they actually go underground. The stations for the ‘metrotram’ stops are really quite big, especially when a tiny little one or two carriage tram rocks up, taking up not even a quarter of the platform length..
I got on the tram and arrived in time for a deluge of rain at Mamayev Hill, but decided to continue seeing as I had made the effort to get there.
It is really quite impressive, and I actually went back a few times to get a better view of it in the sun.
But even on a rainy day, it was really quite special.
As you walk up the hill, there is a recording of militaristic music and voicing playing, and each step you take, the statue at the top becomes bigger. It is really designed to be imposing, and definitely had that effect.
Even on this wet weekend, the pictures really give an idea of what it is like.
I didn’t make it all the way to the top, however a couple of weeks later I returned in the sun. The picutres are also below for comparison 🙂
After seeing this, it was pretty late, and so decided to head home. On the tram back, I noticed a pretty nice looking shopping mall (looks are definitely decieving in Russia!) names Evropa City Mall. It looked quite modern, but inside was pretty average, with a large supermarket but not much else (though later on I would find out that the cinema at the top played English movies once a month!)
On the Sunday, I decided to have a look at the central park, near the train station.
Volgograd’s train station itself is a really impressive building, built in the Stalinist style and still maintained to it’s original stature.
The park near the station was okay, I assumed it would look better during Summer. Winter in Volgograd did get quite cold, but in November when I arrived, it hovered around -5 to +5 degrees, which for me was cold enough! But it also meant everything looked a lot more grey than necessary.
I also decided to walk up, across the train tracks nearest to my house, and out of the central district into Dzerhinsky District. Crossing the train tracks, things became even more bleak outside of the centre in a typical Russian way.
Coming down the stairs of the overpass gave sight to a landscape of apartment buildings and not much else.
I didn’t really have a plan as to where I was going, but in walking around, amongst all the grey and dreariness, it was possible to find an out of place piece of colour or paint.
After walking a bit further, I decided it was time to head back, and get some rest before my first work day of the week!
Overall, my first weekend in Volgograd was a little intimidating, mostly to do with the brutality of the city and the grayness of it all.
However, already, I knew there was a part of it I enjoyed, despite the less than flattering photos. It was rough, yes, but it was also what I had wanted to see and experience. Sure, my flat took a bit longer to get used to (and lack of bed), but the city itself I was drawn to.
It was something which over my first couple of weeks, I became more and more accustomed to – the different food, the currency, the transport, the dark streets and drab buildings, the potholes, the lack of smiles – after a while, all of this became normal to me.
My first weekend was the weekend I needed, to get out and see what was around me, and to help overcome any feelings of home sickness. Without all that much internet, I managed to remove myself from home and life outside of Volgograd, which was a good way to help acclimatise.
What I saw on the weekend basically covered off a lot of what there is to do in Volgograd – Mamayev Kurgan and the Panorama museum were both main attractions, and the Alley of Heroes being the main walking street of Volgograd.
There are other things of course, like the embankment, Akvarel Mall and Voroshilivsky, but I will get to those another time…