Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia
Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
92Trip End Aug 10, 2007
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Now I should mention that a Dragoman trip is not like a standard tour on which travelers' time and activities are mostly planned out and most time is spent together as a group. On overland trips like these the city tours we had included in Saint Petersburg, Novgorod, and Moscow are the exception rather than the rule. Usually the way things work when we arrive in a city is we check in at our accommodations and then all head out on their own to explore freely (or scatter like roaches when the light's turned on, as I like to say)
Regular tourist class hotels are in rather short supply in Russia and are usually very expensive, even in places like Nizhniy Novgorod. Sasha, our local guide/interpreter called around and found a solution for our stay in N.N., though - "I think I found a good place we can stay". This hotel is the most dismal yet, situated in an industrial zone far in the city's eastern outskirts. The big tank mounted like a statue in front of the factories across from the hotel suggests something about what the factories produce or at least used to produce. Although it now functions as a hotel, it's clear this was a Soviet-era hostel for workers traveling on business to the industrial zone. The multitude of "working girls" mulling about suggests the place also has a different function. The floor ladies here are as surly as they are rotund and are constantly mopping with what smells like undiluted Clorox bleach. I must give the ladies credit, though; they are quite efficient at cleaning up the vomit the periodically gets splattered around the men's room. The grungy bathrooms, dimly lit halls, and tiny cell-like rooms suggest the place was done up by the same interior decorating firm as the former KGB prison I visited in Vilnius.
This hotel feels like an extended visit to a Halloween house of horrors inhabited by some of the most ghoulish characters imaginable
Feeling a sense of safety in numbers in this freaky place, a mixed-gender group of eight of us decided to brave the bus ride into the city center for dinner
I used to live in Wyoming so I've seen quite a few good bar brawls, but a good fight at the Cowboy South bar in Cheyenne is nothing compared to the bus brawls in Nizhniy. About two minutes after I got onto the minibus into town the next morning, a drunk teenager sitting in back made some loud comment that was apparently offensive to the bus driver, so the bus driver stopped the bus, went back, and confronted him. In a normal place the driver would have just chucked the offender off the bus, but this driver proceeded to beat the Bejesus out of the drunk boy, leaving him sprawled out on the floor and attended to by his two slightly less drunk companions
All that early morning excitement was a little too much, and I was feeling the need for some of the comforts of home. So, I went to McDonalds for a Big Breakfast and some coffee. Nizhniy Novgorod's real sights are a bit sparse, consisting of a few nice churches, a small fine arts museum, author Maxim Gorky's museum home, and a very large Kremlin from which there are great views over the Volga River. That left me a lot of spare time for relaxing in coffee houses, shopping for new hiking boots to replace the disintegrating ones I was wearing, and checking out restaurant menus to find the best place for dinner.
I was treated to yet another bus brawl on the way home to the best little whorehouse in Nizhniy, this one seemingly involving half the bus. The fight seemed to break out between two drunk middle aged men over one's advances towards a seated young woman. The victor eventually literally kicked his opponent backwards out of the bus at a stop, the loser hitting the pavement with a hard thump
When I got back to the hotel/brothel, I joined several of my fellow travelers for a few beers in the bar and to exchange stories about our days. We were befriended by two boorish truck drivers, but I decided it was time to get out of Dodge when people started doing rounds of vodka shorts with Ivan and Igor. I walked up the stairs to my floor where I was stopped in the corridor by Tattoo Man yelling, "Skyooze me, skyooze me!" You tend to show a drunk Russian man with a gun some respect. Yes, Tattoo Man was fully clothed this time but had a gun slung over his shoulder in a holster. He held his cell phone up to my face and yelled, "Towk, towk!" I sheepishly said, "Hello, hello", a female voice babbling something in Russian on the other side. Tattoo Man seemed satisfied, and I retreated to my room.
About half an hour later while the door was temporarily unlocked because one of my roommates (Dave) had gone to the bathroom, there was a knock
Nizhniy Novgorod seems like a place one would be sent to as a form of punishment. Actually, probably the most interesting sight there is an example of such a place, the Andrei Sakharov Flat Museum. Sakharov was a physicist instrumental in the Soviet nuclear weapons program who publicly criticized the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The museum is the actual ground floor apartment in the high rise outer suburb of Nizhniy (Gorkiy) he was exiled to from 1980-1986. Also part of the museum are the nearby apartments the KGB used to monitor all his and his wife's activities.
Tired of watching all those bus brawls, on our last night in Nizhniy I decided to hoof it the six miles or so back to the Horror House Hotel
My somewhat negative impressions of Nizhniy Novgorod were doubtless affected by the poor accommodations we had in a very rough part of town. I'm glad, however, that I got to see another side of Russia far off the tourist path that we often read or hear about but few foreigners get to witness.