Pilgrimage to Russia: Part V–Nizhni-Novgorod

Nizni-Novgorod was out of the way. Most tours go straight from Moscow to St Petersburg, that is to say in a northwest direction. Nizhni-Novgorod is to the east and somewhat south of Moscow. This was necessary because this city was a stopping-off point for Diyeyevo Convent.

The name Nizhni-Novgorod means “Lower Novgorod.” During the Soviet period it was called Gorky, in honor of Maxim Gorky, one of the founders of the Bolshevik state and who happened to be born there. Originally, it was founded by burghers from Novgorod (which itself means “New City”) in 1221 led by Grand Duke Georgii II Vsevolodevich of Vladimir-Suzdal and is located on the Volga River. Georgii (aka Yuri) situated this city thusly in order to serve as a bulwark against the Bulgarian Khanate (which at that time was more to the north and west than the present Bulgarian state).

One of it’s claims to fame is the annual fair that takes place there. Its origin goes back to almost its very founding and would be in character with its namesake –Novgorod–which had close ties with the Hanseatic League and like those cities was more mercantile in nature.

The weather was somewhat dreary, reminding me much of England but we didn’t mind as it had been rather hot and humid two days earlier in Moscow (nothing of course compared to Oklahoma but you get my drift). Our first stop was the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which I very much enjoyed.

The thing about Russian architecture could be summed up in the words “go big or don’t go at all.” This was true of the cathedral and it’s gigantic wooden iconostasis (and I mean gigantic). We got there about 11 in the morning I’d say and we noticed a young couple outside posing for their bridal portrait. This was not the first time that I would notice such handsome young couples and it was a delight to behold. Inside the cathedral I couldn’t help but notice the preponderance of young, pretty women lightning candles and praying. One young lass in particular was not dressed for the occasion but still had on a headscarf. I don’t think she expected a group of twenty or so Americans to barge in and it was interesting to watch her try to adjust her dress and top but my feeling is that at least she was there praying. It’s not for me to judge.

At this point I should say that by now it was obvious to most of us that the Russian women are quite lovely. The pleasing physiognomy of Balt/Scandinavian ancestry is more obvious in Russian women for some reason than it is in Russian men. I picked this up more in Nizhni than I did in Moscow for whatever reason. Probably because there were quite a few women in Moscow wearing hijabs most of whom were unattractive anyway. As much as I admire modesty in general, the whole Muzzie thing puts me off.

After St Alexander Nevsky, we visited two other churches which were in various states of disrepair. Fr Ilya wanted us to see examples of the so-called Academic (read: realistic) style of iconography coupled with baroque architecture. One of the churches had all of its frescoes in monochrome, basically, black, white and shades of gray. This was unique to say the least but at this point, I’m glad that this was only a passing fancy of the decadent, West-obsessed Russia of the nineteenth century. It should always stand as a reminder of what not to do.

Not really. We did go to a Georgian restaurant which was decorated in very bright colors. The food was more than filling. We each received four dumplings, basically the size of a large tomato, each filled with a different meat, identified by a toothpick with a pig, lamb, or beef flag on it.

It was a languid meal in that the Georgians don’t seem to be in a hurry when it comes to eating. To pass the time were there were several large-screen TVs hanging all over the place. Over the course of two hours, we got to see an actual Georgian movie (I can’t remember the title) which appeared to be a tragicomedy taking place in some rural setting. It involved a wedding, a slandered bride, a spurned hussy and a morose groom-to-be. It would have been good to take a nap but I’m glad we the walk up the kremlin of Nizhni-Novgorod was great for the digestion.

A word about Nizhni. In 1612, it gave Russia two of its greatest heroes –Kuzma Minin and Prince Dmitri Pozharsky. It was they, a butcher and a nobleman, who led the Russian armies with the blessing of Patriarch Germogen against the Polish-Lithuanian invaders who had conquered Moscow. In my opinion, besides the fact that they led the Russian armies against the hated invaders, they are fondly remembered because together, they represented two strata of Medieval Russian society: the burghers and the nobility. In its kremlin, we actually saw the tomb of Kuzma Minin.

Also at the kremlin we saw a panoply of WWII era howitzers, tanks and other artillery pieces which lined the walled entryway. As we were admiring them, a young American girl spotted me and Denny and came up to us. Because Denny was wearing his OU golf shirt and I as wearing my OU baseball cap, I guess we stood out like two sore thumbs. Anyway, she was from Texas and she recognized us as kindred spirits. She was living in Nizhni with a Russian family and was pursuing a master’s degree in Russian studies. We talked a little football (which is painful at this point for me personally given OU’s lackluster performance) but mostly about Russia. She was waiting for her husband to join her in a couple of weeks. It’s always good to see ex-pats.

After the kremlin, our bus took us to a pedestrian mall where we could walk, shop or otherwise sight-see. We were told to meet at the base of mall, about a half-mile or so from our drop-off point. The street (whose name escapes me) reminded me very much of the Arbat in Moscow. Denny and I popped our heads in to one of the shops but nothing really struck our fancy. Back on the street we ran into a young girl who had an owl on her arm. For 30 rubles, we could pose for a picture with said owl on our own arms. In all my years, I’ve never seen an owl up close. They’re quite cute. I guess I can scratch that off my bucket list.

We made our way down to the terminus and sat on a park bench waiting for Ruslan (our driver) to pick us up. The terminus was a cul-de-sac with a roundabout in the middle. On one side was the Medieval wall of Nizhni and to the other side were several modern buildings. It was very pleasant to just sit there and take in all the passers-by.

At this point, it would be good to say a word about traffic in Russia and law enforcement in general. It used to be that pedestrians in Russia’s biggest cities were viewed as obstacles. About five or so years ago, the central government decided to lower the boom on reckless behaviors by drivers and they’ve done so in a very Russian, no-nonsense way. If you are caught by a camera breaking a law, you are sent a ticket within a week and either you pay it immediately or they confiscate your car. There is no appeal. I know it sounds draconian, but it has worked.

Denny and I saw an example of this as we were waiting for the tour bus. A car pulled up and parked in no-parking spot, right in front of us. The driver and his companion got out and went someplace not far away. Within ten minutes, a tow truck pulled up and removed the car, all within five minutes, I’d say. These people mean business. Given the reliance on tourism it makes sense. Especially since the FIFA World Cup is going to hosted by Nizhni in 2018. (I forgot to tell you about the gigantic stadium they’re building for the World Cup. It’s not too far from the Nevsky cathedral.)


About GShep


  1. In this country there would be a bevy of lawyers to contest each and every traffic violation.

    • George Michalopulos says

      I forgot to say that these draconian new rules about traffic enforcement have worked stunningly well as I saw no accidents of any kind while we were there.

  2. Peter A. Papoutsis says

    I would love to do this pilgrimage to Russia.