Peter lives and works in Volzhsky. Most Saturday evenings he makes the 1-hour trip into central Volgograd to socialise with us other English teachers, because there are no other native speakers in his city, then returns home late at night in a taxi. Many months ago I suggested that perhaps, for once, all the other foreign teachers should come and visit him in Volzhsky, a proposal he enthusiastically endorsed. But for one reason or another it didn’t happen.
Until now. With good weather here at last, and summer camps due to start meaning one after another, each of us will be unavailable for 3 weeks at a time until the end of August, it was pretty much now or never. He promised us a full programme of cultural activities reflecting the whole breadth of Volzhsky’s historical, social and industrial points of interest. And beer. It’s probably the beer that sold it*.
Of course the cohort of foreign teachers is much reduced these days so ultimately it was just Wesley and I who made the arduous journey into the mysterious lands to the north of Volgograd and across the river. In fact it was my first time in Volzhsky on a warm, sunny day and I was able to fully appreciate the size of the river Volga, and the discrepancy between the level of the river on the north side and the south side. Wesley had never been to the northern part of the city so I was giving him a running commentary.
Peter had told us to get off at the first stop in the city proper, in the event we went right past it and got off at the second, which looked far more central. But Peter found us easily enough, and after a quick glass of kvass (the mildly alcoholic bread drink** sold from street vendors across Russia), we started our tour.
The first stop was meant to be the branch of our school, but we had got off at the wrong place so we missed it. Instead we went to a park which had stalls, rides, and a big wheel, and statues of ordinary citizens in various lines of work. It was ok.
After that we walked through a boulevard which ended in a monument to the hydroelectric power plant that facilitated Volzhsky’s creation. The monument was three seagulls sitting on (or flying over, if we use our imaginations) different sized rocks. It was ok.
More stunning was the view from the end of the boulevard, across the Volga to the skyline of Volgograd, including Mat Rodinu (the big statue) and our very own blue sail building.
We walked down the next street to a sports area, with a swimming pool and a small football stadium, with a blotchy, but grass-covered pitch. It had floodlights and a small stand. Perhaps it wasn’t quite World Cup standard, and Peter seemed pretty certain Volzhsky doesn’t have any kind of recognisable football team, but it was an interesting facility.
The next stop was a statue of a man called Yakov (Jacob) Sverdlov, one of the revolutionary friends of Lenin. And then, after an ice-cream break, a statue of Lenin himself. We saluted him with our ice creams.
He headed up another nice long boulevard with interesting fountains, and beyond that a church, another small fairground, and another promenade with a view of the Volga, and the Akhtuba, the smaller river that runs off the Volga through Volzhsky. Peter advised that the small lake in front of us froze in winter and the locals played ice-hockey on it.
Further along there was an art gallery (which we all agreed not to go into) and then some old military vehicles. There were several kids having a great time climbing on them and when Wesley decided he wanted a go, I considered it a personal challenge to my climbing capabilities, so pretty soon all of us were on top of one of the vehicles, possibly an anti-aircraft vehicle. I am sad to report that although I took a most excellent photo of this moment, while showing it to my compadres, I attempted to scroll through to the next photo but due to a misalignment of my tablet, what I actually did completely unintentionally was permanently delete it.
Peter then guided us to the final stop on out journey, the legendary Volgamol (Volga Mall). Wesley bought a coffee machine.
Peter invited us back to his house for drinks*** and conversation and we chewed the fat over life as a foreign teacher, as the sun went down. I finally collected the priceless goodies that Peter had bought for me on his April trip back to the UK. Eventually it became too late for us to get a marshrutka back to Volgograd, and we had to cough up the extra roubles for a taxi, which was actually a much more comfortable ride and took us to our door on an evening when the wind and rain had decided to start kicking up in protest at the sun having dominated the daylight hours.
Peter has asked me to let you all know that he is happy to do additional English Language cultural programmes for paying guests at very competitive rates. He is looking into purchasing the domain name theentirevolzhskytourismindustry.ru.