Friday was my city tour, given to me by one of the students at Sergei’s college, Valeri. Valeri is also probably one of the stronger leaders in the youth group “A Step Forward”, led by Sergei.
We did a quick drive through the city center, which isn’t too big at all. Then headed out to the Lada factory, which is huge. Across from the factory is the Museum of Transportation, one of the biggest.. ever. Here we perused old submarines, planes, tanks, war vehicles, radars, helicopters, and trains. With freezing feet, I attentively listened to Valeri explain the vehicles – he knew so much and explained the purpose of each vehicle, such as – this one drops bombs, and this one carries cargo, and that one, oh it can transform into a bridge – no really it can! I’m obsessed with things that fly, so the planes and helicopters were particularly awesome.
There was also another separate building that had great remnants of Soviet equipment used in space: land rovers, and other cool machinery. Of course, photographing the coolest stuff was prohibited.
Hoping that I wouldn’t develop frostbite in my toes, we trudged onward, to the Volga River. Tolyatti has some pretty astonishing territory on the Volga: it overlooks a peninsula of sorts. Across the way is another small city called Zhigulyovsk, but aside from that Valeri tells me its a great place in the summer. According to Valeri, most Tolyattinites refrain from using the beaches on their side of the Volga, as they would rather go across the Volga where the nature is much more in abundance. Of course right now the Volga is still completely frozen over, evident by the man and his dog half way across the river, playing catch on the ice.
We then headed to another area on the Volga, where I discovered a large statue of Vasiliy Tatishev, who supposedly in 17something something founded the city by protecting it from nomads. The city was originally called Stavrapol on the Volga and was equipped with many great wooden structures. Check out these old photographs, which are envisioned to be what life was like at that time: https://m.vk.com/album-46784524_166709884
Valeri went on to explain, that in the 1950s, a hydro electric power plant was built in Zhigulyovsk, across the Volga, bringing in many new residents and a boom in the economy. At that time, the plant was supposedly one of the biggest in the world. Of course, Tolyatti encountered much overflow from the plant and added new regions to its city. Valeri also found these really awesome pictures of the plant construction: https://vk.com/album-46784524_166709515
Later, in the 1960’s Fiat begin a plant construction in the region, doubling the city’s population. If you’re a fan of old photographs and imagining life in that era (as I am), here’s more for you: https://vk.com/album-46784524_181737910
Hopefully the links work.
Anyways, my general perceptions of the city are as follows – it seems crazy small, though actually it has around 700,000, making it conceivably larger than Astrakhan, which truly shocked me. Tolyatti is pretty industrial looking, and sort of disorganized, as there is no really city center to give it a core base. Valeri explained that this is probably because the city center moved each time the city grew, or a new government came into power. As new regions have been added every ‘x’ years, there are sort of random neighborhoods all over the place, though I bet it makes more sense to the natives. Yet, as we zoomed past bus stops in Valeri’s dad’s Lada, I couldn’t help but wonder where in the hell the people waiting at the stops came from, as all that was situated on either side of the road were big fields of snow.
Tolyatti is not directly situated on the Volga, and to get there we had to drive off on a side road. Valeri pointed out the restaurant/party/wedding venue, one of Tolyatti’s night clubs. He stated that the beaches were not that clean, but on a nice day the shore of the Volga would be full of active people, even if it meant flying mechanical planes. He also mentioned a dog-sledding festival the city holds annually. They have their own huskies in the city, but get many participants from all over the world, including Alaska. The participants begin in Tolyatti and continue on a dog sledding trip down the Volga hundreds of miles to Kazan. He stated that two years ago, the only foreigner to make it to Kazan was a German woman; the rest of the participants surrendered to the -30 degree weather.. in other words: we are weak.
Additionally, the city had a forest intertwined into its plan; however, in 2011, when wildfires overcame much of Russia, the majority of the forest burnt down. We did, however, take a really nice road (by nice I mean scenic, not well-kept, because it was far from that) through part of the forest.
Here are a few more snapshots of the Volga:
The rest of my weekend consisted of visits to other museums and hanging out with students. We spent a good amount of time in the Tolyatti Museum of History, which of course, ran through the history of Tolyatti. It had fascinating artifacts from the city, back to nomad days, clothing that I would probably still wear today, and kettle bells that may not be Crossfit approved.
Not to mention adorable animals, such as the owl below, who was located in the entry way because he had been around people so long, they didn’t want him closed off in the back of the museum.
We went iceskating (I really suck), and also enjoyed a production of the comedy show, KVN, which I absolutely love (I had gone before in Astrakhan and watched many clips on line). Though it was hard to understand some of the jokes, especially those made about local events, people, or places, it was still really enjoyable. There was a group of students who participated from Grozny, Chechnya, and they did a fantastic job delivering one-liners and also poking fun at the stereotypes that surround many from Chechnya. It’s easy to say that they, by far, were the stars of the show.