A Remote Russian Adventure on the Volga

 

About five hours northwest by train from Moscow, the sleepy village of Dubrovka exists as though untouched by the last century of Russian history. While Moscow has been heavily influenced by its religious and political history, as you travel further away from the Russian capital, the austere chill of grey buildings and Soviet-inspired tower blocks quickly morph into scenes reminiscent of Pushkin’s nature poetry.

[Also see our travel article “Four Weeks on the Trans-Siberian Railway“]

The area surrounding Moscow is an impressive and overwhelming expanse of forest, stretching boundlessly in all directions. Glimpses of the silver birch tree, used for centuries in Russian folklore as the emblem of the Motherland, symbolize the perseverance of the Russian nature and people alike. Both somehow manage to survive in the extreme Russian climate, enduring the intense summers and bitingly cold winters

Masses of silver birch define the borders between Dubrovka and other rural communities in the region. Resting on the banks of the River Volga, the village is the essence of pre-revolutionary Russian life. Apart from the occasional battered lada – a popular car from the times of the USSR – Dubrovka has the architectural and social habits of the early 20th century.

The Volga River cuts a path through the great expanses of Russia.

The Volga River cuts a path through the great expanses of Russia.

Not far from the river’s edge there are clusters of small wooden dachas, Russian country homes resembling characterful sheds. Each dacha is totally unique and, more often than not, was built by a family patriarch decades ago. The vibrant paint that coats their outer walls makes every stretch of dacha-populated land seem like multi-coloured lego pieces, against the backdrop of green fields.

The lifestyle of the Russians, who call Dubrovka home, generally matches the aesthetics of the place. Simple, raw and quiet, the inhabitants of the village spend their days tending their vegetable patches, chopping wood and engaging in endless home repairs.

A traditional dacha or country home in Dubrovka.

A traditional dacha or country home in Dubrovka.

Visitors to Dubrovka can witness the quaint charm of the village firsthand by staying with a Russian family. While there will certainly be a lack of modern conveniences, staying in a dacha is a unique experience that offers a glimpse into authentic rural life in Russia.

During the day in Dubrovka, the resident horseman of guest homes can take visitors riding across the streams to explore local caves and silver birch forests. Given the immensity of the terrain, exploring Russia’s landscape on horseback is highly recommended.

Two horses tied up in front of a dacha, ready to explore the countryside.

Two horses tied up in front of a dacha, ready to explore the countryside.

Riding or walking along the edges of the Volga southwards will lead to the neighboring town of Staritsa, where the remnants of imperial Russia can be seen in the form of a kremlin. With its crumbling churches, 1950s-style food shops and the Museum of Architecture, Art and Archaeology, Staritsa’s charm comes from an eclectic mix of historical influences that vary from street to street.

The Staritsa kremlin and its Orthodox churches. Photo credit Kastey / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA.

The Staritsa kremlin and its Orthodox churches. Photo credit Kastey / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA.

Because of complicated visas and a highly un-Anglicised transport system, foreigners rarely make it to rural Russia. Unfortunately, without knowledge of the Russian language, communication can be difficult as English is uncommon in the region. However, if you manage to buy a train ticket (infamously difficult due to ticket-sellers’ communication difficulties) and land yourself on the right side of the Volga River, your determination and adventurous spirit will render you just fine.

So while Dubrovka presents some logistical difficulties, if you like adventure and want to experience Russian village life, Dubrovka is definitely worth a visit.

 

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Nadia is a recent graduate of University College London where she studied Russian. In recent years she has lived in Russia and South Africa and has been traveling through Eastern Europe and Africa since the age of 16.