Russia, June 14, 1999
Odd, the battle for Stalingrad was fought in Volgagrad!
|I'd heard stories about her and I'd even seen pictures of
her, but I really wanted to see Mother Russia for myself. Mother Russia is
the largest freestanding statue in the world, and she commemorates all the
combatants, Soviet and German, that died in the Battle of Stalingrad.
See, I'd seen the giant stainless steel statue in Kyiv, which sits impressively on the river bank, and is visible from all over the city. I was duly impressed, but I was told she was the smaller sister of Mother Russia, so I wanted to round out my Soviet Monument series with a bang.
Although Mother Russia commemorates the Battle of Stalingrad, she sits in the city of Volgagrad, since the name was changed after Stalin's death. I decided to leave Moscow for Volgagrad the day Lidia left on an assignment to Ulyanovsk. We both took the same taxi into Moscow, which dropped me off at the train station and her at work. Well, to my great surprise, the train to Volgagrad did not leave in the evening, like most others, but earlier in the day. Yikes! I'd have to wait till the next day. I tried to call Lidia, and even took a taxi to her work, but to no avail. She was already on her way to the airport. Oddly enough, all my friends were out of town so there I was without a place to stay for the night!
Just as I was starting to seriously think of going to the Moscow Youth Hostel, I happened to see my friend Dave. He, very graciously, offered me a place for the night and even invited me out to dinner with his friends. The dinner stank, but we had a good time.
The next day, I headed out early to get my ticket. I didn't get it the day before cuz I was so mad at Russia's double pricing system. Russia has a policy, randomly applied, that foreigners pay three to thirty times more than Russians for tourist related activities. My foreigner ticket was priced at $50, while a Russian ticket was $16. The $34 difference really pissed me off! I wouldn't mind a slight surcharge, maybe 25%, since as a foreigner, theoretically I do not pay taxes in Russia, but +300%! Outrageous! So, I went the tricky route.
I had a Russian buy me a ticket, paying him a $5 for his troubles, and headed for the train. Once there, the lady in charge of my section, called a dezhorniya, took a look at me and then at the ticket. She hesitated a moment, then asked me if I was Russian. Knowing I was in trouble, and knowing she had supreme power over me (Get off the train, cheat!), I smiled, and asked what the "fine" would be for a poor student trying to see her beautiful country. Another $5 later, I was chilling in my bunk with a smile on my face. I'd taken a big risk to save some cash, and I'd pulled it off! Of course, I do not recommend this option to anyone else, (wink).
The next morning, we rounded a bend in a hill, and I was rewarded by a beautiful lady, amazingly tall, looking over me. Mother Russia! I was so thrilled to be seeing her!
My thrill was short lived though. When the train pulled in, I was very disappointed when I didn't see a single babushka there whispering "Kaveritra."
I was expecting there to be quite a few poor grandmothers there, willing rent out an extra room to a poor American student. I'd rater not do the hotel thing in Russia since the same double pricing applied, but worse. A Russian would pay around 100 rubles for a room, while I would have to pay 100 dollars for the same! And the rooms are not worth either, since many date from the 60's with what seems to be original linens!
Anyway, with the babushka option out, I decided to make it a day in Volgagrad, and take the night train to my next destination, Toglatti. Luckily, the double pricing of train tickets doesn't happen in the provinces too much, so with my $6 ticket, I headed out to find an Internet provider. I needed to check my email, since my PCV friend Matt had sent me directions to his Toglatti apartment after I'd left Moscow. An hour, an IBM store, a long walk, and several doors later, I was in an Internet provider's office, shooting the breeze as my emails downloaded. This computer technology is amazing!
As the day grew hot, and I'd been sweating for 48 hours without a bath, it was time to get wet. The wide, cold, swift Volga called, and finding stairs to the water, I jumped in! It was so cold and refreshing to go for a midday swim on such a hot day, that I was floating for an hour. Once the heat left me, it was time to check out the monuments to the battle.
I went to the amazing Panorama, where a view of the battle was painted for a 365-degree view of the hell of war. On the ground floor was an amazing display of artifacts from the battle, including a good display on German soldiers. Oddly enough, the Soviets separated the ordinary Germans, from the Fascist regime that sent them to their deaths.
After the moving scene, I went to the actual hill the perspective of the battle was painted at. Wow, there she stood, Mother Russia, calling on all of the Slavs to defend the homeland. Quite a moving experience! I sat at her feet for a few hours, writing postcards in the shade, working through the experience in my mind.
Soon enough, it was time for me to find some food and get back to the station. I was on the platform, waiting and waiting for my train, when I finally realized it was the train that had been sitting on the next platform the whole time. A quick dash to the first open door as the train started to move, and a long trudge through the entire train to my car later, I was happily sweating in my bunk, on my way to Samara. Unfortunately, there isn't a direct train to Toglatti, and I write this on the 18-hour train to Samara with a three-hour bus ride to go.