Thursday, May 28, 2009

Going down Volga river on a boat: the evocation of Tom Sawyer

From Astrakhan, May 28th 2009

Following the Vikings who more than one thousand years ago sailed down Volga river to open a trade road between Bagdad and the Baltic Sea, i decided to take the boat to go from Kazan to Astrakhan and reach Caspian Sea. After almost 3 months of travel, it was the perfect way to change the routine and have a good contemplative rest before my last month through Russia.

Our boat before departure: Ivan Kulibin

Our boat at a so called "green stop" to exercise in the nature

The restaurant on board

On board with Russian families and some young people, i could see a small part of the huge network constituted by the largest European river Volga with the Don and their canals. Most of this network, with its dams and channels and numerous industries, has been built during Sovietic time and still 2/3 of fret cargo boats within Russia go through it.

Entering a dam

Dam's doors opening

Exiting the dam

One of the numerous cargo boats going through Volga-Don network

Beautiful Mother Volga

Interestingly, some cities along the way show German influence, for example Saratov with its beautiful Radishev museum of fine arts. It is tsarine Catherine II who promoted to Germans the immigration to this region and to develop agriculture. At the end of the XIXth century, they were 1.5 millions, but have been persecuted and deported to Siberian work camps following the events of the Second World War.

Saratov is the city of Iouri Gagarine, first man in space

Radishev museum of fine arts

But the most interesting visit on the way South has been Volgograd, previously called Stalingrad, and the location of of the famous and decisive battle during the Second World War. It was highly intense and emotional to follow the tour with my Russian new friends, going through the memorial of Mamaev Kurgan for this battle that cost the lives of more than one million Russian people (and 450,000 Germans).

Mamaev Kurgan memorial

Expressive sculpture where the snake symbolizes German fascism

Mamaev Kurgan memorial, inside

Watching the riverside from the boat, it evocated in me the adventures of Tom Sawyer, narrated by Mark Twain in his famous book, and that also situated on a large and key river: Mississipi. The three friends Tom Sawyer, Joe Harper, and Huckleberry Finn escape from home and decide to become pirates:

"Three miles below St. Petersburg, at a point where the Mississipi river wasa trifle over a mile wide, there was a long, narrow, wooded island, with a shallow bar at the head of it, and this offered well as a rendezvous. (...) They presently separated to meet at a lonely spot on the river bank two miles above the village at the favorite hour - which was midnight. (...) It was starlight, and very still. The mighty river lay like an ocean at rest. (...)
- Who goes there?
- Tom Swayer, the Black Avenger of the Spanish Main. Name your names.
- Huck Finn the Red-Handed, and Jor Harper the Terror of the Seas.
Tom had furnished these titles, from his favorite literature."

Agriculture along the Volga

Datchas and shops on riverside

Immense Volga

Incredible mines opened to public, with remaining wooden structure deeper inside

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