This week I will visit Samara for the first time since 2008


This week I will return to the Russian city of Samara first time in 12 years. Samara is a city on the Volga River some five hundred miles southeast of Moscow. It is the first Russian city I called home and I lived there for about six months in 2007-2008.

But it wasn’t the first city in Russia I ever visited. My first experience in Russia was actually in Saint Petersburg in the summer of 2006. I traveled there as a student with other American university students studying Russian for a six-week culture and language program.

I still remember the smell of the air as I exited the plane and took my first steps in Russia. To this day I continue to associate this smell with Russia. It was not the smell of fresh flowers, nor the scent of a spring air freshener, nor the fragrance of street food sizzling on a grill. It was the smell of dampness: the smell you might encounter in a dark basement with water percolating in through its wet stone walls.

Twelve years is a long time but some memories of Samara have remained with me through the years, just like I remember the smell of the wet floor in Saint Petersburg’s airport. I tried ice skating for the first time in my life in Samara. I remember buying a pair of ice skates at the Park House shopping center and taking them across the street to Gagarina Park to skate on a small pond that had long frozen over in the dead of the Russian winter. Ever since then I have regularly gone ice skating here in Russia.

I remember the lack of western fast-food restaurants and pizzerias in Samara. When last I was there, the city had only one McDonald’s in its center. I never ate there because the line was always too long, sometimes running out the door and onto the sidewalk. I am very interested in seeing this weekend how much Samara has westernized over the past decade (not that westernization is a good thing).

I remember the place where I met my friend Pavel, with whom I remain friends to this day. He also lives in Moscow now and we regularly see each other. We met while Pavel was working at a mobile phone shop not far from my home. I bought a mobile phone and regularly frequented the shop to add money to my account (at the time, all mobile phone plans in Russia were essentially pre-paid plans that allowed you to add whatever amount of money to your account at a time and you could use your calling, texting, and internet services until your balance reached zero).

Lastly, I remember knowing very little Russian. I moved to live in Samara after only three semesters of studying Russian at university and after a six-week study abroad program in Saint Petersburg. I am very interested in being able to walk the streets of the neighborhood and city I once lived in, yet I could not communicate very effectively, now that I am an advanced speaker of Russian! I remember having to draw pictures of what I wanted to say, buy, or do, in order that people could understand me.

Times have changed, Samara. See you soon!

About the Author

Louis Marinelli

American expatriate living in Russia since 2016.
Американский экспатриант, живущий в России с 2016-го года. Подпиши́тесь в группу Moved To Russia ВКонтакте

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