I visited Samara after 12 years and left with a new impression

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This past weekend I visited Samara for the first time in twelve years. In the early spring of 2008, I left Samara unimpressed and excited to start a new adventure in Kazan, a city about 150 miles north along the Volga.

This trip to Samara made me realize how little I explored the place back then. Although I lived there for about six months from 2007-2008, I had only visited the city embankment once – and only for a quick stop during the winter. This time I walked nearly the entire span: from the Cathedral of Sophia down the embankment past the city beaches to the Monument of Glory in Slavy Square (I had been there before).

Slavy Square and the Monument of Glory.

I can’t speak to how nice the beaches were and how developed the boardwalk was back then, but I was impressed this time around – even though it was all under a foot of snow. There are many access points to the beaches, several restaurants, a nicely managed park with benches and monuments and statues, paved paths and dedicated lanes for bikes. Thus, it goes without saying that Samara’s embankment is best visited during the summer – when you can sit on a bench in the shade provided by the cover of trees, enjoy a cool drink or have lunch on a veranda overlooking the great Volga River, or lay on the warm sand and swim in the Volga’s cool refreshing waters.

Walking along the Samara embankment.

I also had the opportunity to explore the frozen Volga a bit further downstream in an area known locally as the old embankment – an area near the city’s river port that is not as developed as it is upstream near the city center. There I was able to hop from one enormous piece of floating ice to another and truly felt as if I was on some exotic trip to the far north of Russia.

That sums up my exploration of parts of Samara that were new to me. In 2008, I left Samara unimpressed but have a new opinion of the city now and look forward to someday returning in the summer. During the other half of my two-day trip, I visited the neighborhood where I once lived and walked the streets I once walked. To my surprise, I remembered little beyond where things were located spatially.

The frozen Volga River.

I returned to the Park House shopping mall, which I remembered quite well in my mind until I actually walked inside. Suddenly, it was as if I was there for the first time. Not a single thing looked familiar. Eventually, I made it up to the food court on the third floor and found a restaurant that used to be an Asian food restaurant that now serves Italian. The exterior was familiar, but the inside was completely redesigned. I decided to have lunch there and reminiscence about the last time I was there – the very day I left Samara in March of 2008.

Then I put on my earphones and turned on my favorite song from that time period and listened to it over and over as I walked around the neighborhood. I found the Samara Mosque, the little cell phone shop where I met my friend Pavel, and the apartment building where I lived. Across the playground in the courtyard, I noticed the fruit stand where I bought produce was gone, replaced by a few parking spaces. My favorite song still on loop, I crossed the street to Gagarin Park, named in honor of Yuri Gagarin, the first human to go to space. Twelve years ago, I walked through this park on my way to work every day. Yet nothing was familiar to me except that there were cross-country skiers skiing along the perimeter – just as they were twelve years ago.

Then it hit me – all the kids playing and walking around this park weren’t even alive when I last walked those snow-covered paths. Twelve years is indeed a long time. I have done and seen so much in Russia since then. I feel like I visited Samara with a clean slate for new memories and this time I left with a more positive impression of the city. Perhaps its because I never explored Samara back then. Or, perhaps the city has just changed so much over the years. Either way, I liked Samara this time. Now I’ll reconsider my answer when people ask what my least favorite city in Russia is.

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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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