Kostroma is a charming little city of about 300,000 on the Volga River that has the feeling of a colonial American town. It is the kind of small city tucked in at the confluence of two rivers where the tallest structures are church steeples and a fire observation watchtower. It was before that watchtower in the very heart of the historic city center that I was enthusiastically greeted by scores of the city’s inhabitants.
I approached that watchtower about midway on my walk to the river embankment from the apartment I had rented the night before. The walk to the tower included a short ten-minute walk through Recognition Alley, a brick pedestrian walkway partially covered by small tree canopies and lined with streetlamps for nighttime promenading.
Running parallel between and separating the two lanes of the city’s Avenue of Peace, Recognition Alley contains commemorative plaques and statues with the names of people who have made an invaluable contribution to the history and culture of Kostroma. Had it not been for the epidemic, I imagine the alley would have been occupied by street musicians and families out for a walk, but it was fairly empty that Monday afternoon.
The birds, it became clear before long, were a tourist attraction in and of themselves. The locals did not pay any attention to them, but there I was in the middle of that parking lot before the fire observation watchtower summoning them to surround me. With the simple lifting of my arms into the air, they assembled around me from all directions as they did for the Pigeon Lady in the Central Park scenes from Home Alone 2 and I was quite satisfied.
From there it was not long before I reached the river embankment, looking once again onto the Volga from a new city. In Russia, the Volga is one of the country’s most important and longest rivers. To see it from various small cities in Russia is kin to seeing the Mississippi from various small cities in the United States.
When I reached the embankment, the weather had taken a turn for the better and was even warm enough to take my wool jacket off. I walked under the sun south along the Volga towards the city’s Central Park, where a giant statue of Vladimir Lenin still stands outside the walls of the white Kostroma Kremlin fortress, built atop a hill.
The park also includes charming pathways under the canopy of trees and a nice vista point overlooking the river from high enough above that one can see both the point of confluence of the Volga and Kostroma Rivers to the north as well as the Kostroma Bridge, spanning 4,055 feet across the Volga, making it almost as long as the main span between the two central towers of the Golden Gate Bridge.
After a day exploring the city’s historical center by foot, I took to the roads and substantially expanded the territory I could explore. This took me into some of the more residential neighborhoods and I was able to get a feel of what everyday life in the city felt and looked like.
This evening tour of the city is what gave me the feeling of a colonial American town. It is not that there was a feeling of Americana in heart of Russia’s Golden Ring, but firstly, the empty evening city streets made Kostroma feel like a small town. The wooden and brick homes, the city fortress, the fire watchtower, and the occasional building with roman columns all contributed an atmosphere of life from a couple centuries ago.
One of the wooden homes, as pictured below, had at least six satellite dishes attached to it, offering a contrast of the past with the present but besides this, there was not much modernity to the city except for necessities such as public transportation and traffic lights. It is as though the people of Kostroma strive to preserve the historical atmosphere of the city and I enjoyed that as one might enjoy visiting Historic Jamestowne in Virginia.
By this time, the sun was nearly setting and so I decided to stay another night and explore more of the city the following morning before making my way south to Ivanovo, Russia’s “City of Brides”.
Ivanovo earned that name simply by the fact that the city used to be the home to several textile factories where women worked during Soviet times. This led to a disproportionate number of women in the city. That on top of the fact that Russia already had a disproportionate number of women to men as a result of World War II, Ivanovo became known as the City of Brides – a city of plenty of unmarried women.
In the modern Russia of today, this is no longer such a valid title for the city, and I will share my experience there in the next part of this series.