New Orleans of the Volga

…or so Samara was called in the 18th century. The first performance of Shostakovitch’s 7th symphony took place in Samara and Yuri Gargagarin recuperated here after he landed his space craft just up the road. We have been treated royally in Samara by Vladimir Antonov,  ex-Aeroflot arctic pilot, and his ballet choreographer partner Tatiana.

Vladimir and Tatiana

Organising and synchronising crew has been difficult on this trip. To my great embarrassment I double booked Samara locals Vladimir and Tatiana as crew, against Gerda and Dima. When we arrived in Samara I had to tell Vladimir and Tatiana we could not accept them for the next leg down to Samarov. They were extremely gracious about this and their hospitality was undiminished. What kind people. What an idiot I am.

Our marina is a snug all weather spot about 30 minutes’ walk from the centre of town. The only trouble is that taxis don’t know where it is. Among the trees there are huge abandoned cranes above us, two Meteor hydrofoils sitting lonely on slips, endless deafening barking from the occupants of an adjacent dog gulag and rows of expensive, soulless motor boats. But we have WiFi, electricity and water on tap. Yesterday’s rain has gone and the crew have turned to general and personal hygiene with a vengeance.

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Samara doesn’t get accolades in the travel guides but we like this place. The streets of mouldering classic buildings remind me a bit of Havana with soviet overlay. The town lies along the east bank of the Volga and embraces it.   An impressive art gallery concentrating on gloomy pre-impressionist works, a grand opera house, a large monastery and a huge brewery in neoclassical style attract the eye. To the west of the river is the nature reserve of the Szhigylovsky mountains, contained by the Big Bend. Pirates used to keep watch on the upstream side of the bend, and when vessels were seen approaching the pirates would go south across the neck of the bend and attack the unsuspecting ships when they came round the corner.

The brewery

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After our press interview we lunched with Vladimir and Tatiana at at a riverside restaurant and watched navy paratroopers tumbling from planes into the river. Future cruisers might note that there is also a quite respectable Japanese restaurant in Samara. 

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