After the Sokoly Hills, the valley of the Volga River widens sharply and its banks become lower, while country roads wind their way to reveal the roofs of peasant houses showing gray alongside the banks. And then all of a sudden the city of Samara begins right from the waterfront, stretching for 42 kilometers along the left bank of the river.
In its 400-year history, Samara has twice undergone surgery to effect a change of gender: It was first renamed Kuibyshev and then restored to Samara. The city itself didnt seem right with a male name: Somehow or other, the name "Kuibyshev," which sounds heavy and clumsy, is the wrong name for it. Not so the name "Samara," which seems to incorporate the Russian word "samy" (the most) the quintessential Volga center, the most Russian city in the middle Volga River area.
One of the best-known delicacies in the Volga region is certainly black caviar. When in Samara, treat yourself to black caviar at any of the citys bars or restaurants.
The best and most expensive holiday facility in Samara is Volzhsky Utyos (Volga Cliff) resort (call (095) 912-8960 in Moscow). Former President Boris Yeltsin himself graced the cliff with his presence: He stayed here for a few weeks in the late 90s. Theres excellent fishing here, superb tennis courts and exceedingly high standards of services; another advantage is that you can rent the mansion where Yeltsin stayed and its designed to accommodate eight people.
If youve got some spare time, take a long walk around the city. Old Samara, the city center, is the most comfortable, unhurried and well cared for part of the city. The center and the lowest part of Samara are almost free of major industrial enterprises.
Samara may not look impressive compared to London or Paris, but if you take a closer look at the old wooden houses in the middle of town, you will realize that this city has seen days of greatness, especially in the 19th century, when Samara grew into a major center of trade in grain, wool and leather. Numerous churches and monasteries, for which Russia has always been famous, were built. Both the rich and the poor gave money for the construction of churches.
A conglomeration of houses that seem to have crept from the surrounding slopes or been washed down by the Samara River, their walls rising right from the water, are the only surviving remnants of pre-revolutionary Samara. Even the construction of new high-rise buildings and a granite embankment, which is a great place to hang out, has not rubbed off an imprint of insouciance from the face of Samara.
Famous Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko once dubbed Samara "New Orleans on the Volga," although he himself had never been to New Orleans. One thing is sure, however: The city has its own "Harlem" Zubchaninovka, named after Count Zubchaninov, who lived here in the beginning of the 20th century. Sadly, Zubchaninovka is now one of the most crime-ridden parts of Samara. Today rich Gypsies live in New Russian-style houses here.
There are a number of funny place names in Samara, such as Golodny (Hungry) and Zelyonenky (Green) Islets. Golodny is one of the Volgas isles near Samarskaya Luka; Zelyonenky Islet is situated on Krasnaya Glinka, a greenbelt area where well-known tourist camps are scattered.
One interesting fact about the city is that it has twice been very close to becoming the countrys capital. The first time was when the Soviet government moved to Kuibyshev during World War II; a special bunker was prepared here for Stalin. The second time was in 1991: If the participants of the August putsch had prevailed, the Council of Ministers of Independent Russia would have moved to Samara. Stalins bunker was to have been used for accommodating Boris Yeltsin. And though Stalins bunker has been made into a museum, it still remains in good working order. Its located about 37 meters underground (167 Frunze Ul.).
Owing either to the Volga air or to its ever-present vitality, todays Samara boasts a great number of beautiful women and good-looking men. So take your time in town: Even if you have only a few days at your disposal, you can make the best of them.