After initially good roads in the south (well, about Queensland standard anyway) the highway into Volgograd is rutted by heavy trucks. The surrounding steppe is brown and treeless, with little water as we approach the sandy soil of the great, wide lower Volga River. The Kazakhstan desert is only a few centimetres further east on the map.
Not knowing what to expect we were surprised at the sight. Destroyed in the ‘42/’43 battle and since rebuilt, the city skyline is dominated by Mother Russia and the war theme runs through the museums and statues. They are, nevertheless, not overbearing but reminders of the sacrifices made and memorials to the fallen. On this summer weekend they were frequented by young and old with the latter encouraging the former to lay flowers. All types were at the park and the Stalingrad Memorial, soldiers, young couples with I Love NY T-shirts, friends in Madison T-shirts and even a couple with Germany on the T-shirt. We strolled about both memorials taking in the atmosphere of devastation and heroics without incident. Crowds were friendly and ushers pointed us in the correct direction if needed. Summer might make a difference as it’s in full swing and people are in full summer regalia, the less the better and letting it all hang out helps in the heat.
We even saw a christening in the small church on Mamaev Kurgan.
Volgograd has wide streets, is very Soviet-looking but has trees and avenues and restaurants that make for a very pleasant atmosphere in the Toorak Road end of the city – fashion houses and phone shops and coffee houses.
We ventured into two Fountaingate-style shopping malls in search of equipment and supplies and were assisted effortlessly when needed, with lots of patience on their side as we tried to get concepts across. We could have been in Sydney or France. We ended up in a French Auchan chain supermarket which was very recognisable layout and stock from recent visits to France, and included a great selection of imported wines, with Russian labels. The place was very well patronised especially compared to the jewellery and phone shop dominated other modern shopping centres.
Volgograd has proven to be a friendly city if lacking in sites other than War Memorials and the people helpful whenever we asked or just looked lost.