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Elaine and Peter’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 11 Oct 2018

Location: Saratov, Russia

MapWe are just beginning to realise that we are just scratching the surface of what this country is about and what has gone off here.

We asked Svetlana our tour director, if if would be possible to take the bus from one port and drive through the country to the next one to be picked up by the boat there so that rural life away from the river could be experienced.
Answer There is no infrastructure, terrible and impassable roads. Until the World Cup, it was very difficult in these areas. They had not seen tourists at all. Svetlana had great difficulty when organising the tour itinerary in finding anywhere which had buses suitable to transport us round the cities.....a lot of money was pumped into the cities to clean them up and modernise them.

We thought that this was a lovely city.
To boot, it is fifteen degrees today with clear blue skies. Interestingly, Kazan where we were a few days ago is now two degrees and the Volga is due to freeze over at the beginning of November.

This city and its surrounding area, is known as the bread basket of Russia, as it developed as a large centre for grain and oilseed because of the favourable soil and climate conditions found here. It also had Russia's first tobabcco factory so it is a wealthy place. It was closed to visitors until 1991 as it was also a military area.

Lots of Germans lived here. Catherine the Great guaranteed them, freedom, no army conscription, few taxes, inexpensive bank loans, in order to stimulate the growth of agriculture. So lots of nationalities but in particular Germans settled here. World War 2 caused mass deportation so there was a drastic decrease in Germanic population. After the war, many wanted to come back to their homes so the German government offered considerable financial help to the Russians to reintroduce them, but many found that those homes had been permanently taken over by the local Russians. Again, the German government was there to support them financially to resettle.

One of the other claims to fame of this city is that it was the home of Yuri Gagarin who came here with his family at the age of 15. There is a story about his return to earth after his space flight. He landed far from the expected place where there were crew waiting for him on the ground. In fact he landed thirty Kms from here in a farmer's field. There was a peasant woman and her daughter in the field who saw this thing fall out of the sky and when he emerged from the spacecraft, Voyuz one, and took off his helmet, they ran away screaming as they thought that he had taken off his head and was an alien spite of his calling out to them to tell them who he was.

The other pride and joy of the city is the National Glory Park on Sokolovaya Hill, called The Cranes. It is an open air museum of the military and folklore. At the top of a hill stood a very large monument towering above the eternal flame and the plaques of the names of the dead and the villages from which they came.
There was a great panoramic view of the city and the river from here.
People believed that the souls of the dead rose into the sky as cranes at the highest point in the city, hence, the name of the park.

We spent some time wandering round churches and of course the shopping mall before heading after lunch to the Gagarin Museum for a guided tour. There was a special room devoted to Gagarin but there was also an exposition of folklore. We finished off with a short but amusing concert by harmonica players. Apparently the difference to an accordion is that it has less keys but it had a lovely entertaining sound.