Heading south from Moscow an overnight bus or train ride away, the climate gets noticeably warmer and although winters are still unbelievably cold and snowy, winters are also shorter, and in spring and autumn, it rains a lot. Eventually you arrive at the Don River, one of the major rivers of Russia. Near the River Don is the city of Voronezh.
Voronezh is a medium size city with over half a million people, the biggest city between Moscow and Volgograd. The area around Voronezh is also the setting of Nobel Lauerate Mikhail Sholokhov’s novels. The land here is flat and fertile with lots of rain making it a great place for agriculture, and like Sholokhov’s novel, the area outside the city seems very peaceful and rural.
The city itself feels like a medium size city. It’s big enough so that people have plenty of shops and netertainment, traffic and pollution, but small enough so that traffic and pollution doesn’t feel like a problem and it is not overcrowded. Siteseeing in Voronezh is quite interesting. The sites are spread out throughout the city.
The bus station is located quite far from the center of town, but buses from Moscow drops passengers off at the centrally located train station anyway. From the train station, it is also easy to get a bus back to Moscow or to other major Russian cities such as Volgograd, Lipetsk, Tambov or Saratov. It almost seems pointless to have long distance buses from the bus staion as well, but you can still catch a bus to the same locations from the bus station.
With the train station to your back, a small street leads a block down to a large traffic circle with a monument to what appears to be a DNA strand. The park and stadium are to the right and a towering white orthodox church is to your left. The street heading to the left eventually takes you to a long bridge that goes across what appears to be a wide river (what I once thought was the Don River), but is actually a long narrow lake. On the way down to the lake, there is a monument to Peter the Great.
Once at the lake, we can take a walk along the pedestian walkway. During the wintertime, many ice fishermen dot the frozen river. This area is really dilapidated and crumbling from lack of maintenance and is not as attractive as it has the potential to be. Potholes scar both the road and the sidewalk, and some of the railings along the lake are bent or missing. Soon, the paved road becomes a bumpy dirt road and the pedestrian area ends at a forgotten square with an ugly metallic column reaching for the sky. A small church, one of the landmarks of Voronezh marks the end of the nice walk along the lake, and dirty factories seem to continue on from here. Facing away from the lake, the land goes uphill and the view is intriguingly ugly. Narrow, twisting dirt roads lead up the hill and old wooden Russian houses line either side. The houses themselves are quite attractive and photogenic but the organization of the city blocks seem haphazard and careless.
Once up the hill, we come across another orthodox church and are soon back on the main street where the city looks busier and no longer so unattractive. The main street is lined with monuments and random sculputres and for about a kilometer or two, there are lots to see. Like most cities, Voronezh has its war monument. Voronezh also has quite a collection of monuments to famous Russian writers including Pushkin, Plantanov, and Bunin. Surprisingly, Sholokhov is absent. For a couple of city blocks, a narrow strip of park separates the main street in two and eventually leads to the government building and the Lenin statue.
The road running perpendicular to the street we had just come from will eventually lead to the bus station. Along the way, there are random sidewalk sculptures which seem to be quite popular in many Russian cities. The most famous of these sidewalk sculptures in Voronezh is a round-faced cartoonish cat in a metallic tree. This monument is located beyond the bus staion closer to the outskirts of the city. Not only is it a trek to get to it, it is also difficult to get a good photo of it without getting the McDonalds in the background. A few blocks further down, a huge red glass pyramid takes up the middle of a traffic circle where eventually the city thins out but still seems to be expanding.
Voronezh is a city with quite a lot to see and do, but the way the city is organized, it almost feels like going on a scavenger hunt or an obstacle course. None of the sites in Voronezh are really well-known so it is difficult to know what to look for. Every new sculpture or monument seems like a surprising new discovery and apparently, new monuments and sculptures are still springing up. Because of this, every visit to Voronezh gives an opportunity for new discoveries.