‘1,770 Mile Boat Trip on the River Volga’
By Byron Blakeley, AA Photo Library
Photos and text, Frank Yerbury: ‘Impressions on Russia’ AA Journal, November, 1932.
“I wish I could recommend this trip down the Volga. Before the revolution I believe it was one of the most delightful trips which could be done, and no doubt when things are better organised it will again offer irresistible attraction. I found with some other people that it was less disturbing to sleep on deck than to sleep in the cabin. It appeared to be just a matter of luck but what impressed me more than anything else about these Volga boats was the really flagrant evidence to which I have before referred, of class distinction. In the hold or enclosed lower deck amongst the engines, one saw, after getting used to the dim light, the most amazing collection of dirty ragged peasants one could expect to find anywhere, that is, if one expected that such people existed in these days. There were probably 200 to 300 lying about with their bundles, and children feeding occasionally off a scanty piece of black bread or possibly making tea from the hot water which was always available. This type of peasant was met all the way down the Volga; at every stop some would go off and still more arrive on the boat with their great bundles and chattels and travel to goodness knows where. One met with the same sort of people on the banks of the Volga and the outskirts of some of the towns at which the boat stopped.
It was when going amongst these people that one realised the enormous task which is before those who have the job of rationalising this vast country.
On the boat there is the 3rd class accommodation which is a little better than the 4th, and above that the 2nd and the 1st, where people could, if they had enough money get better food than others.
The journey on the Volga itself, apart from the ship, is certainly an enjoyable thing. The scenery is constantly changing and is invariably beautiful. Boats stop occasionally at towns such as Kazan, Samara and Saratov, which seem to be much in the same condition as Leningrad and Moscow as regards the houses and churches, some in use and some turned into dormitories or anti-religious museums. Here and there one comes across shabby little parks of culture and rest, or a brave attempt to create a beer garden, and then there are the smaller villages with their groups of wooden houses usually in rows with great grass road between them, a church which may or may not be in use, and a shrine or two with ikons torn out. Most of the houses seemed to be over populated. In going into one I found a woman sitting by the stove working a Singer sewing machine and in the opposite corner of the room a group of ikons religiously arranged with a coloured print of Stalin on one side and one of Lenin on the other.”
-‘Impressions on Russia’ by F.R.Yerbury, The Architectural Association Journal, November, 1932