I gather that Nizhny Novgorod is Russia's third biggest city. Even under the better known Soviet era name (Gorki), that comes as a bit of a surprise. Indeed the centre feels remarkably cosy, built on deeply gouged fingers of riverside ridge. The main pedestrianised main street has a really European feel, great terraced cafes and an 80 year old bank building of such spectacularly wonderful Modernista design that if I didn't know better I'd have said I'd been transported to Barcelona. Could it be a genuine Montaner?
After an hour or two wandering the town I'm in raptures. Were Nizhny Novgorod anywhere near Lake Baikal, I'm sure everyone would forget about seedy old Irkutsk. But it isn't near Baikal. It's stuck between Kazan (whose kremlin is way more impressive) and Vladimir (with its plethora of fabulous churches). And it simply doesn't stand up to such comparisons. Nor, perhaps, does it justfy a special trip from Moscow. Coming from Siberia on the other hand, it's a quite delightful discovery. Perhaps everyone should be warned - do the Trans-Sib east to west. That way everything gets better as you move along! Well, overall anyway.