Kimry: shoes, art nouveau, nalichniki, and the Volga river - Kidding Herself

Kimry: shoes, art nouveau, nalichniki, and the Volga river

None of us can remember why we decided to go to the town of Kimry, a small town over 100 km north of Moscow.

Kimry is best known for two things.

Well, three, if you count the fact that every internet source Mama casually looked up also mentioned that it has the reputation of being a bit of a regional drug dealing capital.

Mama thinks this is because the train really stops in Savyolovo. Savyolovo used to be a separate town, full of the usual tower blocks, and is important enough to have a Metro station named after it in Moscow. But currently, it is trying very hard to associate itself with Kimry proper on the other bank of the Volga as a suburb of its more desirable neighbour. I shouldn’t think that a casual visitor will come across this activity on either side of the river, mind you, and it could just mean that everyone is copying the three things they found on the Internet about Kimry from each other. Just like Mama!.

The upside of this determined cosying up is that there are regular buses across the bridge to the place you are really trying to visit.

We, naturally, walked instead. Which is how we found the beach volleyball area.

The airplane at the start of the bridge also came as a bit of a surprise. Apparently one of the great Russian airplane designers came from near Kimry, Andrei Tupolev. Before all Soviet airplanes were Il-something or another, they were Tu-something else. He has commemorative stamps and everything. And swore a lot. Mama approves.

However, Mama digresses, because the bridge itself is also worth a mention (its architects think). To be fair the Volga is very wide, and frankly getting across it must have been, and must remain, a bit of an obsession. Mama, who has lived in London on the wrong side of the Thames, sympathises, and is therefore prepared to tell you that the reason why it is impressive is because it was the first time in Russia that light nanoconcrete was used for carriageway leveling coating. Apparently.

It is also the longest bridge in the Tver reigion.

The airplane and the bridge are not what Kimry is famous for though. What Kimry is famous for are shoes and an architectural style which somewhat improbably blends traditional Russian wooden houses, lacy wooden window surrounds called nalichniki and art nouveau.

These two things are not unconnected.

And to be fair to Mama and her lengthy introduction, the location of Kimry is also highly significant. Kimry, as with much of the land north of Moscow, is surrounded by mosquito infested peat bogs and forest, largely unsuitable for growing crops. Kimry had access to cows though, or rather cow hides, and was making very serious money from leveraging this fact at around the same time that art nouveau became popular.

Or possibly at about the same time as the town burned down and needed rebuilding. Mama is a little unclear on this point.

Although not until after the townspeople, who all began as serfs belonging to the Saltykov family (prominent members: Catherine the Great’s lover, various field marshals, a satirist, a Tasrina and a notorious serial killer. By marriage, to be fair) had made enough from being bootmakers to buy their collective freedom. And even then it took them until 1900 to completely clear the debt. No wonder that shoes feature prominently on the coat of arms of the town. As well as a boat, which moved the fruits of their labours all over Russia. Even as far as the prestigious trade fairs of Paris and such like.

Sometimes living with the difficulty of getting across the Volga is worth it.

You can find out more about the rise and fall of the shoemaking industry, which lasted well into the Soviet era, at the local museum.

Eary 20th century ladies shoes in Kimry museum

Mama insisted we went round this, and in fact, we recommend it – not just for the regular plinths of desirable footwear punctuating more general information about the town but also for what Mama thinks are very elegant hessian mountings.

Brown lave up boots from the 19th century in Kimry museum

And, in fact, the displays of typical interiors throughout the town’s history.

Plus, the obligatory mammoth bones. Mama does find it amusing that Russia has so many mammoth bones they appear in every local museum she has been to so far.

Traditional Russian felt boots in Kimry museum

And you should also look out for the work of another local hero, the wood carving artist, Ivan Abalyaev, who Mama thinks probably did not have the tourist trade in mind when he swapped making wooden forms for the cobblers for whittling.

Wood carvings by Ivan Abalyaev of a man drunkenly drinking from a bottle and another man in the act of hitting a woman, who is cowering away

Although all of life is there, and some of it is happy.

Wood carving by Ivan Abalyaev of a part scene of villagers sitting around eating, tdrinking, talking and listening to music

And there’s more airplane bumpf, including Tupolev’s desk and a mock up of the Soviet Concorde (actually not Tupolov’s work, but his son was involved).

Mama does like a good local museum and this is one of them.

Naturally, though, what you should do when visiting Kimry is just lose yourself in wandering around the streets and admiring the buildings, art nouveau, covered in nalichiniki, or otherwise .

An example of a run down art nouveau buidling in Kimry Russia

As you do this you will note that many, if not most of them, are not in a great state of repair.

Gone are the footwear glory days, and just to prove that location can break as well as make a town, the Kimry really is quite a long day trip from Moscow. Although Mama gathers that there are tours, and that some of the Volga cruise ships stop here.

Certainly, there is some restoration going on. This is one of the more famous buildings in Kimry. Yes, it is very yellow.

A restored bright yellow traditional Russian wooden house in Kimry which also has art nouveau florishes

And here is one of the two older churches, now in the closing stages of being fixed up.

A man sitting on scaffolding, decorating the ceiling of a Russian Orthodox church

The third was knocked down in the Soviet era to become what Mama gathers is quite a thriving theatre, housed in a striking building that Mama spent the whole visit failing to persuade us we needed to go and take an up-close photo of.

Luckily, Kimry has come to the attention of the Tom Sawyer Fest. The Tom Sawyer Fest is a volunteer movement that started in Samara, after a group of locals decided to get together and renovate some of the older buildings in their town. It has spread, and Mama can only hope will continue to help drag Kimry and its wooden art nouveau houses and nalichniki towards a well-deserved resurgence.

Currently this is most in evidence in the number of well-housed supermarkets that seem to have been recently opened.

Go and spend your tourist roubles in Kimry to help out. Or, get in there and enjoy the ruin porn before you are too late. There are hotels! There is airbnb. There are cafes! Whatever will get you to this off the beaten path gem in Russia.

More information

Getting there: There are trains from Savolovskaya station (which is on the grey line of the Metro). This will take you two and a half hours of gentle chugging. There are also buses from Dubna and Tver, and youy can drive up from Moscow (or from Tver) by heading out of Moscow towards Dmitrov and then towards either Dubna or Taldom, which will take you around two and a half to three hours.

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Kidding Herself is (nominally) written by Herself, a seven-year-old girl, and describes an AngloRusski family's local travel adventures in Moscow, Russia (and the UK).

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