Dermenino, pop. 0

How do you get to Dermenino? Much of the year, you don't. In winter, the road is often blocked by snow; in the spring and fall, it's too muddy to get through. But this August, it was an easy trip.

The twice-a-day bus from Poshekhonye

The logging road enters the forest

To get to Dermenino (Дерменино), a village in the forests of north-central Russia, about half way between Rybinsk and Vologda, one needs first to get to Poshekhonye, the district capital, and the nearest town (pop. 6,000; distance from the closest train station, about 70 km; riverboat service, cancelled). From there, twice a day, local buses run another 60 km or so to the north to Andryushino. You get off at Vasilyevskoye (about 10 km before Andryushino), which is as far north as the paved road (such as there is) gets in these parts, and then you look for the track that leads farther north - to Dermenino, Menkovo, and Krasny Yar.

Whortleberry shrubs (черника), European dwarf cousins of American blueberry bushes

The track - which seems to begin in the backyard of a disused farm building - is a pretty straight dirt road. The dirt in "dirt road" may be understood quite literally a good part of the year, but this summer was quite dry, and the 5-km walk to Dermenino (you can also drive, if you have a suitable vehicle) was actually pretty good, although boring. There is, however, a more interesting way to get there: you can take a logging road to the northwest, and then hike east across the forest, fording the little river called Kisoma Volnaya (Кисома Вольная). For somebody who's used to hiking in more populated areas, the most remarkable thing here is that, once you're away from the woodlot, there are no visible traces of human presence: no trails, no cans or bottles or other trash, no cut trees... (Very different from, say North Vancouver's Grouse Mountain, where you can find anything, including an engine from a crashed American plane!).

Forest clearings made impassable by raspberry brambles. I happened to be there right at the peak fruiting time

The forest clearings, wherever they can be found, are almost completely occupied by dense raspberry brambles. I had been rather proud of a recent backyard garden project, where over three summer seasons I have expanded raspberry plantings from a two-meter-long row to perhaps the total of 20 meters, which allowed one to harvest maybe a pint or two of berries every day for three weeks. And here I am trying to make my way through something that looks like acres of raspberries, now (early August) all densely covered with ripe fruit. (With hardly a few hundreds of residents within 10-km distance - and probably zero within 3 km - it is no surprise that most raspberry patches never see a human picking the berries. I wonder if there are bears here, and what they are doing - but with this amount of berries, they are probably in a good mood. In some clearings there are also blueberries (more precisely, "whortleberries": fairly similar fruit, but with more intense taste, and growing on much smaller shrubs). There are also some lingonberries - the fruit that I had previously only seen in Lapland - but they are still green, as they should be. (The lingonberry season is usually a month or more later than the one for whortleberries).

The sign tells me where I am, but unfortunately I don't know how to read it. This is what the local lumberjacks must have used to orient themselves before the GPS.

As I am walking to the east, out of the deep forest and toward the Kisoma River and the "main" dirt road, I know that I am approaching the area that's at least theoretically populated, and expect to find some traces of the present (or former) residents' agricultural activities. The residents, however, are apparently long gone. There are clearing that must have been used for grazing, or for growing hay at some point - but by now they have shrubs and small trees growing on them. Obviously, noone has grazed cattle or cut hay here for at least a few years.

A better-preserved house in Dermenino...

...And one not so well preserved

Nice woodwork.

Once I reached the village itself, I expected to see some abandoned houses and some populated once, but, judging from the pattern of vegetation (as in, waist-high or chest-high weeds with not even a trail anywhere among them), it seemed that noone lives here anymore. I hope, of course, that I am wrong on this...

There are no actual trees growing on the streets and in the houses yet - just weeds, so far - which means that the last residents have left fairly recently.

The place even used to have street lamps at some point...

... but now wires are all gone

According to a posting on sobory.ru, Dermenino must have been a fairly important village for over a century, as it had its own church. According to that article, Dermenino's Church of the Epiphany, with additional altars in honor of the Nativity of Our Lady and of St. Philip Metropolitan of Moscow, was built ca. 1812-1814, and converted to the village school in 1934. The poster there, Maxim Leonidovich, actually has a photo of the building, but I did not happen to see it.

Some of the perennial flowers keep blooming among the weeds in front of houses whose residents are long gone

Empty bottles from a "bath elixir" in an abandoned house. Although the house most likely did not have a bathtub even in its better days, the residents must have found some creative way to use the product. According to labels on the empty 250 ml bottles, it is 88% alcohol, the rest being water and various herbal extracts.

A twig of a black currant bush, with absolutely delicious fruit, which tries to grow through the doorway (the door itself is gone) and into an abandoned house

The area is quite lovely, and although the latitude is 59 degrees north, they obviously have a decent growing season here. You sort of imagine how a few farming families could live here, keeping a herd of cows, making cheese, picking chanterelles in the forest, and filling the cellar with currant and raspberry jam for the winter. But I guess it just did not work out for anyone, what with the nearest paved road 5 km away, and, probably lots of other lots available for the taking, with similar conditions, but closer to civilization. Will people come back? Ten years from now? A hundred? Who knows...

This may have been one of the last letters received by anyone in Dermenino. As the address indicates, the village was served out of the post office in the nearby Menkovo, which is now closed.


Nizhny Novgorod Airport

On my previous trips to Russia, I traveled either by rail or via Moscow's airports (SVO, DME). I have always wanted to try flying via Nizhny Novgorod Strigino (GOJ), because most of my destinations are in the area, but never had a chance, as there are fairly few direct international flights to GOJ, and booking a desirable itinerary often is a lot more expensive than flying to Moscow and then taking a train.

Fortunately, United Airlines Mileage Plus miles can be used to book tickets including segments on Lufthansa, and this time I managed to book a through ticket from North America to Nizhny Nvgorod (IND-FRA-GOJ). The experience of flying into and out of GOJ turned out to be surprisingly agreeable. The least pleasant part of flying to Nizhny from FRankfurt was that both the departure to, and arrival from, GOJ are in the middle of the night: GOJ is truly a "peripheral" destination for Lufthansa, and they have only one plane a day going there... and not every day, either. The Lufthansa plane leaves FRA in the evening, spends just over an hour on the ground in GOJ around 3-4 am, and is back in Frankfurt early the next morning. I guess they use the same plane for some European flight(s) during the day. While the obvious disadvantage of such a schedule is that you won't get normal sleep on either of the nights of arrival or departure, the advantage is that you have enough time to make any of the day's connections in FRA - and may even have some time left for city sightseeing.

Nizhny Novgorod's Strigino Airport itself is pleasant enough. It's quite small (just one terminal - about the size of a train station in a middle-sized European or Chinese city), much smaller than you'd expect for a city of this size. But I guess Nizhny Novgorod residents don't fly out of their hometown airport all that much: as Moscow's airports, with much larger selection of destinations are only a night away by train. But seating is adequate, and there is even free Wi-Fi (most of the time.. throughout most of the terminal). There are several ATMs, and even an agent selling train tickets round the clock (at a 200 RUR commission).

The transportation connections to the city is fairly decent... lots better than in, say, Halifax. Several bus (or marshrutka, maybe... I don't know how to tell the difference anymore) lines run to the city starting some time before 6 am. The fare is 20 RUR, and, theoretically speaking, if you board the right bus and stay on the bus long enough, you can get to a variety of destination throughout the city. (In particular, no. 46 runs all the way to Kuznechikha, on the opposite side of the city - a 1.5 hr trip, I was told). In practice, it may be easier to get off as soon as the bus gets to a subway station (they all seem to stop at Park Kultury, which is Nizhny Novgorod Metro's southernmost station; about 20 m ), and go from there to anywhere the subway goes. (Now, at present the subway in Nizhny does not go too many places, but they are going to finally open a station in Gorky Square in November 2012, and this will somewhat change the situation).

Going back, the buses run until pretty late as well. The last airport-bound trip of the same no. 46 passes at Park Kultury quite a bit after 11 pm. I turned out to be the only passenger on that bus actually going all the way to the airport, and as the conductor said, if not for me, the driver probably would have just terminated the trip at Monchegorskaya St and go home to sleep. In any event, taking a taxi from Park Kultury to the airport probably would have been much cheaper than doing a similar thing in Moscow or most any major cities, as it is only a few kilometers.

The Lufthansa FRA-GOJ and GOJ-FRA flights were both fairly full, and there seemed to be a lot of activity in the airport, even throughout the night. They have direct flights not only to major Russian cities (as well as charters to some foreign resort destinations), but also to places like Turkey, Armenia, Uzbekistan, and Tadjikistan - some space for further travel adventures, I guess. So I certainly will try to book another ticket to GOJ if/when I need to go that way.