Nizhny Novgorod (2015)

In 2015 I visited Nizhny Novgorod. It is about 250 miles to the east of Moscow and is the fifth biggest city in Russia (update: after the 2020 census it might fall to sixth after Kazan).

The name Nizhny Novgorod means "Lower New Town". There is an older city named Veliky Novgorod (Great New Town), or more simply Novgorod, closer to St. Peterburg.

This city is slightly interesting for math because Nikolai Lobachevsky, who created non-Euclidean geometry, was born here, although he grew up and did his scientific work elsewhere in Kazan. The house where he lived is no longer standing. In its place is a shopping center, Lobachevsky Plaza, stylized in the first photo below as LP.


Across the street from Lobachevsky Plaza are some old homes closer to the style that Lobachevsky's may have had, without the graffiti.

I walked completely around Lobachevsky Plaza and found no plaque indicating that he had lived there, although the nearby building below had a plaque saying Chekhov had stayed there for one week (January 15 to 21, 1892)!

Not far from Lobachevsky Plaza is the city's World Trade Center, in which there is a good steak restaurant called Mitrich. The decor tries to suggest it is a New York steakhouse: there are signs along the wall listing NYC subway stops, although you can see in the first photo below that they didn't get Far Rockaway right. This restaurant has the tallest pepper grinder I have ever seen! There is a joke that the quality of a restaurant is in inverse proportion to the size of its pepper grinders and I made the mistake of telling the waiter in the photo that the pepper grinder reminded me of a joke. He asked me what the joke is and I immediately realized it would be offensive to tell him. I tried to brush away the topic but he insisted, so I said I had heard the quality of a restaurant can be measured by the size of its pepper grinders, which made him happy even though it's not really as funny when said that way.


Nizhny Novgorod has historical importance because the guy below, Kuzma Minin, organized funds for an army in the early 1600s that kicked the Poles out of Russia and led to the Romanov dynasty. A more famous statue of Minin is in front of St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square, where he appears in green with his buddy Pozharsky. Minin and Pozharsky are usually paired together, like Laurel and Hardy.

While walking around I saw an ad for the education school of Minin University. (Surely Pozharsky University is close by.) The math in the ad looks okay for a future high school teacher, but I'm suspicious about the relevance of the tic-tac-toe game. Someone has to be really bad at thinking to lose that way in tic-tac-toe.

Near the statue of Minin is the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin. On the inside was a display of military gear, including cannons and a land-based analogue of the submarine.


I walked along the top of the Kremlin, which has some nice views to the outside, but the end of the walk was brutal. Take a look at what I had to climb down, and how often (each roof covered another set of massive steps).



After this was over I saw a sign warning people not to throw away their heads.

Continuing the theme of steps, check out the Chkalov staircase, which goes from the city's Kremlin down to the Volga river. The second photo shows the scene when the staircase first opened in 1949. Construction started during World War II, when funds were very tight, and the amount of money it cost shocked the government so much that its planner was arrested.


The staircase is named in honor of the test pilot Valery Chkalov, who was part of a crew that was the first to fly nonstop across the North Pole in 1937, going from Moscow to Vancouver, Washington. (The original plan was to fly to California, but this was abandoned when the plane ran low on fuel.) A statue of Chkalov is at the top of the staircase. On the statue in the first picture below two of Chkalov's flights are shown on a map, one over the North Pole to the US and an earlier flight across Russia to its eastern border, supposedly on Stalin's orders to make sure the record for the longest nonstop flight would be entirely within the country.


The second photo above shows the last 7 steps at the top of the staircase, to reach Chkalov's statue. These last steps are not necessary to get to the street, since the bricks are already at street level. This brings us to the obvious question about the super-long staircase shown above: how many steps are on it? The photo of the whole staircase shows that it splits into left and right parts, and over several days I climbed the staircase three times, using each route at least once, and I found there are 438 steps from the bottom up to ground level. (For number theorists reading this, near the end of my first climb I was hoping there would be 432 steps.) If you want to include the final 7 steps to reach the statue then there are 438+7 = 445 steps. Some webpages claim there are over 1500 steps! The Wikipedia page about the staircase says there are 442 steps from the bottom to the top if you take the route on the right. Claims of anything like 1500 steps are completely absurd.

In a bus I saw the following ad for hiring bus drivers and other positions. Notice the 26-letter word on the second line! It means NizhnyNovgorodPassengerAutoTransport (company).

While on the bus I saw the sign of the French mathematician Nicolas Bourbaki.

At the Nizhny Novogorod zoo there were camels and toucans.


There were also turtles, including one unfortunate turtle who was upside down and gesticulating for help. Another turtle assessed the situation and then moved on.


Here is a tiger on the hunt and in deep thought (or boredom), and some fighting bears.


Finally, here are some animals in the "zone of harmful habits": smoking and eating lunch.

There were some Hollywood stars in Nizhny Novgorod. It must have cost a lot to get Homer Simpson, Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Michael Clarke Duncan, Ben Kingsley, and Dwayne Johnson to appear together in an ad for office space. I don't know how having everyone in the ad be bald makes it more effective. (I also don't know who the person to the left of Homer is. If you do then please tell me.) Why is Kevin James riding through green muck to sell Segways?


There is a children's science museum "Kvarky" ("Quarks") where all the exhibits are hands-on. Some exhibits can be seen on YouTube here (official site) and here (the second video becomes most interesting starting at 1:01). When I saw a set of red pins that can be pressed by the body I made the impression of myself below a la Han Solo. Each exhibit's information card explains how to use it and what it shows. The second photo below is on a table for an exhibit called "Nichego", which means "Nothing". It says the exhibit is the "study of that which is not there," people can "touch and smell the space over the table" to see nothing is there, and as a grammatical point it says the Russian title of the exhibit is the accusative case of the word "Nichto" but that is wrong: it's the genitive case.


The central pedestrian street in Nizhny Novogorod is Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street, along which there are many shops and museums. Below are photos from two museums on or just off this street: the photography museum (see how big cameras used to be!) and the technological museum, which showcases old technology.


Below is a very early phonograph and, from 1890, a zoetrope: rotating the cylinder and looking through the slit gives an illusion of motion, in this case a dancing black man.



That bike is from so long ago that it has non-rubber wheels!

In the toy museum shown below, the toys were not especially interesting and for some reason it has a fish tank (the fish are tambaqui). It is not surprising that Trip Advisor rates this as 319 out of 323 things to do in the city. (Update: in 2021 the museum's rating on the site improved substantially to 123 out of 373 things to do.)


Also along Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street are several larger-than-life statues and a university named after Lobachevsky.


A few blocks off the street is the city's synagogue. Note the permanent menorah out front, along with the small police building right behind it.

A "mitzvah tank" is parked behind the fence. I was given a tour of the inside, where there is a big photo of Menachem Schneerson. I didn't take any pictures, but you can scan public images of the inside here.

That's it!