And Quiet Flows the Don
Published: July 6, 2011 (Issue # 1664)
ROSTOV-ON-DON — If you walk around the city center in Rostov-on-Don, one of the most likely things to catch your eye would be groups of Cossacks dressed in traditional dark-blue uniforms and pants with red stripes.
The Cossacks, riding chestnut horses, seem to have leaped off the pages of Soviet writer Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel “And Quiet Flows the Don,” which won him a Nobel prize for literature in 1965.
The vast Don River, which divides Rostov-on-Don in two, is largely associated with Sholokhov’s name, and statues of his most well-known characters are scattered throughout the city.
One of the statues, depicting a boy fleeing from geese, is located near the city’s main street, Bolshaya Sadovaya, with its mansions dating from the late 18th century that now house the local administration and the offices of Russian and foreign banks.
City residents take particular pride in the mansions, mostly white or pale yellow and decorated with stucco, which give the street the atmosphere of a bygone era of nobles’ receptions and balls.
“My great-grandmother worked as a maid for a banker’s wife before the 1917 Revolution, and when we came to one of the mansions, a former Noble Assembly building, several years ago, she suddenly said: ‘I remember this place. I used to accompany my lady to balls here,’” said Tina Shaposhnikova, a senior public relations executive with a local company.
Rostov-on-Don has changed significantly since those days, with the Soviets turning it into a huge industrial city and one of just 12 Russian cities that has a population of more than 1 million.
Rostov is also a key transportation hub, providing a water route to five seas, including the Black, Azov and Caspian seas. The country’s two most important land routes — the North Caucasus Railroad and the Don highway — also go through the city.
The local administration is developing transportation infrastructure and getting ready to start construction of a stadium after Rostov-on-Don was named a host city for the World Cup in 2018.
Locals, however, seem to like a homegrown sport even more than football: tractor racing. Every summer, tractor drivers from all over the Rostov region turn into Michael Schumachers at the Bizon Track Show, the only rally of its kind in Russia.
The roaring tractors, tearing through mud and dust at the race just outside Rostov-on-Don, return to their normal farm work immediately after the contest. Agriculture and the production of agricultural equipment are among the most rapidly developing sectors in Rostov-on-Don and the region. In fact, Rostov-on-Don is headquarters for one of the world’s biggest combine makers, Rostselmash Group, which has plants in the United States, Canada, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
Another sector associated with Rostov-on-Don for decades is the production of helicopters. The city is home to Rostvertol, a unit of Russian Helicopters, one of the world’s biggest helicopter producers that has supplied India and Venezuela, among others.
Rostov-on-Don, which was founded in 1749 as a customs point, has traditionally been a merchants’ city. Today, company offices, administrative buildings and residential districts are located on the right bank of the Don, while the left bank is occupied with numerous restaurants and bars.
The river’s banks are connected by two bridges — a new one opened in late 2010 and the Voroshilovsky bridge built in 1965. Driving over the bridge from one bank to the other takes about 20 minutes — which is just enough time to notice how quietly the Don flows.
What to do
if you have two hours
The most popular place in the city is the Don Embankment, which is always packed with city residents and tourists, sitting on carved benches and enjoying red and purple carpets of flowerbeds.
Walk in the shadows of towering trees and along black cast-iron fences on the river bank. Pause to listen to street musicians perform classic music and Russian folk songs. Don’t forget to stop by one of the numerous cafes for a snack of freshly caught fish.
Check out the statue of Rostovchanka — the young girl of Rostov with her hair fluttering in the wind. She symbolizes the beauty of all the Rostov women.
Finally, take a short trip on the river aboard one of the snow-white steamboats tied up along the Don Embankment. The river ride offers the best view of the right bank, with the golden domes of the Orthodox Cathedral of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin peeking out from behind brand-new hotels and apartment buildings. You might catch a glimpse of the massive railroad bridge being raised to let ships through to the port, a twice-a-day event. River trips can be arranged through DonTur (23a Beregovaya Ulitsa; +7 863-279-7360; dontour.ru). Steamboats depart from the Don Embankment from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m., and the price for an hourlong trip ranges from 130 rubles to 210 rubles, depending on the time of the day. Ticket offices are located near Quays 21, 22 and 23.
If you want to stay downtown, walk along the most beautiful street in the city, Pushkinskaya, which runs parallel to Bolshaya Sadovaya Ulitsa. A variety of colors makes the street especially beautiful, with the white and purple splashes of flowerbeds stretching between wide walking paths decorated with red and yellow paving stones.
Stop by the statue of poet Alexander Pushkin, after whom the street got its name, and look at black wrought-iron globes depicting Pushkin and scenes from his works.
Pushkinskaya Ulitsa leads to one of the city parks — Maxim Gorky Park, a popular place where locals while away the evening hours. Check out a sign at the entrance marking the city center and showing the distance from the city to Paris and New York.
What to do
if you have two days
You are in Cossack country, so you must visit a Cossack village — called a stanitsa — to enjoy views of the quietly flowing Don and perhaps learn a couple of traditional Cossack songs.
Get a feeling for everyday Cossack life at a traditional Cossack kuren — a stone hut covered with clay — in Stanitsa Razdorskaya or Stanitsa Starocherkasskaya.
Further away is Stanitsa Vyoshenskaya, located 360 kilometers northeast of Rostov-on-Don, but a must-see village because this is where Sholokhov wrote his “And Quiet Flows the Don” and where the main action of the novel takes place.
Visit the State Sholokhov Museum-Reserve (60 Ulitsa Sholokhova, Vyoshenskaya; +7 863-532-1377) and its highlight, the writer’s two-story pale-yellow mansion in the center of the village. Walk along a narrow path through the garden behind the house and down to the bank of the Don. Check out white kurens surrounded by low wattles described by Sholokhov in his book.
Stop at the observation point, which provides a breathtaking view of the Don flowing between slightly sloping banks. The place can easily be found thanks to a huge statue depicting a scene from Sholokhov’s novel: main characters Cossack Grigory Melekhov riding a horse and Aksinya carrying buckets full of water on a balance beam.
Two other popular destinations in the region are the ancient city of Azov, a former fortress owned by Turks and conquered by Peter the Great during his Azov campaign of 1696, and Taganrog, the hometown of writer Anton Chekhov.
Bus trips to these sites can be organized through Reina Tour NTV (126 Bolshaya Sadovaya Ulitsa; +7 863-295-0914; +7 863-272-6732; reina-tour.ru) or Rostov Tour (56 Voroshilovsky Prospekt; +7 863-232-9315; rostov-tour.ru).
What to do with kids
The Rostov Circus (45 Budyonnovsky Prospekt, +7 863-240-7093), located in a huge mansion with columns and an ancient chariot decorating the roof, bears a striking resemblance to Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater. The action inside, however, is quite different, with tigers, acrobats and clowns.
The local zoo (3 Zoologicheskaya Ulitsa; +7 863-232-8291) is one of the largest in Russia and boasts rare species like tapirs, white rhinoceroses and white-tailed eagles.
The left bank of the Don is crowded with bars and nightclubs, so a visitor can simply drop into any establishment that looks inviting.
Several popular bars and nightclubs are also located on the right bank. Go to Chesterpub (1g Budyonnovsky Prospekt; +7 863-262-5272; chesterpub.com) to listen to live rock concerts by local and visiting musicians like Chizh Co, Nogu Svelo and Serga, as well as the Ukrainian rock band Okean Elzy.
Alternatively, drop in to Cork, an Irish bar, for a glad of Irish whiskey and Irish folk songs performed by local musicians (224 Ulitsa Tekucheva; +7 863-230-8383; barcork.ru).
Where to eat
Given the city’s location on the river, fish and seafood dishes are a must-try, and many restaurants on both banks of the Don offer them.
A popular spot with visiting Kremlin and government officials is Petrovsky Prichal (45 Levoberezhnaya Ulitsa; +7 863-240-1358; petrovsky-prichal.ru), located on the left bank of the river and about 20 minutes by car from the city center. Try a platter of various sorts of fried local fish like zander, carp and mullet — served with crawfish, boiled potatoes and vegetables. A meal for one without alcohol costs 1,000 rubles to 1,200 rubles.
In the city center, the Pirs (16a Beregovaya Ulitsa; +7 863-259-8167) offers European and Asian cuisine, including a choice of grilled local fish. Mezonin (Astor Plaza trade center, 49 Budyonnovsky Prospekt; +7 863-297-5981) specializes in original cuisine like seafood pasta and melon gazpacho with blackberry and mint. A meal at either restaurant without alcohol costs 800 rubles.
Where to stay
Rostov offers a choice of more than 30 hotels throughout the city, including a number of business-class options.
Don-Plaza (115 Bolshaya Sadovaya Ulitsa; +7 863-263-9052, don-plaza.ru/en.html) is an enormous congress hotel with 233 rooms and prices starting at 4,950 rubles per night for a single to 21,600 rubles per night for the presidential suite. The hotel, which opened in 1973 as Intourist and was reconstructed in 2004, was initially built for visiting foreigners after Rostov became one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Soviet Union. The hotel, which hosted the Russian-EU summit in 2010, is still popular among foreigners, and its guests have included German rock band Scorpions and British rockers Deep Purple. Don-Plaza is located in the city center, minutes away from the major places of interest, and a drive of 15 minutes to an hour from the airport, depending on traffic.
Take a trip back in time at the Villa de Ville (55 Prospekt Mikhaila Nagibina; +7 863-231-0041, villadeville.com/en/), a two-story boutique hotel built in the style of an 18th-century villa and boasting an ivory-white and gold interior. Each of its 12 rooms has a name that reflects its individual decor. The Mon Amour room, for one, is decorated with small statues of angels hanging from the ceiling, while La Cite has a big panel depicting Venice hanging on the wall. Prices range from 7,000 rubles to 18,000 rubles per night. The hotel is located about 15 minutes by car from the city center and a 30-minute drive from the airport.
Rostov-on-Don, with its numerous theaters, has long been a cultural center of southern Russia. Visit the Rostov Academic Drama Theater (1 Teatralnaya Ploshchad; +7 863-263-7173; rostovteatr.ru), built in 1935, to enjoy performances of classic and modern plays.
Even if you don’t catch an opera, ballet show or operetta in the Rostov State Opera and Ballet Theater (134 Bolshaya Sadovaya Ulitsa; +7 863-264-0707; rostovopera.ru), make a visit to the building anyway to inspect its unique construction. The building is constructed in the shape of an open white piano.
Aviation is a sure bet for starting a conversation, because many city residents work or have worked at the Rostvertol helicopter plant and devoted their lives to the industry.
“I love aviation,” said Nikolai Belusyak, a former pilot who has worked as an electric engineer at Rostvertol for 25 years.
“Each helicopter is like a child. It behaves a different way,” said Belusyak, a robust man with tanned hands and a large cross hanging from a thick golden chain around his neck.
Another topic is local markets, which have lots of fish from the Don. Locals will gladly explain which fish to buy and how to choose it.
You also can’t go wrong with author Mikhail Sholokhov.
Other helpful hints
Rostov-on-Don could easily compete with St. Petersburg in traffic jams, so driving between the airport and the city center can take at least an hour at midday.
How to get there
Regular scheduled daily flights to Rostov-on-Don from St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport take 110 minutes. Tickets start at 13,000 rubles ($467).
The Rostov-on-Don International Airport (aeroport-rostov.ru) is one of the biggest civilian airports in Russia. It is located directly in the city and is surrounded by apartment buildings. The two-story airport building has a currency exchange office, a duty-free shop and a VIP area.
Rostov offers direct flights to a number of European cities, including Dusseldorf, Frankfurt-am-Main, Prague, Vienna and Rome. The airport has offices for international airlines like Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines and Turkish Airlines.
Daily trains heading from St. Petersburg to cities such as Kislovodsk, Adler, Anapa, Makhachkala, Novorossiisk, Sochi and Vladikavkaz stop in Rostov-on-Don. The trains depart from the Moskovsky and Ladozhsky railway stations. The 1,540-kilometer trip takes 30 to 40 hours. Prices start at 4,400 rubles ($158) for a round-trip.
Population: 1.089 million
Main industries: helicopter manufacturing, agricultural equipment production, textile industry, food production.
Mayor: Mikhail Chernyshyov
Interesting fact: The city was initially called Rostov and got the “on-Don” suffix only in 1928 in order not to be confused with Rostov Veliky in the Yaroslavl region.
Founded in 1749 at the order of Empress Elizabeth Romanova as the Temernitskaya customs point and later named after the fortress of Metropolitan Dmitry Rostovsky, founded on the customs point in 1761.
Helpful contacts: • Mayor Mikhail Chernyshyov (47 Bolshaya Sadovaya; +7 863-244-1414, City Hall; +7 863-244-1323, Mayor’s Office; rostov-gorod.ru/eng/); • Nikolai Prisyazhnyuk, head of the Rostov regional branch of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (40a Kirovsky Prospekt; +7 863-268-7600; eng.tppro.ru).
Sister cities: Pleven, Bulgaria; Kajaani, Finland; Le Mans, France; the German cities of Dortmund and Gera; Volos, Greece; Glasgow, Scotland; Cheongju-si, South Korea; Antalya, Turkey; Mobile, Alabama, U.S.
Director of Mart-Rostov, a medium-sized firm that produces magnets and other souvenirs with images of Rostov and other cities.
Q: Why did you choose manufacturing souvenirs?
A: I received a salary of 4,800 rubles ($172) as a mathematics teacher at State Don Technical University and had to pay 4,500 rubles in utilities fees. So I quit to start my own business. Souvenirs with city images appeared to be in high demand. Images of small towns are especially popular, not Moscow or St. Petersburg, which are full of souvenirs.
Q: Who are your main customers?
A: When I started the business five years ago, we focused only on Rostov-on-Don. Now we supply our products to 154 Russian cities, from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, with big souvenir companies being the main clients. We have many customers. My workday starts at 3 a.m. and finishes at 9 p.m. — and that’s great!
Q: What makes your business successful?
A: A large assortment, low prices and small output. My magnets sell for 10 rubles to 15 rubles ($0.36 to $0.54) each, which is possible because of low production costs. It costs me 4 rubles 30 kopeks to make a magnet: The plastic cover costs 4 rubles, and it costs 30 kopeks to print a city photo on the color printer. Also, our small output makes it possible to order just 10 items, which is convenient.
Q: What problems do you face?
A: Exporting products across the border. Customs fees are very high. Many companies want to collaborate with me because I have low prices. I’d like to work with China and Germany, and the Czech Republic is also very interested.
Q: What sights are worth seeing in Rostov?
A: The Rostov Academic Drama Theater and the Rostov State Opera and Ballet Theater are worth visiting. There are also a huge number of things in the Rostov region, including Stanitsa Vyoshenskaya and Stanitsa Starocherkasskaya and Taganrog. The view of the Orthodox cathedral in Novocherkassk is breathtaking: a huge cathedral on a huge square. You’ll never see anything like this in Paris or London.
Q: What makes Rostov-on-Don attractive for foreign investors?
A: It has a good location and is a big transportation hub connecting Europe and Asia. The city provides good logistical opportunities, because it has railway, air and sea connections, as well as many roads. Also, Rostov is home to many universities and therefore has good personnel potential. In addition, Rostov has sincere and hospitable people who also have business acumen.
Q: Which foreign companies have a presence in Rostov-on-Don?
A: We have Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Turkish carpet manufacturer Merinos, brewer Efes Russia and a number of retailers — Metro, IKEA, Leroy Merlin, Auchan and Media Markt.
Q: What does City Hall do to attract foreign investors?
A: We provide tax breaks and other benefits for investors. We also lead big investment projects in order to reduce administrative barriers and help investors get connected to power lines. There are a number of investment projects overseen by me and the governor personally.
Q: Which sectors are developing most rapidly?
A: Agriculture equipment manufacturing, with Rostov-based company Rostelmash — one of the world’s biggest combine producers — accounting for 17 percent of the world market and 65 percent of the domestic market. We also are developing food production. Yug Rusi is one of the biggest producers of sunflower oil and exports 25 percent of its products. We also have the textile industry, as Rostov is home to clothes maker Gloria Jeans. And, of course, we have helicopter production.
Q: What will the city look like in 10 years?
A: The city will continue to be the center of scientific, financial and cultural life in southern Russia. We’re implementing a new development strategy now that focuses on developing innovations, transportation and education and increasing the quality of people’s life. This will increase Rostov’s competitiveness in Russia.
Q: What do you recommend seeing in the city?
A: Well, we say that you haven’t seen Rostov if you haven’t been to the left bank of the Don. The Don Embankment and Pushkinskaya Ulitsa are also must-sees, because you can feel the pace of Rostov life there.