Aquatic Dubna: Hello, Volga!
Drain tunnel – Grand Volga lighthouse – Lenin and Stalin – Ivankovo HPP – Big Volga – Giant Ball

Although the key brand of Dubna is the Science City, it also has another extraordinary facet: this is the closest the Volga gets to Moscow, so that’s where the Moscow Canal ends and the oldest HPP on this river – Ivankovo – is located. The canal and the HPP were built in 1932–37 and, as it was common during that time, construction was performed by convicts. Incidentally, the Russian abbreviation for “inmates” derives from the expression “confined canal army man.” It’s hard to confuse the grim and pompous architectural style of Stalin’s epoch with anything else. There are quite a few places of interest on the canal connecting Moscow to the Volga, but for now we will only focus on the ones located in Dubna – especially since all these places can easily be accessed by land.


1. Drain tunnel
  • The drain tunnel (penstock) – the city’s border
Yet swimming above the drain tunnel is dangerous – one can get sucked in and gone for good.
The drain tunnel – the penstock – is the actual border of the city: a road stretches above it, and from the rail bridge across the Sestra River located nearby one can get a wonderful view of this massive structure that resembles a dam, yet somehow without a pond. In actuality, this whole arrangement is a little bit trickier: in this area, the canal flows on an embankment, and the Sestra, on the other hand, flows down a deep valley and “ducks” under the canal over the drain tunnel. This crossing of two waterways is a really rare sight. Yet swimming above the drain tunnel is dangerous – one can get sucked in and gone for good. 
2. Grand Volga lighthouse
  • There is a real lighthouse almost at the entry to Dubna
Moscow is certainly a port of five seas, yet a lighthouse isn’t something one would expect to see in the Greater Moscow Area.
However, almost at the entry to Dubna, there is a narrow sand spit between the Moscow-Volga Canal and the Lebyazhye Lake where a real lighthouse is located. It was built at the same time as the canal. It looks extremely archaic – if you saw it at the Mediterranean Sea, you’d think it was a piece of Ancient Roman architecture. Unfortunately, right now it’s closed for visitors: it neither serves its purpose, nor entertains tourists. Not far from the lighthouse, at the beginning of the sand spit, there is another object that seems rare for the Greater Moscow Area: a ferry across the canal. The ferry is a rusty platform that slides from one bank to another on ropes resting on the bottom of the canal. It runs at least once in thirty minutes. A bit farther upstream, you will easily spot emergency gates that close when the water level rises too high.
3. Lenin and Stalin
  • Lenin monument in Dubna – one of the largest in the world
The height of the stone giants - 25 m, and with pedestal - 37 m, weight - 540 tons
When leaving the canal, it’s impossible to miss the 35-meter (including the pedestal) statue of the Soviet Leader. This memorial is considered to be the second largest (after the one on the Volga-Don Canal) among thousands of Lenin monuments. And it’s worth noting that this one is quite good-looking. As for Stalin, his monument used to stand on the other bank of the river, but it was blown up during Khrushchev’s times as part of the “fight against the personality cult” initiative. The only remnants of the monument are the wide quay with steps, the weedy pedestal, and memories of the local population: people in Dubna still call this “Stalin’s place”.

By the way, the part of the canal between the two monuments is not the final one: the canal flows farther parallel to the Volga, and its sluice No. 1 located half a kilometer away has its own special feature – a road tunnel under the bottom of the canal.
4. Ivankovo HPP
  • The smallest HPP on the Volga
The smallest, the most upstream, and the oldest HPP on the Volga starts right behind the colossal Lenin.
However, the river here is narrow and weedy, and the reservoir – though it’s jokingly called “Moscow Sea” – is only a little wider than the natural river-bed of the Volga in the lower course. The HPP is a combination of impressive buildings designed in the same Stalin style and rare gantry cranes on rivets. By the way, a local floating crane is also a historical object: it lifted the Bulgaria ship, tragically sunken in Tatarstan, from the bottom. At the far end of the HPP, make sure to spot a machine-gun nest, surrounded by anti-tank “hedgehogs.” Such obstacles were produced in bulk in the fall of 1941, when Wehrmacht was approaching Moscow (another one of those can be discovered in Dubna, right in the backyard of the local university). The area upstream from the dam is always crowded with fishermen, private boats (including sailboats) and cruisers: those who really miss the sea can just as well be satisfied with the reservoir. 
5. Big Volga
  • Big Volga is the oldest borough in Dubna
This sonorous name belongs to one of the three large boroughs of Dubna, the oldest one (dating back to 1930’s) and yet the most boring one with the highest concentration of multi-story houses. As you can tell by the name, this was originally a village for HPP construction teams and later, for HPP employees. But it’s a good example of Dubna landscape and atmosphere – a nice, comfortable, and intellectual city, quite typical both for Russia and the Greater Moscow Area.
6. Giant ball
  • The giant ball in the Ignatovo village continues to be a source of legends
This landmark should be mentioned as a bonus, although it’s located in Tver Region. But the best way to reach it is from Dubna, and this can be a separate field trip because it takes a whole day. No public transport runs down this road, worn down by lumber trucks. If you come in a regular car, the only time you will be able to pass is either in winter or during a drought. So you might have to walk a few kilometers. The reference point is the village Ignatovo.

But the trip is worth it: on the edge of a glade, among thin trees, there’s a shimmering ball, 18 meters in diameter. It looks like a fallen UFO. On the side of the ball near the ground, there is a hole, and the acoustics inside the ball are fabulous: any sound reflects multiple times from the walls and then gradually subsides at the top.

Sometimes the ball becomes a venue for informal concerts. There are many legends concerning the origins of the ball, but they are most likely false stories of the Cold War times for the enemy’s satellite intelligence. 

Where to eat

There are quite a few restaurants and cafes in Dubna, and the service level is mostly not bad, which can be attributed to the opulence and high cultural standards of the city. If you want something very local, try the cafeteria at the House of Scientists, but it might be difficult to get in for an outsider. A more expensive option would be the restaurant in the 3rd building of the Dubna hotel. The hotel belongs to the nuclear institute; therefore, its regulars are science men. Next to the Mir recreation center, you can buy cheap and extremely tasty pies baked in the local snack bar. 

Where to stay

Since Dubna is an international hub, finding a hotel should not be a problem. One can choose among the flamboyant Dubna hotel for industrial visitors (but it’s hard to get a room if you have nothing to do with nuclear power generation), which is actually two different hotels, the 4-star Park Hotel and Resident Hotel, or the modest Center Hostel with a bed in a dormitory room worth 600 rubles per night. You will also find multiple summer camps in the surrounding area, including not-so-cheap ones.

How to get here

By car: follow the highway from Moscow to Dubna until its final point.
By public transit: electric trains from the Savyolovsky railway station and buses from the Savyolovskaya metro station, running approximately once an hour. The trip takes 2–2.5 hours.

Written by Ilya Buyanovsky

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