The World Cup will be the first time most westerners will be exposed to the great cities of the Volga and their tense tug-of-war over identity
The Alexander Nevsky is a dingy time machine that suffers 196 passengers- war veterans bound for the city formerly known as Stalingrad side by side with boozy weekenders- down the Volga river like a floating Soviet sanatorium.
It was built in East Germany in 1957 by the shipbuilders of Wismar, who send 49 comfort-class riverboats to their new brothers across the Soviet bloc.
Not much on board has changed since.
Crooners belt out Soviet ballads and pensioners sunbathe themselves on flimsy deckchairs. The cheaper compartments below deck substantiate their times, smelling of musk and sometimes varnish, with chipped, frosted glass on the room entrances. When the nights are cold, passengers wrapped in woollen blankets walk in curves from bow to stern to bend again, as barges with salt and beam pass in the dark.