Introducing South of Moscow
Set on rolling, ever-changing steppe, this region has small, attractive towns and ragged, industrial cities. Among the highlights are the sleepy village Yelets, the revitalised old streets of Smolensk, the literary-minded town Oryol and nearby Spasskoe-Lutovinovo, Turgenev's lushly landscaped estate. The rather Soviet cities of Voronezh and Kursk, while omitted from many itineraries, have some worthwhile sights. Towns in this region are generally poor, with large portions of the populace unemployed and given to loitering on street corners, often in Adidas sweatclothes, for some reason. Keeping a low profile will help you to avoid offence or threats, though for the most part the residents aren't antiforeigner or aggressive, just bored.
The major towns listed here are easily accessible by train. The main routes from Moscow are the eastern route to Yelets and Voronezh; the central route through Oryol, Kursk and Belgorod en route to Kharkiv in Ukraine; and the western route, through Smolensk heading towards Minsk (Belarus).