Upon reaching the industrial shores of Voronezh, your first reaction may be to swallow in dread. Black, belching smokestacks line the riverbank, and in addition to the smog, an opaque gritty pessimism hangs over the town. Indeed, Voronezh is a city scraping and clawing its way out of the Soviet era, with few immediate signs of success.
Set along the Tuskar River, Kursk is a working-class city that's seen more than its fair share of destruction over its 1000-year history. Much of the city has been rebuilt since WWII and stands as an unsightly monument to Soviet urban planning, c 1967. Its importance in WWII is well documented in its museums, and the pride of its stolid residents lives on.
Located 14km south of central Tula and around 240km from Moscow, Yasnaya Polyana is the estate (238 6710, 517 6081; www.yasnayapolyana.ru; admission R100; 10am-5pm Tue-Sun May-Oct, 9.30am-3.30pm Tue-Sun Nov-Apr) where the great Russian writer Count Leo Tolstoy was born and buried.