The road from the Volga River runs northwest through forests. It’s just a couple of hours from the border of the Mari El Republic to the capital at Yoshkar Ola. The meandering Little Kokshaga River flows placidly through the eastern part of the town, along the way passing a long replica of a Flemish-style street front. This is a pleasant part of town, a popular place for families and young people to stroll at weekends or to gather on summer evenings. As in so many cities across the Russian Federation, the riverfront promenade has been redeveloped with wrought iron balustrades and patterned pavements to give a relaxing space, albeit, it has to be said, one with a slightly sterile feel. There are no buskers, no waffles, no moules et frites, but here in the heart of a small republic in the far east of Europe is a passable imitation of Bruges.