Russia is a mysterious place where the people are serious about family, friends, and celebration. They are free from the worries of political correctness, which at first seems rude to the unaccustomed like me.
Our stay was in the European city of Ulyanovsk, where Anastasia is from. West of the Ural Mountains, Russia is in Europe. Ulyanovsk is best known as the birthplace of Lenin. The largest river in Europe, the Volga, runs through, and Anastasia's parents' condo and dacha, a Russian summerhouse, are both on the river which provided me with easy access to fish, in theory.
It's unfortunate that much of what is thought about Russia by some countries is based on negative political rhetoric. Actually, in many ways, Russia reminds me of America.
The people here talk of Putin as a great leader, and the progress made and the increase to the standard of living are apparent since my first visit in 2006. Three trips have taught me much about the culture, and they have all been adventures that tell as interesting stories with colorful pictures.
On previous trips I visited the cities of Moscow, Kazan, and Samara, where parties tail off at 4am. Moscow, rich in history, reminded me of Boston, but not of New York with its square city blocks crowded with skyscrapers. People hitchhike, but rubles are negotiated. We had some drivers who were real characters, and a few white knuckled rides.
Strangers keep to themselves, not smiling at each other on the street. If you smile at them they will think you are crazy, seriously. When they spoke to me I said 'Engliski' which was met with stares and intrigue. On my first trip here a group of shop owners thought I was a rich American that brought his interpreter, Anastasia, with him to the bazaar.
Russians listen to our music and watch our movies, along with their own. They are curious about and appreciate other cultures. Toasts are made when celebrating, and happen often. Drivers are irratic, as in many European nations. The food is unique but fresh, natural, and flavorful. Dachas are common and are places to grow fruits and vegetables and spend time with family. People drop everything to drink tea. Fishing is popular. When Russians learn I catch and release fish they are floored. The dress is fashionable. Style is of concern. Mothers push strollers wearing heels to the market. People are in shape and attractive. Once befriended, Russians are genuine and welcoming. The bureaucracy is heavy. Customer service is offensive. Many of the cars are of the same variety as in America, with a few exceptions like the Russian made Lada which is certainly durable as some of the backroads have potholes like moon craters. Immediately outside the city, the country is vast offering freedom to explore off road. The views of nature are big and vibrant, reminding me of Montana. Time is spent outdoors, getting dirty in the garden or by the river.
The banya, or Russian sauna, is as important to the culture as vodka. Dachas often have one, as does Anastasia's. Inside users hit each other with birch tree branches. Their leaves have beneficial oils.
The food we ate included spicy shredded carrot salad, homemade pickles using cucumbers from the dacha, marinaded mushrooms that we picked in the forest, pig from the butcher where the severed head is dated and on display, bone marrow jelly, beet stew called borsch, pelmeni which is Russian ravioli stuffed with beef that we put through a hand powered grinder, fresh apple juice we squeezed with apples from the garden, lots of smoked fish, meat pancakes, and of course shashlik which is Russian style barbecue.
Russia has endeared herself to me.
The prettiest girl in Russia
My in-laws proudly fly both of our countries' flags at their dacha
Dacha, a Russian summerhouse
Dinner at the summerhouse
Shashlik is Russian shish kebab
Authentic shashlik dinner, fresh vegetables from the garden, and wine made with grapes from the garden for toasts of course
Drinking tea from a samovar traditionally used to make tea
Kitchen on the first floor of the dacha
Second floor of the dacha
The bathrooms at Russian dachas are outhouses
Banya, a Russian sauna
Banya wood fired heater
Birch tree branches which users hit each other with in the banya
Inside the banya
Picking berries with Grammie
Russian flower in the garden
Fountains in downtown Ulyanovsk
Running through the fountains
My nephew, Yura, with the kids
Inlet of the Volga at the dacha
View of the Volga from Anastasia's parents' condo
View from our bedroom at the condo
Digging up worms in the garden
Going fishing on the Volga
Our friend Dennis took us out on his boat on the Volga
Volga at sunrise
This fish caught in the Volga River is a zander
Shopping at the bazaar
They have fidget spinners too for 220 rubles, but prices in the outdoor markets are negotiable
Vintage Russian car
Driving in Russia is not like in America. I got passed often. There are numerous cameras that take pictures of speeders whom get tickets mailed to them, but no one seems to care. People do not lose their licenses for too many tickets, but their insurance rates go up.
There is a Burger King and McDonald's in the mall in Ulyanovsk
View of Greenland from the plane
Я хочу поймать рыбу