Suzdal, vodka and a much needed nap

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What a different thing it is to be in a group. For about two months now I've been mostly on my own. Sure I've met people and I've been with family and I've hung around with single-serving friends in hostels and I've had runs and drinks with hashers. But I've always been essentially on my own a lot of the time. Now I'm with this tour group and it's been a complete change, and one that's been mostly great so far.

The gang, at the Novgorod Kremlin

Having a guide all the time is really good too. It's a nice break not having to worry about finding a room for the night, or figuring out how to get from point A to point B, or arranging tours. We've got a group leader - Katherine - and she shepherds us around and translates things and answers questions and tries to keep all eleven of us in line. And she does it all wearing strappy high heels, which is frankly astonishing, but not at all unusual over here.

Being with a group also makes it easier to try new things. For instance, I probably would never have interacted with this fantastic woman in Suzdal who was selling berries and pickles by the side of the path if I hadn't been with other people who dove right in. So I had a nice homemade pickle for a mere 10 Rubles.

The pickle-selling babushka

Seeing Suzdal was nice, and we did the traditional touristy things - mostly looking at Russian Orthodox churches, which I'm sure I could do on my own, but is more fun with a guide and a group.

Painted icons at one of the churches in Suzdal. Russian Orthodox church walls are completely covered in paintings like this, and I mean completely. (Sorry about the flare from the window, but my tiny camera, or possibly my tiny brain, is not able to compensate for this kind of thing. Helpful hints are welcome.)

Being on an organized tour also means I can get to places and see and do things that I would never be able to do on my own. For instance, in Suzdal we went for a dinner at a real Russian house, cooked by a real Russian woman, assisted by her daughter, sitting at a big table in the kitchen.

Here's the gang, on the second course (a creamy fish stew served in a clay pot).

And here's the main course, a potato casserole-ish thing and a big meatball

Our hostess was Lena, who poured the first round of vodka shots almost as soon as we sat down, so really it was all her fault. I guess it's downright rude to have people over and not offer them vodka. We had ours chased by a slice of lemon sprinkled with pepper, which is apparently traditional and kind of helped it go down better. And kept it going down better because before the meal was over there were three more rounds of shots, some of which were done by balancing the shot glass on the back of the hand (I was only partially successful at this technique, at least on my fourth shot, but it's vaguely possible I may not have been at the top of my game at that point). We left dinner and staggered back to our beautiful guest house where we had the whole place to ourselves. On the way we stopped to stock up on more vodka and beer and chips and chocolate and bags of little dried fish, which are beer snacks.

Steve's weird food for Russia - dried kalimari. There were also tiny dried anchovies.

Things deteriorated quickly when we got back*, though I did manage to completely dominate at Bananagrams, a sort of free-form speed Scrabble game, despite being somewhat hammered. (Funny, no one's asked me to play again since...) I believe I staggered to bed around 1:00 am or 2:00 am. I do know that when I woke up the next morning I was in a state of, er... significant discomfort. Let's just say that it turns out that vodka in lavish amounts does nothing for my stomach. We had breakfast back with Lena, who plied the boys with a hair-of-the-dog shot of vodka along with the omelets and blini, but I was definitely not interested in that. In fact, I was silently praying for death.

The mini-bus trip from Suzdal back to the city of Vladimir was also not great for my stomach, so by the time we arrived I was ready to skip the mandatory tour of more Russian Orthodox churches and pay any amount of money to secure a bed for a few hours. Luckily one of my colleagues, an Australian guy who was feeling approximately as fragile as I was, headed off to the park across the street for a nap on the grass under a tree. I jumped at that chance, and spent a couple of hours snoozing, which helped matters immensely. When we woke up we found a MacDonald's / Burger King knock-off (in fact, is was actually called MakKing) that had burgers and fries and coke and free wifi. So, when we rejoined the group for the bus back into Moscow I was feeling approximately human again.

And you know something? I haven't had a shot of vodka since.

* Karen - the mix of 40th birthday party music in my iTunes was a hit with most everyone in the group, except for Sam, who spent quite a bit of time scrolling through my library declaring, "You have the worst music collection ever". Luckily, it was done in a diverting Aussie accent. Also, he's the one who ended up dancing with a guitar not long after, and who remembers virtually nothing of the night. We have many excellent photos of Sam, so if he gets snippy about my music again, Facebook awaits.


Lisa said...

Glad you have a group for a bit. You are the kind of person who seems to fit in everywhere!

Karen said...

Worst music collection ever - I'll take that as a fine compliment.

Peter said...

Hello you Speed Scrabble fiend :)

Just to let you know there's an online version - check out Speed Scrabble Online.

I know my overconfidence has been suitably checked after playing there for a bit.

Perhaps vodka helps? :)

Your holiday in Russia looked really excellent too. Except maybe for the dried calamari stuff.

Anyway, I hope you'll check it out.

Scott Rivera said...

So you had a great holiday.All the pictures are nice. To explore a new place a tour guide is always helpful. A tour guide helps you in visiting the local important places .Holiday means enjoyment ,enjoyment without Vodka is incomplete.In a tour it is advisable to drink vodka moderately.Otherwise you will have a hangover on the next morning which will creat a hurdle in your holiday plan.I like to enjoy my weekend drinking my favorite liquor with Cohiba cigars.As cohiba cigars are not easily available in the local market, so I buy online.

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