On the receiving end of the Russian roadside hospitality

May be an image of road and natureAs some of you may know, our “new” car spent most of the summer and September in the repair shop. That left me, the homebody, quite content, but my mate Alexandra, with her wanderlust, got frustrated close to the breaking point. So when I turned out to have a free day on Wednesday, I said not a word against Alexandra’s plan to drive to Kashkarantsy, about 200km east from Kandalaksha.

A car trouble sketch-of-life example from the same traveller

Another story from Jack from Poland (see the previous story) that may be worth sharing to show the spirit of the country. Reminds me of another couple of travellers who got a free tow from Petrozavodsk to St. Petersburg. So yes, I’d say the situation described below is “typical” for Russia.

While it wasn’t in your neightborhood, I would like to share with you a
story, what happened a week before.

As always, I prepared my car thoroughly for the trip. But it’s impossible to
predict every failure. At the Russian border, a leak started from the
cooling system. My repairs didn’t helped for long. Two days later, in the
middle of nowhere, a big diameter, long, rubber hose, has disintegrated
totally, due to it’s age. It was looking like a new from outside, while
being a garbage inside, at least at a section of it.

Without much effort, I stopped a man, who, using a rope, towed me to an
unpaved parking lot at a tire service at route M20. He drove to that place
only for me, and took money only for the fuel.

On this parking lot were two military trucks. Soldiers were taking a rest.
When I opened the hood of my car, they immediately came to me. We all saw,
that the fix is simple, but what can I do without new hose? They tried to
cut off hose from their pump (used for pumping oil, I think) to replace that
in my car, but diameter was different.

A man from tire service soon appeared. He gave us all what was necassary: a
short L-bend hose (from some car), a steel pipe and electric angle grinder.
Soldiers cutted out excessive lenght of the pipe, removed rotten part of my
hose and assembled everything, using their own hose-clamps. They even filled
the cooling system with water from their own portable tank and bleeded it.

Soldiers (like the tire-shop guy) didn’t wanted money. I tried to gave them
some jars and cans with food from EU, at least. They refused to take more
than 1 jar, and one of them gave me an emblem from shoulder of his uniform.

Contrary to this, in my country (and some others) it’s not easy to find free
help. And it’s a real rarity, when somebody offers help to you, because he
sees you need it. Russian soldiers repaired my car for free, they worked
over 30 minutes till my car was ready to go, wanted nothing in exchange, and
they did this before I asked them for help. Today, after 10,000 km, their
kludge is still working.

While, when visiting Russia, I’ve met many times with warm reception and
gifts, nothing can beat those four soldiers. And their emblem, a personal
gift, is my most valuable souvenir.


My English students seek conversation practice

Here is a letter from one of them:

irina-2I’m desperate for English conversation practice!

In exchange, I can be your guide in Kandalaksha.

I can meet you at the train station, help you check into a hotel, recommend a place to eat, suggest places to visit, take you there, keep you from getting lost, and in every other way make you stay in Kandalaksha pleasant and comfortable. All totally free if you speak English to me and encourage me to do the same.

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Soviet movies in English, one of the gateways to the “Russian soul”

avengersI’ve stumbled on a treasure trove collection of popular Soviet-era as well as some modern cult movies with English translations/subtitles. Quotes from these have made it into everyday language, and memes form became a part of the popular mental set.

A great resource if you want to understand the subtleties of how an average modern Russian feels and thinks.

See sovietmoviesonline.com

But the download/opening time is long. Be prepared to wait.

Moscow – first impressions after 2+ years away

Irrived in Moscow yesterday at 11:35am. First impressions after being away for over two years:

(1) Neatness and cleanliness leaning towards glamour.

(2) Huge police presence.

(3) A conspicuous number of Muslim-dressed people seen on Moscow streets.


(4) The traffic situation appears to be less of a problem than three years ago although this impression may be misleading as I arrived on Saturday, when traffic is not always high.

(5) Lots of bicycles. The colour of the season is white. And folding kick scooters all over not seen at all in 2013 Moscow.

(6) Public bicycle rental is all over, both in the city center and in the outskirts.



Bike rental points are marked in green

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A short film on Luvenga

luvengaTV-21 is a Murmansk news channel. Scroll to near the bottom of tv21.ru/news/?newsid=34292 to see a short film on Luvenga, 14km south-east from Kandalaksha. The film is in Russian. Its main point is that of all places the author had seen Luvenga is the only one where the locals would not prefer to be elsewhere. I’d like to remark, based on my own observations, that life satisfaction here, in southern Kola, seems to be higher than anywhere else I’ve observed in Russia. I will even venture to offer an explanation. In central Russia, during most of its history, escape was an ever-present option, thus evolutionary pressure for malcontents. Here at nearly the end of the world, on the other hand, people had to learn to like what they had, or else. Malcontents got weeded out and got replaced by a breed of happy campers.

Ice hole bathing on the Epiphany

Murmansk, -20C (-4F). The poin is to commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, thus the icehole in the shape of a cross, or marked by a cross. The practice seems to be frowned at by the church but its popularity is on the rise. This year the authorities banned ice bathing in Kandalaksha because, it was said, one foot of ice wasn’t enough to make it safe. In Moscow on the other hand they cut holes all over and even installed a huge barrel in the middle of the Red Square.

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Russophilia and after-hours boose sales

Perhaps I’ve been one of these grumpy ever-critical Russians too much and too long. To make up let me open a new Russophilia category for things that I actually like about this place and its inhabitants. Done, here.


The first entry will be an ordinary liquor and beer store at Pervomayskaya 57 in Kandalaksha that put one plastic table in the corner of the hall, dubbed itslef a cafe, and thus circumvented the ban on boose sale after 9pm. Being a cafe they will have to insist on opening the bottle on the premises but no one will force you to stay there till done.

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