I have been fortunate to have some lovely Russian students and befriended a couple, Alexander and Anastasia. They invited me to come and visit them at their holiday house just outside of Moscow.
So I took Friday off work and went out to the countryside to visit them in their house in the woods.
I had to take the night bus there; it was freezing outside, only 1 degree Celsius. I bought a ticket with the help of my little Russian/English dictionary but the lady tried to explain something to me about the bus that I could not understand. I called my Russian friends and handed the phone over to her, they then in turn explained to me that the bus was going to be delayed but that they were going to contact the driver for me and get back to me.
It turned out that the bus would be delayed by an hour, so it was going to be a long cold wait.
Alexander and Anastasia went to a lot of trouble; they contacted the bus driver, got the number plate and his name for me and told him to look out for me. When I eventually got on the bus the driver told me to sit up front and even told me exactly where to get off, he was very nice about it.
I arrived late that night and was met by Alexander at 11pm. Their holiday house is situated in the forest near a little town little town. As we drove up to their house I got to see my very first real Russian fox!!! It ran out into the road and ran ahead of the car for a while before darting off into the forest again, amazing! Alexander even filmed this for me.
We had what they called a very traditional Russian night. We started the evening by sitting in their sauna!! We would sit in the sauna and heat up and then jump into the small swimming pool to cool down. We did this a couple of times, even the girls joined us (they have 3 daughters and 1 son). An essential part of Russian sauna is venik – a fragrant bundle of leafy birch or oak tree twigs. Venik in Russian sauna plays a great role as regards warming up of the body and Alexander hit us all over our backs and legs with these leaves. It improves blood circulation and intensifies skins capillary activities. They also say that essential oils released by venik improve metabolism and prevent premature aging of the skin.
My Russian friends told me that this is a typical way to spend one of their winter nights.
Anastasia made us traditional Russian pancakes filled with chicken which we ate with smethana (Russian sour cream), it was delicious! We spent the rest of the evening with a mug of hot chocolate in front of the fire.
For breakfast Anastasia made us Russian cottage cheese and mini feta pancakes which we ate with homemade blackberry jam and sour cream. They actually went out and picked these blackberries themselves earlier on in the year.
After breakfast we went out to visit the small town named Tarusa near their vacation house. First we made a stop at a small wooden church on the hillside just outside of the town.
Alexander then tried to convince me to join them in another Russian tradition, but
it was -5 that day so I was in no mood to plunge into ice cold water. They took turns to plunge into an icy pool inside the little chapel. They each did this 3 times (the holy number). They believe that this blesses you for the winter to come and that you will then not get sick. I am usually game to try new things but this was just too cold and just the thought of it made me shiver.
We walked along the OcraRiver, visited the small town museum and explored the areas that Great Russian artists used to frequent during the USSR. This town is known for having lots of artists and writers living here who moved here to escape communist Moscow to have some freedom to do their art.
For lunch we had homemade borscht beetroot soup and chicken stew with potatoes. Yes it is true, Russians do eat a lot of potatoes but they also love soup and their soups are delicious.
I had a lovely weekend out in the countryside and would have loved to stay longer but had to head back to the city for work. It was lovely spending time with a family in their house and having them make me feel so welcome. I do miss family life every once in a while on my travels.