Not the Samara we had envisaged
Hotel Zhiguli, Volgograd, the Volga Region, Russia
The Lonely Planet says of Samara, where we know find ourselves, that 'in summer the Volga's riverbanks are packed with bathing beauties, rollerbladers and beerdrinkers'. With this idyylic image at the ofrefront of our minds Jo and I left rainy Ufa yesterday feeling very excited about a day or two sunbathing by the banks of Europe's longest river. Such was not to be; as has now become the norm in Russia, I awoke this morning to the symphony of mosquitoes dive-bombing my head and rain hammering on the windows. Visions of spending a sybaritic day lounging by the river evaporated in an instant. And since Ting Tong has made it very clear that driving in the rain is not her favourite pastime (or ours) we opted to don our very fetching tropical ponchos and hang out in soggy Samara for the day instead. What a riot.
Yesterday was our longest day on the road for a while, and it seemed to go on and on and on and on....The countryside was beauiful and the roads passable, but nothing spectacular. The oddest thing was the endless police stops - eight yesterday. But whilst all our previous stops have included a demand for our 'dokumenti', all but one of yesterdays Cop Stops were simply to have a nose at Ting Tong and ask all the usual 'where are you going', 'Where are you from' 'aren't you cold? (YES) 'Where are the men' type questions. Furthermore, most of the police stopping us seemed to know the basic details of our journey, ie that we were travelling from Thailand to England. We suspect that this is thanks to the two policeman who bought us cake and chatted to us in a trukkers cafe at lunch, who then must have warned their cohorts further down the line of the pink oddity heading their way. We can now pretty much guarantee that at every police checkpoint that irritating black and white baton will wave us down as we try and tuk past inconspicuously.
I've discovered in the last 24 hours a peculiar paradox that exists in Russia, one of many I am sure. Our blog during the last week has been full of praise for the incredible hospitality and friendliness we have encountered here. But our infuriating, exhausting quest for a hotel room late last night, after 10 hours on the road, in the rain, was hindered by what I can only call xenophobia. The hatchet faced receptionist at hotel number 1, the digusting looking Hotel Rossiya, informed me VERY frostily that they had no rooms. At hotel number 2 I didn't even get past the door, where I was physically blocked from entering by a bad-tempered old goat who curled his lips in disgust at the sound of my foreign accent and told me that this was a hotel for Russians only. I tried to duck past him to verify this with the receptionist, but he barred my way and sent us packing. Hotel number 3 was the same, and Hotel number 4, the wildly overpriced Zhiguli, let us in. Jo and I objected to paying 3300 roubles (over 60 squid) for a room with no hot water, but it was either that or the pavement.
The highlight of today has been my visit to the Samara Art Gallery, a real gem, full of Russian Art from the 19th and 20th centuries. I know we are in Europe, but I was surprised by the strong European style of the paintings, the portraits of ostentatiously dressed aristocrats could have passed for a Gainsborough. Best of all were the Makovskis and the two Klevers, the latter dark atmospheric landscapes. If anyone reading this should find themselves in Samara I highly reccomend a visit.
Lastly, I want to add an appendage to my blog about the Romanovs from the other day. My father, the Biggest Boffin in the business, who has been to St Peterburg twice, wrote the following in an email a few days ago. "I have in front of me a four page article from the St Petsburgurg Times dated 17thJuly 1998 which casts a huge amount of doubt on the whole business. The most significant piece of evidence is that Tsar Nicholas was attacked by a madman during his 1891 visit to Japan and that his skull was permanently scarred. No sign of such a scar was found by the investigators of the Commmission of the Identification of the Remains established in 1993. At
the time of the reburial in St Petersburg nearly every leading Russian newspaper published articles doubting the authenticity of the bones." Maybe my next foreign sojourn will be a hunt for the Real Romanov remains....
That's all for today. I wish the bloody rain would stop because its getting boring. Hopefully this time next week we'll be soaking up some rays in the Crimea, where we have decided to re-route to in search of sun and extra mileage. Love to all in England and Carrie I hope all the wedding plans are going OK. GUTTED I am going to miss it xxx