“Russian Roads and Rivers”
Another great adventure that our Russian friends had planned. We each packed a small bag with enough for a couple of days away and headed out in two cars.
Our route took us through Pushkin, then Pavlosvk, then on to the main highway toward Moscow. Our road trip was to the city of Veliky Novgorod, (Великий Новгород) about 185 kilometres from Gatchina, east and south. This city is one of the oldest in Russia, and was recognized as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1992. It was normally referred to just as ‘Novgorod’, or new city, but in 1999 the name was changed to ‘Veliky Novgorod’. Veliky means the ‘great’. This was to distinguish it from another city named Novgorod, which, I suppose, was not ‘great’.
About twenty-nine kilometres from St. Petersburg on the highway to Novgorod, we passed through the village of Ul’yanovka (Ульяановка). I spotted a house that looked vaguely familiar. It was Baba Yaga’s house!
When the Russians came to Canada, they brought a beautifully illustrated book of Russian Fairy Tales for our grandchildren. This book told many of the stories in Russian folklore, one of which was Baba Yaga, who happened to live in a house mounted on two chicken legs. I enjoyed reading all of these stories and I happened to remember this curious story, so when I spotted this house on the side of the road, I was surprised.
For those of you who do not know Baba Yaga, or maybe only heard John Wick called that in the latest John Wick movie, Baba Yaga is a Russian (probably all Slavic countries) supernatural creature who is both good and bad, depending on who you ask. Some call her a swamp witch, others say she’s part of a threesome sisterhood, out to do no good. In the John Wick movie, the antagonist was a Russian gangster, who called John Wick the ‘Boogeyman’, or Baba Yaga.
It was a pleasant drive out in the country, and before long, we were there. Of the multiple houses and farms we passed, many were private dachas of the city dwellers, not only ‘summer cottages’ for their recreation, but places for their gardens to grow vegetables and flowers, supplies to stock up and preserve for the long winters ahead. More will be explained about dachas in the next story.
We were soon in Novgorod, and after driving around a little, we checked into the “Hotel Sadko”. We had a lovely room, queen bed, bath, shower, toilet, mini-bar, and many other features. We all met in another room for drinks and snacks that Tanya had arranged, We then struck out to see the city, or at least part of it. We first visited a huge park, surrounded by a wall which enclosed the old part of the city, or ‘Kremlin’. There was a huge monument, ‘The Millennium of Russia Memorial’, built in 1962, celebrating Russia’s 1000th anniversary.
During the drive to Novgorod, we stopped for gasoline at a gas-station near the highway. At the same time, a family of Roma, or gypsies stopped also, giving us a chance to observe these colourful people. Ira was quite concerned that I was going to take photos of them, so I tried to be discreet. I realize that many cultures do not appreciate stupid tourists sticking a camera in their space.
There were also a couple of modern coin-operated toilets and a couple of old ‘porta-potties’ there, instead of indoor rest-rooms like we have at home.
Later, we returned to our restaurant, located in a tall tower-like building. We could see the windows high up the outside wall, windows we would be looking out of soon. Ira had arranged all of this for her mother’s birthday the next day. She had to reserve over a month in advance, so it was a popular spot.
As soon as we entered the restaurant, we knew we were in trouble, or at least Diana was. Our tables were on a floor much higher, accessible only by a steep spiral staircase. When Ira had made the reservations, she did not know Diana was going to be handicapped with a bad knee. With a lot of help from the Russian men, they managed to get Diana up to the dining room. I wasn’t much help at that point with my bad knee.
This restaurant served everything in ceramic containers. I assume they had a pottery factory nearby to provide them with plates, mugs, flasks for the wine, and other containers used on the table.
The meal was fantastic, as usual. Like many of the restaurants we had visited, they served many of the usual ethnic foods, but occasionally a restaurant will take a chance and branch out to include something different. I must say the meals we enjoyed in Russia were spectacular, many we had never had before, or since.
Without wasting any time, we left the restaurant and headed down to the Volkhov River, to catch a small river cruise the Russians had booked for us. We managed to get Diana’s wheelchair down to the dock to wait for our ‘ship’. It was a beautiful summer evening, clear, warm and calm on the river. About an hour later, our boat arrived, the “Yalta”, and Ira and Sasha, who were at the front of the line, rushed aboard to get us seats on the upper deck. The cruise was wonderful, moving slowly up the river, passing beautiful churches and other sights of interest. Along the shore, many families were either in for a swim, a picnic, or even camping on the beach.
After about an hour, we turned and slowly drifted back down to where we started. By the time we got back, the evening was cooling fast, so the long walk back to the hotel was welcome. Some ‘good nights’, and a shower and we both crashed for a good night’s sleep.
The next morning, we all met in the restaurant for breakfast at 9:30. Happy Birthday, Tanya!
We felt so fortunate that during our trip to Russia, we managed to include two Birthday celebrations, one for the daughter, and one for the mother! Both children presented Tanya with gifts and large bouquets of flowers. Diana gave Tanya some pearl earrings she had bought the day before. It was a joyous occasion, but before long, we had to pack up and head out for another chapter in this adventure. This time, we went to an outdoor museum, similar to what we have seen before in other countries, where they bring examples of old buildings, architecture and old building techniques into one location, an open air park to illustrate the craftsmanship of the past.
The museum was called the ‘Vitoslavitsa Village’. Beside the entrance fee, I had to pay an extra 30 roubles for a ‘permission to take photos’ fee. It was an interesting place, especially for someone familiar with wood working and wood carving. Some of the techniques and skills of past generations were amazing. I could have spent a lot longer time in that place, but at least now I can look at my many photos of the place.
A big day, and another coming soon. Each day when we turn in, we wonder what the Russians have planned for us the next day. We’ll just have to wait and see.
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