Back to Basics in Rural Russia
The little village in Rural Russia where we arrived is called Dubrovki. Even on the most detailed Russian maps this place cannot be found. So we take a giant leap back in time, with all the inconveniences in the cold as a consequence.
After we met Pasha our backpacks are loaded upon the horse and we walk across a frozen stream and up the hill to our place to stay for the next few days. It appears to be a little house on a piece of ground surrounded by a wooden fence. Within the fence, horses walk freely and there is a barn, another cabin and a small toilet in the back of the terrain.
Inside the small house (Dacha) we arrive in the kitchen, with no gas or running water. Cooking is done on an electric plate. There is one more room, serving as bedroom, livingroom, and study for Uncle Pasha. It has a fireplace and stove, that is heated in the evening to give warmth at night and in the morning. Here we stall our luggage and we take place in front of the fireplace.
In the room, there are also a kitten and a dog, who want to be petted. But we are warned that the dog is part of the “Misery Tours” concept Uncle Pasha is working on: he pees and takes a shit on the floor and on your lap when he gets the chance. Another part are the bathroom facilities: outside with a bucket of warm water in the snow.
After half an hour we hear that dinner is on the table. It’s a bit early (13.30 PM) but we enjoy the hot meal. Later we understand that this is normal here, in the evening only a small meal suffices. In the kitchen we meet Reija, who cooks, and Andrej and Kila, who will take care of excursions. During dinner, they discuss what kind of excursions they can offer. Since we are not fond of horse-back riding, they decide to install the sledge behind the horse to take us to a church ruin in a nearby village.
Once in the sledge, Andrej lets the horse gallop. In a straight line we have to keep our balance, but then we need to take a sharp turn to follow the narrow path downhill. The horse keeps galloping and the inevitable happens: the sledge turns over. Our guides start laughing until we see that the back of the sledge landed on Sabines leg, which hurts a lot.
When the worst pain is gone, we decide to walk downhill and only take the sledge on the flat stretches. Andrej gallops on his own with the sledge through the snow, which is a beautiful sight. But with us in the sledge he takes it slow, so we arrive at the church safely.
We walk back to the Dacha and enjoy the views. As we reach the river, the sun is setting and we walk to a beautiful viewpoint. To complete the scene Andrej is galloping like a Tarter on his horse through the snow. Breathtakingly beautiful…
On the sledge to StaritsaIn the evening we discuss plans for the next days with Uncle Pasha. He didn’t pick us up in Staritsa since his car would start in the cold. He thinks the battery is dead and wants to buy a new one in Staritsa. Because of our crash with Andrej we fear the sledge a bit, but Pasha assures us. In contrast to Andrej, who needs an adrenaline-rush every once in a while, Pasha is of Jewish descent, and thus takes it slow. And so we agree to join him the next day.
The ride to Staritsa is indeed a quiet one. Every time we have to ascend or descend a hill, Pasha asks us whether we want to step out or not. When we pass a frozen stream we step out as well. We see the poor horse slip and slide with his hoofs on the ice. It’s a miracle he stays on his feet and reaches the other side.
Local PressIn the sledge Pasha prepares us for a visit to Staritsas local press. He wants them to interview us in order to show people how he is stimulating tourism in this region. According to him, we are the first foreigners in this regions since the Germans left in 1945… He instructs us to mention that we are here for the rustic environment and are not interested in casinos. Apparently, others have plans to build those here. We also need to mention our dislikes of people throwing garbage on the street. We memorize his comments and wander what to expect.
In Staritsa Pasha ties the horse and sledge to a fence as we enter the office of the local newspaper. We are welcomed by a female journalist. She takes a small interview, and makes a photo shoot of us in the sledge. Then we are invited back in by the chief editor of the newspaper. Her office looks a little kitsch, it obviously dates back a couple of years. As we get tea and biscuits, she asks and talks a lot, mainly gossip about the old days of collective farms, and what happened to them and their leaders. She makes it clear that the newspaper is not censored anymore, but that they do not print those gossip stories.
After our visit to the newspaper, Pasha drops us off at the convent, the main place of interest in Staritsa. Unfortunately, the museum in the convent is closed and we can only walk around it. In addition to that, we walk into the village, and see a war monument and a nice little church. While we wait for Pasha to pick us up, we enjoy the local youth who is sledging down a hill.
Another accidentAs Pasha arrives, it has become dark. But the route home is mainly flat and Pasha and the horse know their way along the river. When we reach the stream however, Pasha chooses a different place to cross it. Less slippery for the horse, but the ice breaks and we see the horse fall through. As Pasha and Patrick try to lead the horse out of the icy waters, a final attempt of the horse gets his hind legs out of the harness in the water while the rest of his body is still stuck. An awkward position.
We are very startled, and for a while Pasha doesn’t know what to do either. Then he realizes we have to get the horse from this distressed position first. Luckily, Patrick caries a swiss army knife so we can cut the horse free from the harness. Once loose, the horse uses all of his strength to get out of the water. We are all relieved that he doesn’t have any injuries.
But the sledge is still in the water, and we’re not home yet. So the three of us try to pull the sledge from the icy water. At the third attempt, we succeed and pull the sledge behind the horse. While we ease the horse, Pasha tries to connect the damaged harness to horse and sledge and we’re back on our way. We have to re-adjust the harness two times underway, but after an hour we reach the Dascha. Warming us in front of the fire we are relieved we survived another adventure.
Car troubleThe plan is to drive with Pasha to Moscow the next day. Pasha got up early to replace the battery and to try to start the car. When we wake up later that morning he still hasn’t succeeded, so we take a walk along the Volga. Passing the village of Dubrovki, we notice again the quietness. Because of the snow, we can clearly see fresh footprints, and there are none at most houses. Later we learn that most of the houses are only populated in summer by Moscow citizens. For the people that do live here year-round, it makes things even more difficult.
When we get back at the Dacha, we get a phone call: the car has started, by being pulled by a tractor. We are expected with our backpacks at the other side of the stream in half an hour.