After our two "exciting" backpacking trips in the Caucasus Mountains (see posts 1 and 2), we knew that it was time to hit the road again. Or tracks, as is often the case in Russia. Train tracks.
Our overnight train from Mineral Waters to Sochi was not the most pleasant - we took the platz kart wagon, which was the cheapest and most crowded. Our bunk beds were next to the door that led to the bathroom and the smoking room. Perfect.
On the plus side, the open atmosphere of the wagon allowed us to befriend a lovely family from Ossetia. This is a "disputed" region near Chechnya, which was south east of where we had been staying in the Caucasus.
People from this area are known to be incredibly hospitable, and this family next to us lived up to that reputation. They insisted that we join them for the evening. They not only shared their dinner and dessert with us, but even gave us extra vegetables from their home garden to take with us for the next day.
The many peoples of the Caucasus have just as many languages. While the languages are similar to each other, they are all quite distinct from Russian. The mother of the family spoke Russian in addition to her native language, and so the conversation flowed through me and her, from English to Ossetian with Russian as the common language in between.
Our train arrived in Sochi at 6am. Usually, we have to fend for ourselves in such situations. Our friend Denis, however, set us up with his friend who now lived in Sochi. Denis' friend picked us up and drove us out of town to a nice homestay that he had arranged through another mutual friend. It was all too easy. And again, this was only possible with the help of our network of friends!
We stayed in Sochi for five days and lived like Russians the entire time. I can always tell how far off the tourist track we are, by the international comparisons we hear. In the Arctic, a store clerk bragged to me that she once met a Canadian. At this Sochi homestay, there was this one time when a French person stayed there. So, we were the second internationals to have ever been there.
The pictures aren't breathtaking, but they do tell a story and give you an idea of how we spent our time on a real Russian vacation.
My next blog will discuss what we learned about the Olympics in 2014, which are to be held near, but not actually in, Sochi.
The entire property was covered with fruit trees. Kristin and I gorged ourselves on the foraging opportunities. Grapes, tomatoes and figs were ripe. It was too early for apples, pears and pomegranates.
Kristin caught red handed with a sour grape.
Like any proper excursion in Russia, we had a giant picnic near the river. There was black bread, cucumbers, tomatoes, boxed wine, beer, a Georgian type of flat bread, and roasted chicken. Kristin and I of course had our meal without meat.
Me and Sasha. We swam through the rapids together.
Mama, Kristin, Ksenya, and Deni (as they called me).
Eating smoked fish later that night. Sasha insisted that we try some. It tasted like super salted fish oil with some bones stuck in between.
The whole group that night. Tons of fresh veggies, fish, black bread, vodka and "live" beer (unpasteurized). Also, lots of guitar playing and singing.
Our new friends insisted on seeing us to the airport. It was a sad moment for all of us. I think it was kind of a big deal because none of them had flown before.