This is 'Mother Russia. Apparently it was done on the Russian NHS too...
21st June 2008
Current Mood: Facsinated
Category: Travel and Places
'Stoi!' That means 'Stop!' in Russian.
The ladies taught me that one...
Rocky Balboa takes wrong turn during training...
For the last few weeks I was announcing, very proudly I might add, to everybody that 'I'm going to Russia!' Then, after they'd left the room I'd carry on talking and explain it wasn't the main Russia, but the Kaliningrad region of Russia.
And to Kaliningrad - where exactly the fuck is this place both you and I wonder. I didn't even know the place existed until I spotted it on a map a few days after I booked my flights to Lithuania. Like the time I discovered New York was so close to my trip to Toronto, except we've all heard of New York.
She was a little cold on me at first. As much later now that I think about it...
It's Russia, but it's not part of the big Russia that occupies about two thirds of the world. Instead, this is a piece of Russia that has broken away from its bigger brother, covers an area slightly larger than my front driveway and now sits in Europe between Poland and Lithuania. It's not quite Russia, Europe it certainly ain't, which puts me at loss to what quite it is…
Hostelworld.com had exceeded all expectations...
So after surprising some of my friends by managing to get my hands on a visa I was finally crossing the border from Lithuania and into Russia.
The Passport Control Officers had these stupid big green hats on, something I never said to their faces of course, but honestly they could have placed them on the floor and played snooker on them during their lunch break. Instead though they let me pass without any sort of interrogation and soon I was back on the bus and finally in Russia. Five minutes later the bus is passing a dead horse lying by the side of the road with only a few fat flies to accompany it. Definitely Russia then.
On the 5th attempt Del finally collected a ride - the first 4 offers were from men pulling over and wanting to buy a bum.
I was on my way to meet Oksa, a Kaliningrad local who's an absolutely cool and brilliant person to go with it.
She took me on a tour of her local neighbourhood and no sooner had we left her apartment were we watching a fist fight in the street between one guy who appeared drunk and another who didn't seem quite as pissed. Needless to say who won that fight then. I was also advised that I should maybe keep my voice down a little, or even better not say anything at all when passing groups of lads. I was wondering just what it is I had let myself in for…
Apparently it says 'Brighton'
But it's far from bad in Kaliningrad, actually it's pretty bloody cool - the beer is cheaper than water for a start, so the place definitely has my vote. And you could say the mentality of the people is a little bit unusual. Take the public garden keeper I saw for example - he was watering the grass by dragging a water hose from the back of his truck which he was driving around in circles. I mean come on, how fucking lazy is that?
Oksa's cat fucking hates men and viewing me under constant suspicion using those animal sixth senses they have, but after two days of this I finally thought I was winning the thing over.
Apparently not. On the third day the little fur ball stalked and cornered me in the kitchen when I was all alone and defenceless and starts hissing and drooling at the mouth like it's watched too many 'Alien' movies. Cats aren't meant to drool. They're proud creatures, they're not supposed to drool. I've never known a cat to drool.
Del's sundance was producing some top weather results...
In a country where no one speaks English, like some parts of London nowadays, being English is a novelty, also found in some parts of London. One of the quotes of the trip came from Oksa and her friends when they said 'You have well spoken English'. I mean what do you say to that? 'Um, thanks. You speak very good Russian - for a Russian person like'
One day leaving Oksa to finish her studies I found myself travelling on a packed bus and doing my best not to stand out too much but rather blend in with the locals, something I must have done a piss poor job or cos it wasn't long before I felt a sturdy tapping on my shoulder.
Not really knowing what to expect, I've shifted my body around and was faced by two trashy looking types whom one had a massive knife scar running across his face. Of course, I should have expected it really. But one thing I said to myself before going away was not to judge anybody on appearance, and judging someone with knife wounds would be somewhat hypocritical of me now wouldn't it? So we proceeded to have a good long old chinwag without any of us really understanding what the other was saying. Whilst I was armed with and trying to make use of a little Russian translation book I had borrowed from a library, my new friends were probably armed with knives, bottles and fuck knows what else hidden in their jacket. We're having our chinwag anyroad, to which I can see the rest of the passengers in the bus taking a subtle interest in, when I'm asked where it is I'm going. 'To meet my 6ft tall boyfriend, he's a karate black belt you know' didn't have the desired effect that it usually does back in England and I had to make do with some broken Russian and even worse puppet shadow sign language with my hands to finally get the message across that I was to meet a friend. As it happened these guys were asking me to come out to celebrate my arrival by going to drink vodka with them. And if it wasn't for my digi camera sitting uncomfortably against my left butt cheek I would have joined them for a few shots. As it was they left the bus to go drink vodka on their own as I shouted after them in broken Russian something to the effect of 'See you guys', which made most of the people on the bus start laughing…
Del discovers there's more to beach life than laying around collecting skin cancer cells...
Incidentally I told Aiste this story when I returned to Lithuania.
She said it was probably a good idea that I declined. She then goes and tells me a story of a Spanish guy who was couchsurfing at her place. He disappears for a couple of days, Aiste becomes all worried and is visiting the police station and local hospitals only for him to turn up a few days later all well, if a little shaken. Turns out he accepted an offer to have drinks with some Russians he met... and they promptly kidnapped him and held him hostage for a few days whilst they took his passport and any other valuables he had. Of course, this would have been terrible if it happened to me, but fuck me would it have made a good blog - provided I lived through it and wasn't chopped up and sold as horse meat at the local market of course.
Walking through the centre of Kaliningrad I soon noticed everybody is staring at me and not just out of the corner of their eye either, this was full on staring like a football fan watching his team taking penalties in a shootout.
I swear, one old timer even stopped walking to wherever it was he was walking to and stood where he was gawping at me with his mouth wide open. I could see from the bits of food between his teeth what he ate for breakfast and everything. This must be how a good looking chick feels like when she's walking down the street - fucking great! And I didn't even have to slip on my fishnet tights I brought with me to be getting all this attention. In a book shop I figured I'd have another bash at the Russian lingo by asking the shop assistant for directions to the post office. 60 seconds later I had pretty much the entire workforce of the shop surrounding me trying to help me out. Trouble was they had the same idea as me and thought it would be a great opportunity to practice their English. Fuckers. Anyroad they were really helpful at attempting to show me where this post office was, going to the length of drawing me a map to go along with the one Oksa had scribbled out for me earlier, until one of the staff offers to take me to the place. Determined and no longer outnumbered, I used my Russian to learn that my new friend and tour guide was called Nikolai, he was from Rostock - although I've probably heard that completely incorrectly, has always lived in Kaliningrad and is 40 years old.
Sure my motobike is imaginary, but I'm still bloody ahead of him aren't I??
Not bad going I thought until I started attempting to explain to him whilst on the way to the post office that I had to go to a shop and buy some postcards first. And it was only when I was inside the post office and half way down the queue that I finally managed to drill into his skull that I was queuing for no reason whatsoever. Later when I returned to buy some stamps I ended up spending over an hour in the post office. Now I don't care where you're from, whether it's Russia or that recently discovered Amazon jungle tribe who attacked a plane with their stupid spears cos they'd never seen a flying craft before, if I'm waving a postcard in front of your face and saying 'Europe, Australia', it's pretty clear I'm after some fucking stamps. And that wasn't enough they then went and ripped my off by keeping my change of 2 roubles ��" about 1p.
Behind us is Lithuania. In front of us is a person holding a camera, but you probably knew that already didn't you?
On my last day before going out Oksa asks me if I have a jacket to bring with me. I'm standing there in front of her, sunburnt from the previous two days, my face is smeared with a thick layer of sun cream to protect me from round three with the solar planet and Oksa's asking me if I have a jacket as I might get cold?? We were catching a bus to the edge of Kaliningrad before walking a bit further out to find a suitable spot for hitchhiking and not getting run over by a tractor when, by golly - we've only stumbled upon a motocross haven't we! Turns out this particular race happens only twice a year and we happen to land right in the middle of one.
There were scrambler bikes zooming around a hilly course, performing big jumps and generally kicking up a lot of dust. Watching the bikes made me wish I'd taken The Canary with me, that's the name of my motorbike for those of you who don't already know, although I would have only probably crashed the thing on the first bend. Still would have been cool though. It was here we met the Russians Andre, Vitalik and Alexandre, who kindly agreed to drive us to the a UNESCO World Heritage Site called 'The Curonian Spit', a curved sand dune that's 98km long and about as wide as Kate Moss's waist line. Driving back from the place the driver, Alexandre I think it was, pretty much performs a handbrake turn and we go bumping into a field that really couldn't have done the axles of the car any favours. Considering we were in the middle of nowhere, it did pass through my mind, 'I'm going to die now' but it turns out all was safe and they just wanted perform a tradition to welcome me to their country - by drinking vodka and eating pickled gherkin off the boot of their car. I almost threw up, not cos of the vodka, I love that, but I fucking hate pickled cucumbers, gherkin, onions, donkey bollock etc. Anything pickled some to think of it. But each country has its traditions, whether it's eating picked gherkins or stoning to death some fellas cheating wife, one must join in these traditions. And if eating the pickle wasn't bad enough, they only go and pour a shot of vinegar into the cup for me to shoot. This was the point where I thought, 'is this tradition or are they trying to make me chuck?' Anyroad, I've literally snatched the next shot of vodka from then to take this foul taste away, when they've gone and passed me another fucking pickle.
It was touch and go there for a little while as the half chewed pickled hovered midway down my throat whether I was going to ruin their tradition by spewing over all three of them.
The boys annual fishing trip produced a terriffic catch