What do you get when you mix Rap, Four Leaf Clovers, Fulbrighters, and Camels?

Answer: Rikki’s past week in Russia.

There is just so much to discuss and I need to go about it in an orderly and chronological fashion.

Last Friday I attended the concert of the popular rap group Kasta.  In all honesty I love this group and listen to their music quite often, but I hesitantly went to the concert thinking it would be really wild and crazy, or something.

It rocked.. I mean seriously it was really good. The place was full, though it’s a small venue and typically a night club. These guys are talented. Not only do they write (okay perhaps they don’t write their music, I’m not sure, but whatever), but they can roll those Russian words. And they had a really good show: playing with the crowd, conversing amongst themselves, telling jokes, and at one point making everyone crouch down and then jump when they counted to three.  They all have nicknames, or “show” names, and many of the attendees knew them.  I’d overall everyone seemed to enjoy the show and rocked out; except that typical girl next to me who looked as bored as ever and just sort of stood there and starred.  Hey, perhaps she was having a good time.

In case you’re interested to hear what Russian rap sounds like:

 

Last Saturday we headed to the local pub: “Bier Haus”, where they were having a slightly tardy St. Patrick’s Day party.  They had Irish dancing, live music with a killer violinist, and some trivia. It was a typical Russian event celebrating some foreign culture. We had a good time eating, having a few beers, and hanging out. The band was also really good and I impressed with the singer’s English. Afterwards I met him (Ilya) and found out he had spent three consecutive summers in South Dakota on work/travel and had an American girlfriend; killer American accent. Russians: this is how you learn English

   

  

On Sunday morning I left for Rostov to meet some Fulbrighters on a Community College exchange.  I was supposed to escort one of them back to Astrakhan and help him out in town.  I happily went, as I had never been to Rostov before.  I spent two days sort of wandering around, took an exam, hung out with Oksana, and ate some really good food.  Oh Fulbright.  The city was nice, from what I saw.  A great embankment, an enchanted pedestrian street filled with little cafes and shops.  Oksana grew up here, but was back now only for the first time in five years.  She said a lot had changed and it was weird for her to have returned to her hometown after so long.  The city is a lot bigger than Astrakhan, over double the size; yet, the difference was both visible and unnoticeable.  What I did notice was the increase in shops and variety.  They had a lot of chain restaurants, which are almost non-existant in Russia and so many different types of shops and cafes.  Yet the feel of the city was similar, and I viewed Rostov as almost a more developed, hillier Astrakhan.  I would have liked to spend a few more days there, as I feel there’s  a lot I missed.

 

  

More pictures can be found here, courtesy of the wondrous Oksana!

Last but not least I traveled on Saturday to this amazing little plot of land they call Saray Batu.  It’s located two hours to the north of Astrakhan and in the middle of the steppe.  On the way there we had traditional Easter cakes, or Kuhlich.  It’s like this mini pastry, really dry with rasins inside it and covered with frosting and sprinkles.  Not my type of cake.

Evgenia cutting the Kuhlich

We then stopped by a Muslim cemetery. I’m not sure what it is about them, but after my first visit to St. Petersburg in 2007 and my first visit to some of the most gorgeous cemeteries, I fell in love with them.  Really they are just the coolest places, especially foreign ones.  The ones in Russia have great tombstones with clear, colorful pictures, or interesting handmade grave markers.  In St. Petersburg I broke off from our tour group and just wandered amongst them, checking out all of the artwork and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.  Although at bit ironic, these really are the most calm of places.  I had never been to a Muslim cemetery before, so I was very excited when we “ran into” this one.

      

  

Essentially, Saray Batu is a recreated Mongol village as it would have been in the 13th century.  Now they use the location to film movies. It really was just placed in the middle of no where.  We were driving though this road that goes through the steppe, then our driver just turned off into what looked like a big, dead field and suddenly this structure emerged into view. First we toured the tents, one which is filled with all the goodies of the 13th century: pots, blankets, rugs, etc.

   

Then we toured the village, which was really neat and so real-like I quickly understood why they chose to film there.  I didn’t quite understand what the village was made of of, but it looked at though it was straw then covered with clay.  It was really dusty there, so clay would have been reasonable.  The other American and I noted how it reminded us of a Pueblo in the South West, as the architecture seemed similar.  Granted, I have never been there so perhaps I am way wrong, but that’s the impression I got.   A nice gentleman gave us a mini-tour, showing us the water mill and the slave trade locations.  There was a couple in traditional 13th century gear, but they really didn’t look like Mongols so we didn’t stick around to take pictures with them.

    

    

  

When we first arrived at Saray Batu I noticed them immediately… CAMELS. I was psyched.  I still remember when I first researched Astrakhan and I read something about camels being nearby.. I had found them!  After touring the village we made our way to the camels and I rode around on for a bit, as did Virginia.  The camel’s grazing area overlooked a beautiful river that was calling for me to swim in it.

       

Riding the camel was a weird experience.  Her name was Masha and she was definitely not comfortable.  She was really nice though, or I suppose well trained; she shed worse than a dog.   After checking this off the bucketlist, we had a great lunch of home-made plov and shashlik and headed back to town quite satisfied and relaxed…

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