This weekend was awesome. I am sleep-deprived, malnourished, and have no clean laundry, but am so content. Here’s the play-by-play:
We left Friday night at 5:08 PM. We were running late (as usual) because we were at the world sand volleyball championships at Парк Победы. It was pretty cool, we sat right in front of Misty Mays when we watched the American Men’s pair roll up the Germans. It was pretty cool, even if it was freezing and raining. I pulled the tarp out of my backpack and sat on it so I didn’t have to deal with a wet butt. Anyway, we went to lunch and a produkty after that to get stuff for dinner on the train.
We were running to get on the train, it was basically pulling out of the station when we got on the car (or course ours was the very last car on the train). We had dinner, told a lot of stories (well, I mostly listened to stories, the mission nostalgia type), and had a good time. We got ready for bed, made our beds, etc, and then started transformers. We got about half way through when we decided it was time for bed. The next morning we woke up, got into normal clothes after taking a “towel shower” (with water from the train’s holding tank… eeeew) and got off the train in Samara.
The city I had heard so much about was different than what I expected. I have heard since I got to Moscow that Moscow is not really Russia. I didn’t really think too much of it until I got to Samara. The city has a single metro line, but plenty of tramvajs and busses. We met a member at the train station, Jenny went off to Togliatti, and we went over to the member’s house. The whole family are members and good friends of Chris’ so they had a good catch up. We went down to Stalin’s bunker, which was pretty sweet. We took pictures at his desk and Cam even got one on his toilet. Awesome. Afterwards we went down to the Volga, Chris put his feet in the water after all these years, and we гулять-ed for a while, then went back to the Blinkov’s. They had lunch for us, which was great. We took naps/chatted/checked email until about 8, when we went down to MacDac to meet Jenny and Kostya, our ride.
Let me just talk about our ride for a second. Lada was one of the main car manufacturers during the Soviet era and I think may have been the only car available for a long time. There are still a lot of them. Not quite as crappy as Yugos, but up there. Anyway, we had a 2-door. It was AWEFUL. Chris, Cam and I were in the back seat. Chris and I went to Balikovo (4.5 hours away) Cam to Marks (5.5 hours away) and Jenny to Saratov (7 hours away). It was a long night. It was pretty fun, we had some good conversation, even if Kostya did get lost… twice. We finally made it to Balikovo around 2 AM. It was pretty crappy. We got to the hotel, which lost our reservations, and we got one of the only rooms available (which didn’t have the AC we ordered). The hotel was pretty nice, nevertheless. After a long night, we finally fell asleep in Balikovo.
The next day we went to church. Everyone was happy to see Chris, and was really nice to me. I was really impressed with the spirit in the branch there. The building itself was right on the Volga, out in the middle of nowhere, basically. It was pretty nice, though. It was hotter than Hades, but it was nice to see the church is the same no matter where you go. After lots of pictures and reminiscing, We went back to the hotel, ordered a taxi to Saratov through Marks, and set off.
We went through Marks to pick up Cam. Marks consists of about 3 major streets (pretty well paved ones, since they have only in the last 2 years been paved) and a lot of old people. Cam had a blast at church from the sounds of it. That’s all there is to say about Marks. Oh, and the amazing bread Cam bought for us. Delicious. Another side note: our driver took a shower out of a 5 liter bottle while we were waiting for Cam. It was pretty funny. We got to Saratov a little late for the Bennet’s farewell fireside. Apparently in Russia, people give the gifts of their talents (especially when they don’t have money for actual gifts). There were a few really good ones (a hilarious guy and a funny guitar song, a saucy 16 year old playing the accordion) and some really, REALLY bad ones (an old lady singing 25 verses of some old folk song and a really nervous lady singing a Russian tone-deaf version of “Be Still, My Soul”). After the fireside, there were lots and lots of refreshments, lots of conversations, lots of “Where did you serve?” and the like. I finally got to meet the famous Bennets. President Bennet is not the angry yelling super intense guy everyone has made him out to be, but I understand that I’m not a missionary and that 3 years can change a mission president a lot. After the fireside, we went with Mike, an English teacher and one of Chris’ good friends from Мясокоминат (meat factory… or Приволшкий), a suburb of Saratov, to his house for dinner and to spend the night. The bad thing was, his food was awful, his apartment was outrageously hot and stuffy, and there were 1000 mosquitoes. Oh yeah, not to mention the fact that there were 3 cats, and Cam is allergic to them. The missionaries came over for a little while, then they went home and Mike and his wife went over to his parents’ house to spend the night, so we could have the apartment to ourselves. We also happened to be there during the hot water outage, so the only thing we got were FREEZING cold showers. We went to bed around 11 PM. We all rolled around until 2 AM, Cam wheezing, me sweating, and Chris swatting mosquitoes when Chris decided we should get out of the house and get some air (mostly for Cam’s sake). We got dressed (gym shorts and flip flops… very Russian) and wandered the streets of the small town. We saw some characters. Lots of drunks, lots of ребята, and a diskoteka in what appeared to me to be the town hall, but what do I know. We miraculously found a 24-hour produkti and grabbed a huge bottle of water (Mike had none, just sugary cheap sok), some siroki, and a 2 liter of some generic crappy orange soda. We found a bus stop and sat down at the benches. We had become ребята. We sat there drinking and eating our siroki until 4:15 or so, when we went back to Mikes to get ready for the day. The Bennets were driving us back up to Samara and they were leaving at 5 AM. We took freezing cold showers, changed into clean clothes, and got the H out of that apartment. Pardon my French, but I have never had a night where I literally could not sleep from being so uncomfortable. The night in the Florida KOA with Uncle Vince is a close second… but this place took the cake.
The drive was quick (Roman, the mission driver, is amazing) and enjoyable. While waiting for the Bennets at the side of the road, we met a drunk old man who punched me (playfully, of course, with a chuckle). Cam, Jenny and I were in the back, Chris up with Sister Bennet in the 2nd row, Pres up front, and Roman behind the wheel. We got back to Samara by 10 AM (2 hours faster than Kostya did it, PS) and went to the mission home. We were able to take showers in the general authority apartment (aka Elder Storer’s apartment) and a short nap. The Bennets made us PB&J’s and chips and salsa. They’ve stopped buying food, since they’re going home in less than a month. It was delicious, to say the least. Anyway I digress. After that, we had a last lap around Samara and took a bus to Ulyanovsk. We spent 5 hours in the bus, 2 hours in Ulyanovsk, and another 3 hours in a taxi up to Kazanj. We got to the Riviera Kazan, a super swanky hotel (we decided to treat ourselves at the end of the trip since this was the only “vacation” time we had) and got one of the best nights sleep ever. We woke up, had a delicious breakfast, got massages in the spa, and then went into the city to do the tourist thing. We went back to the hotel, and Chris, Cam and I went to the water park connected to the hotel. That was probably 50% of our motivation for going there, by the way. It was so much fun. It was mostly indoor, with a few outdoor areas. It was a blast, maybe ¼ the size of sunsplash, but we made it fun. After that, we took a taxi to the airport and flew back into Moscow. The flight landed at 11:15 PM, we caught the midnight train into the city, got there at 12:45, got on the metro as it was closing, and went home. I finally got home around 1:40AM. I crashed and was late the next day to school. All in all it was a great trip. I had so much fun and learned a lot. I got to see the “real” Russia. Samara mission tour: check.