Ever since coming back from France, and before doing our second big trip in central and eastern Europe, Jeonghee and I have been keeping things nice, boring, and cheap. However, that doesn’t mean we’ve done absolutely nothing in the last month or so. Watching movies and drinking beer count as something, right?
One activity we do fairly regularly, whenever the weather accommodates (Fall is rainy season here, but the last few weeks have been pleasant), is take a short hike near our house. We’re near the last stop on Kazan’s short subway line, so we’re somewhat on the city’s outskirts, and close to a small forest criss-crossed by trails, some of which lead to, of all things, a Hyundai driving course. It’s set in a large, pretty field with small rolling hills, and the dirt paths are usually empty, making it a very pleasant place to come out and enjoy the crisp autumn air.
One night in which I got off work a bit early we had a meal of sushi (which is really, really popular, if not terribly authentic here) then took a nighttime walk through the brightly lit, jewel-like Kremlin and along the banks of the Volga River where there’s a small park with lit up colorful fountains framing the dark water and glittering far shore. This is also where the ostentatious but impressive Agriculture Building is located, a cathedral to agriculture built by the well-heeled and former Ag student President of Tartarstan. Its centerpiece is a giant artificial tree backlit with green light which is nearly as impressive as the gleaming white-walled Kremlin to its left.
Most of the time we cook at home, but sometimes I bring back some fast food from the ubiquitous McDonalds, Burger King, or KFC, but recently Subway’s also plopped down in my walk home. Their offerings include your run-of-the-mill Chicken Teriyakis and Italian BMTs, with some interesting off-menu items like salmon cakes, which sounds awful, and… horse. Yep, horse is a traditional Tartar foodstuff, and Subways in Tartarstan carry it. Also… it’s delicious. The texture and flavor resemble beef, but with a unique flair that I can best compare to… corned beef I guess. It’s hard to nail down, but quite good, especially washed down with a serviceable CCCP lager.
We also ended up getting to see some Olympic-level gymnasts perform when Jeonghee saw that a popular Korean gymnast would be competing in Kazan, and a map search revealed the venue to only be a ten minute walk away from our apartment. Kazan is known as the sports capital of Russia, hosting Universiade (Collegiate Olympics, basically) a few years back, and they’ll host some of the next World Cup’s games as well. So, there’s constantly an influx of world-class competitions in town, and we got to see both group and individual gymnastic performances. The athletes were incredibly talented, of course, and Russians dominated, of course, but it was almost more interesting seeing how the live event differs from the televised experience. A large backdrop divided what was basically a massive high school gym, and after each performance the athletes sat on a little dais with the camera trained on them as they awaited their scores, while all sorts of setting up and moving around goes on just offscreen.
We also got a little socialization. One of our great friends recently married and moved to the U.S., so we got to attend a going away party at a dacha (here basically a suburb). The trip in and out was interesting, as outside of the main cities Russia’s infrastructure has a lot more in common with my Peruvian experience than my Korean one. And, just like Peru, individuals are hard at work improving their own beautiful houses, even though dogs run around the barely navigable rock-strewn streets. The party, though, was great fun, full of great food (grilled salmon!), great music (everyone there was very talented musically except yours truly), and great conversation (past 4 in the morning!)
The other big activity we did was a team-building event with my school, which took place at a course about 30 minutes out of town, set in a forest full of beautiful fall foliage. The event was similar to the course I did in eighth grade at Washington Middle School, full of physical and mental challenges, like getting your whole team over a damn 12 foot climbing wall without assistance, or using a rope swing and a single pair of gloves to cross the entire team from one platform to another. The most incredible, though, was a literal leap into the void- each of us who wanted to try it was fitted with a climbing harness and sent climbing up what must have been a 30 foot tall tree at least, where there was small platform jutting out into space, and beyond that, a suspended bar that we were supposed to leap out into space and grab. Of course, with the harness everything was perfectly safe, but that doesn’t stop your legs from shaking when looking down at the ground far below, or after you yell “Ready?” to the belayer below. Once you’ve jumped though, and been slowly lowered to the ground, the feeling is indescribable- adrenaline and excitement coursing through your veins. This is probably somewhat like what bungee jumping feels like… but I’m still going to pass on that.
Video to follow when I get a hold of it.