Maurice's brush with the law and their daylight 'robbery'
Girls, let me tell you the latest fashion news from Russia. Its legs, legs and more legs. Yes, if you are young and beautiful, tall and slender, you can show off as much of your legs as you like, and all your other assets. Your shorts or skirt can finish at the top of your legs and all you need add to the legs is a pair of high heel shoes, I mean really high, like 5 inches high. As an alternative, you can sport very, very tight jeans, with the heels, of course. You can then parade up and down the fine new promenade along the Volga River in Astrakhan with your friends and be admired by all the young men. Unfortunately many of them find it necessary to carry as a badge of manhood a bottle of vodka. If you are the active type, you can swap the heels for roller blades and swoosh along at great speed between the children on bikes, the horses and ponies giving rides and the middle aged strollers like us.
Restaurants line the promenade, some in boats on the river edge, like the one we dined in one night. Fishermen, women too, lean over the railing with their fishing lines and successfully haul in catches, some up to 400mm in length. Fountains play, adding to the ambience, and parents hire little electric cars for their children’s entertainment.
Walk back a few streets from the river and you come to a very different city – unpainted wooden buildings, broken window panes, potholed roads, unhinged doors, crumbling brick work, uneven footpaths or none at all, empty vodka bottles piled in corners. The old city of Astrakhan is a crumbling derelict assortment of buildings surrounding several mosques and churches that congregate together. We had decided to walk to see some, but as the streets deteriorated, we thought better of it and retraced our steps.
The Kremlin is lovely though. It was Sunday morning when we visited, and worshippers were gathered in several churches with wonderful steeples and domes inside the Kremlin. A lady took me in tow and had me doing the sign of the cross and nodding to one of the icons, all well meant though she couldn’t speak English nor I Russian. In the wall of the Kremlin an unadorned room opened to show a gathering of people singing beautifully as they worshipped. The priest then threw water over the crowd as a form of blessing.
Astrakhan is on the Silk Road, though the days of the Silk Road were largely over by the time Astrakhan was founded in the time of Tsar Ivan the Terrible in 1558. Two earlier cities in a similar location, Sarai and Itil, were the ones which flourished with the through traffic of the trading caravans.
Before reaching Astrakhan we had crossed the Kazakhstan-Russia border. Another trying border crossing, taking about 4 hours, mostly in Kazakhstan. As we sat in our cars waiting to go in the gate, we watched in horror as a huge truck munched the front left corner of a small Lada ahead of us in his effort to get passed. Shouting followed and then the problem seemed to solved by the handing over of some money. Inside the gate our men were kept with the cars, while Anne and I went through passport control. It seemed there were problems with both our passports and so we waited. Then the officials all decided it was lunch time and off they went, leaving everyone to wait some more. They returned and we waited a bit more. Then Martin turned up to the rescue. They were ready to go and why were we being detained? So our passports were stamped and we were allowed to go. The Russian pass port control took very little time after that.
On the way from Astrakhan to Volgograd we had two ‘incidents’ which make for good blog-story material, but probably weren’t so good at the time. In the country side Maurice got pulled over by a police on trumped up charges – he accused Maurice of passing 3 other cars in front of him, the communication done by drawing on a piece of paper. It was a blatant lie. He wanted $300US ‘payment’, I think. When Maurice said he didn’t have it, he suggested he drive to the next town and get the money with his credit card. The cop obviously knew about tourists. By this stage he had Maurice’s driving licence in his pocket. Maurice said his credit card wouldn’t work there and he would have to go to Volgograd. In the end he took 1000 roubles, handed over with Maurice back in the car and done below the dashboard so the hand over couldn’t be seen. No doubt Maurice will tell the story with much more relish in his blog. See www.wheelspin.travellerspoint.com
Sometime after this, we were nearly collected by a small yellow Lada that came tearing out onto the main road from a right side road, straight towards us at top speed. Martin swerved into the middle of the wide empty road, wheels spinning and hearts beating. The guy realised his predicament and swerved away at the last moment. We breathed a sigh of relief!
I haven’t mentioned Bilbo’s problems – next blog, but all is well now.