27th July – Ride into Saratov
Once I'd managed to drag myself from my state of slumber I was soon out on the road this morning and heading for Saratov. Unlike Kazakhstan Russia has small cafés and restaurants everywhere and therefore it's meant I've been able to dispense with cooking breakfast myself in the mornings. It's so much easier to just pop into one of these for a few eggs and cup of coffee.
As I pulled into the café car park this morning I was a little unsure about whether to eat in this place or not. I could see a man of considerable bulk who appeared to be wearing the same clothes as a surgeon. I didn't know quite what to make of this, it looked well and truly out of place and I had images of some horrific slasher movie in which patrons are tempted in only then to be taken out back and turned into sausages! My imagination, as you can see is really beginning to run away with me. Naturally I had no need to be fearful and my 'surgeon' chef served possibly the best plate of fried eggs I've had on this trip. Not only were they cooked to perfection, sunny side up but also garnished with fresh basil and slices of tomatoes.
I've been in regular SMS contact with my host Anna in Saratov and I texted her this morning with my ETA. Once again I had Google maps to thank for finding her address. This function has been invaluable since I started this trip and in particular when locating specific addresses in a city.
The city of Saratov looms large off the banks of the River Volga and in order to get to it you must cross one of the huge bridges spanning this massive expanse of water. Yesterday I passed through the town of Marks and today it was the turn of Engels. My route to Anna's house saw me avoid riding through the centre of the city and instead I was taken on a road leading to the outskirts. Saratov or as I've come to call it over the past few days 'CapatoB' (Kappa Tob) such would be the English pronunciation of it, is a city with plenty of hills as I soon came to realize. We're talking short steep climbs followed by equally short rapid descents, almost roller coaster-esque.
Anna was at work when I finally arrived at her apartment but she had told her mother who also lives at the apartment from time to time to be prepared for my arrival. Her mother, obviously spoke no English but nevertheless welcomed me like a long lost son returning home. Bike and I were both ushered into the apartment as Evdokiya spoke rapid fire Russian to me. I did my usual nodding and 'dah, dah' while understanding precisely zero of what was being said to me.
First on the agenda was a warm shower and then Evdokiya prepared a delicious lunch for me. I felt a little bad as it seemed I'd pulled her away from the Russian soap opera that was playing on the TV. While eating my lunch I tried to ask her whether she liked soap operas by using a quite comical combination of hand and body gestures. With this being the first impression she had of me I've no idea what she must have thought. Not to be deterred I tried to explain to her that soap operas such as the one she was watching are also really popular in England.
I was exhausted after lunch, not due to the ride you understand but due to my foiled attempts to explain Eastenders and Coronation street to 60 year old Russian lady. She invited me to take a rest on the couch in the living room and I duly accepted.
Anna returned home around three with her sister Elena who is also on a ten day holiday in Saratov. Refreshed from my sleep it was back into the kitchen where Evdokiya was preparing stacks and I mean stacks of pancakes for afternoon tea. Fresh cream, honey and butter were loaded into small dishes around the table as my mouth watered, how I wondered would I be able to contain myself and not appear too eager to simply devour all of the food that was being placed in front of me in a matter of minutes. It was simple I had arrived in culinary paradise.
What better way than to start the weekend than to all pile into Anna's car and head for a swim in the river. I said goodbye to her mother who was returning to her village for a few days. Earlier while stuffing my face with pancakes I'd recounted the story of losing my spoon on the trip and how on a couple of occasions I'd eaten yogurt using my fingers. Obviously shocked by such a story …... Evdokiya presented me with a beautiful wooden spoon and bowl set before she left.
I love the fact that people in both Kazakhstan and Russia have such a close relationship with the nature around them and a dip in the river after work seems very common. Saratov as I was to find out actually has a whole host of 'beaches' along the banks of the river in which local residents flock to in the boiling hot summer months.
Anna and Elena took me to a an Italian restaurant down by the river for dinner and we then spent a lovely evening walking around the city centre. Historically Saratov has close links with Germany and previously served as the the capital of the Volga German Republic, I'll resist the temptation to simply copy Wikipedia and pass off the knowledge as my own but do check out the interesting history of the city for yourself on Wikipedia.
Elena and Anna
Once again I've rocked up to a place with no expectations of what or who to expect and once again I've been welcomed with open arms, nothing surprises me anymore on this trip.
Due to the fact that I was up at 6:00 in the morning I politely declined Anna and Elena’s invitation to go dancing at midnight and she was more than happy for me to stay in her apartment and watch the opening ceremony of the Olympics on TV. Anyone who knows me will know that I'm completely useless at staying awake when I have to. I would probably make the worse lookout guard in history. This was also the case tonight as I struggled against my fatigue. I valiantly made it through all of the opening ceremony and even managed to make it past the letter S as the countries paraded around the track. I was determined to see the GB team come out and also obviously see who would light the Olympic flame. I then however made the fatal mistake of closing my eyes and thinking to myself 'I'll just listen to it and wake up when they announce Great Britain' and that was that, I was out like a light!