Amber and I set out on this adventure with the hope of blending in everywhere we went and looking as little like a typical tourist as possible. It proved impossible in China for some reason. But that was ok as we learned. As we approached a Chinese vendor or store check out, they could tell from their first look at us that we had no idea what was going on and their expectations of us were, thus, very comfortably low. In Russia however, we genuinely do seem to blend in. So when we step up to the grocery store check out, set down our collection of the most Russian looking items we could find to sample, and deliver our well rehearsed, and flawless sounding, “zdrastvuyte,” their expectations of us are naturally high and the clerk fires back in break-neck speed whatever question she has already asked a thousand times that day of every other customer. What she gets in return, however, is a look I can only guess must resemble a dumbfounded Minion as we try to figure out was that; “bag or no bag,” “card or cash,” “did you find everything you needed,” “will you be using your membership points today?” We have no idea! We have learned to speak loudly in English while waiting in line in an attempt to lower expectations.We have discovered that speaking English out loud has other benefits as well. The young people here have been taking English in school since they were eight years old. When they hear us they often say hello and want to know where we are from. That is how we met these wonderful young people who took the time to walk with us and show us the way to the cafe we were looking for. We got to ask them questions while we walked and they asked us why we were visiting Khabarovsk instead of Moscow or St. Petersburg. We said we wanted to experience Eastern Russia and that their city is very beautiful. Perhaps it is a common thing, world-wide, to not always notice the beauty of the place in which you happen to grow up. Here are a few of the pictures we took of this beautiful Eastern Russian city.I have learned to read enough Russian to know that is a postal delivery van above and that at 57 K. Marks Street there is a store selling shoes 50 percent off!We kept seeing these little green and yellow stands, labeled “kvass”, on the streets and people of all ages lined up to buy glasses of what looked like dark beer with a little frothy head. We also saw it for sale in plastic bottles in stores. Cultures around the world have incorporated the art of fermenting into their food preparation techniques for its health and preservation benefits – from Korean kimchi to San Francisco sourdough bread to Swiss cheese, to German sauerkraut – allowing yeast to affect food’s make up is a world-wide practice. An example lesser known in the west, but extremely popular here, is called kvass. (It is so popular, in fact, that they sell it on almost every other street corner all summer long!) Kvass is made from fermented stale dark, sourdough rye bread. Sometimes it is flavored with herbs, raisins, fruit or mint. We have tried and compared a number of the variations and find we really like all of them. The flavors range from that of fermented prune juice to a kind of liquid bread. (Amber has already looked up several recipes so she can make us some in the future!)
Our last post I mentioned how hard we were working to learn how to sit in a cafe and enjoy the local delicacies and coffee. A place we visited several times was the cafe La Vita, conveniently located near the train station. Beside their coffee we sampled chocolate cake and tiramisu while watching the trolleys pull through the park to their terminus. This job can be so taxing at times.Military, (especially WW2) memorials of varying sizes and degrees of elaborateness are woven throughout most Russian cities. We come across them everywhere, as the center piece of a dedicated attraction or as an aside feature. For example, the globe this young Russian is examining is just part of a much larger, intricate, display that lists the names of local soldiers killed in WW2. The T-34, however, is just in an unkempt park between two side streets. Khabarovsk is on the river Amur and has an extensive waterfront area. There was always something going on there with ferry traffic, river cruises, carnival rides, food vendors and waterside music, events, or weddings. We were there the last week before school started and it appeared everyone was trying to get in their last bit of summer fun. In one Saturday afternoon we were privy to an outdoor wedding, a free orchestra performance and a series of local talents performing traditional music.
We were able to spend six wonderful days in Khabarovsk – just as it seemed to be celebrating the last of its vacation season. I cannot imagine a nicer time to visit as we were able to enjoy both the sunny days of summer and feel the first cooling breezes of fall. Our last evening, we joined a few dozen others on the terrace of the Utes to watch the sun set on the last weekend of summer.