Sunday, October 21, 2007

On the curious nature of provincial Russian nightlife


It was probably when I noticed that the barmaid was packing a pistol that I finally concluded that no night out in Russia would ever be entirely normal. It was lodged in a holster round the back of her jeans and I'd only noticed it on the purchase of my third beer. What surprised me most is that I wasn't surprised. I asked her if it was real and on being given an affirmative answer asked for a photo. It turned out that both barmaids in the place were armed and dangerous as you can see in the attached photo album.

But I'd already had a few unusual nights out in Russia. Obviously night one in Siberia I managed to get robbed whilst under the influence of a bit too much vodka. Second time in Russia we ended the first night in Samara at the rock bar and witnessed the most casual police raid I think I've ever seen. I almost expected the cops to pile their weapons in the corner and order a couple of beers at the bar. Samara also introduced us properly to the Russian taxi driver. Whether it be the glamourous blonde who simply didn't look like any taxi driver I've ever seen and certainly wasn't dressed in the manner I'd come to expect of cabbies, or the moonlighting rally driver who on seeing us screeched to a halt in his Lada (giving his bald tires a workout I was frankly surpised to see them come through) and then proceeded to take is on a Pole Position style tour of Samara. Every word we said led to the music being turned up louder or the accelerator being pressed harder (or usually both). The guy was a maniac but we liked him, particularly when we'd finished our journey and we were all still alive.

Kazan was an interesting place even without gun toting bar maids and we managed to make it more interesting for ourselves by getting drunk with Russian mafia (or so they claimed), losing a member of our party in an arm wrestling contest and finding the only restaurant serving food at 10pm was a childrens establishment with huge pirate statues and play areas. To it's credit it did serve beer, I guess Russians need to start early to develop the huge capacity for drink I've noticed thoughtout my time here. We had a camera stolen (and eventually returned) by some local "bad boys" and eventually had to thank a mild mannered bar security man (backed up by our well armed bar staff buddies) for removing the remaining bad boys from our presence. There's plenty more to tell but I can't remember it and of course I need space to tell you about the 101 churches I've visited, the majestic River Volga and the entertaining English Pub in Nizhni Novgorod. No wait I think my time's up....

This was originally written on 18 September 2007. It is from my summer trip from Beijing to Birmingham.

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