Dr Scotch and the Blinis

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Having finished with my nightmarish morning, I sit down at a café and have a drink while I send messages to my missing Australian friends to find out where they are. It turns out that while I was experiencing some first class travelling blues stories, they were sound asleep and only just woke up. I’ll see them in another hour. I spend the time wandering aimlessly through the city again, becoming familiar with its landmarks. I find a ‘Dr Scotch’, Scottish theme pub called “Gordon’s” and giggle as I tell Don about it, since he is half Scottish and shares that surname. I’m impressed that some distant part of his family seems to have made a business here.

Gordon's Pub at your service...

Gordon's Pub at your service...

I then find an Irish pub and wander inside to get a photograph of myself in an Irish pub in the middle of Russia. Irish pubs are everywhere nowadays and an Irish friend in Perth had told me about one in Siberia somewhere and that I have to get a picture in it. This is not that pub, but I quickly come to the conclusion that the beer is far too expensive, not terribly good and this has to exist for tourists and very rich locals. Actually, looking around the pub I notice the other people in it for an early lunch are middle aged men, each entertaining a young woman. Feeling suddenly out of place, I get back onto the street and locate the internet café in the central post office.

..and that's what the Old Dublin Irish pub looks like....

..and that's what the Old Dublin Irish pub looks like....

I’m overjoyed to learn I now have a couchsurfing host in Novosibirsk and she can also host my two friends. This had been the most difficult city to find a host in so far, since there are a huge amount of people travelling there for the Total Solar eclipse. Her name is Yulia as well and she warns me about the pink couch I will have to sleep on and also tells me that she’s just bought a little sausage dog that we’ll be living with. I shall call her the Yulia Vortex, as opposed to Uralski Yulia.

Don and Lari wander in and we decide to go for a stroll around the city to find some lunch sooner rather than later. We consult our guides and discover there is an Uzbek restaurant close by and we head for it. It features waitresses dressed in what we assume to be some kind of national costume designed to reveal their ample cleavage and fantastic legs. Don discovers there is horse meat on the menu and immediately we acquire the horse sausage entrée. We also grab the lakman noodle soup, a spicy chicken noodle number, and the Uzbek style bread they recommend. The bread is an event by itself, arriving looking like an empty pie base, but with some kind of cheese inside the crust. The combination is delicious. So that’s where pizza places got the idea. Having tried the horse sausage I can enjoy the experience, but it’s just too dry, fatty and bitter to work for my taste. I’m sure if you’re riding a horse around the tundra of central Asia, this stuff is probably exactly what you need; but in a city, it seems excessive. The mains are more grilled meat, which is always delicious, with the mandatory tomato and cucumber additions. All up, we decide Uzbek food is great stuff, but still second player to the Georgian cuisine.

We spend the afternoon wandering around more of the city, through parks and past monuments; absorbing the feeling of Yekaterinburg. All of us agree we prefer the relaxed feel of this to Moscow or St Petersburg. We decide to head into the Scottish theme pub so Don can evaluate its authenticity. In the windows of the pub are small mannequins of men in Scottish dress; the Scottish midget pub is born. The spectacle of the young man at the bar wearing a kilt, but speaking Russian is probably worth the visit by itself. The young guy speaks a little English and we acquire some beers to ward off the heat of the afternoon. We’re sitting in a booth next to the window with one of the midget dolls right next to us. We establish the answer to the age old question: What does a Scottish midget in Russia wear underneath their kilt? We now have the definitive answer, but it’s far too shocking to reveal here. Elven Nastya sends us a message inviting us all to her mother’s place in a couple of hours – where we will learn how to make Russian pancakes, ‘blini’. We leave the pub after a few beers to catch a tram heading out to her mother’s apartment.

Lari comes to terms with what a Scottish midget wears under their kilt...

Lari comes to terms with what a Scottish midget wears under their kilt...

It is lovely, with two bedrooms and loungeroom and a separate kitchen.
“This is Boysa…my mother’s dog. His name means ‘Be afraid of’”, Elven Nastya introduces us, “and this is my mother’s hamster. His name is shashlik.”
Her eyes take on an evil gleam and the three of us laugh at the great name.
“And this is my mother, Lyuda and my sister, Lena”, she introduces Don and Lari as I smile my hellos. We all sit down to a plate of processed meats and salami. These are from the factory Lyuda works for and we mix them with the inevitable tomato and cucumber.
“Do you want some Samogon?’, Elven Nastya asks, standing up and fetching a plastic water bottle.
We look at each other and I ask,
“What’s that exactly?”
“It’s homemade vodka.”
Don and I look at each other smiling, Lari laughs and Lyuda looks concerned.
“You can have cognac instead if you like”, she offers.
“Oh no, we have to try this so we can know what it’s really like”, I explain happily. We’ve all heard some stories of home made vodka before, Lari has had the Serbian version and assures us it’s very rough and will probably cause all sorts of problems for your eyesight, hearing, breathing and liver. Prolonged consumption of low grade spirits can certainly lead to many problems, but given the chance to experience this integral part of Russian culture; we take the risk. In the most surprising twist of fate, it is easily the best vodka we have anywhere in Russia. It’s very smooth and easy to enjoy a few shots with the plate of meat in front of us.
“Only drunks will drink without food”, Elven Nastya advises us of the well known Russian idiom.
Don and I share a look, another shot and some more tomato, cucumber and processed meat.
“Are you sure this is homemade? It’s better than most of the stuff we’ve had in bottles”, I wonder aloud.
“It sure is! This comes from our hometown, which is a few hundred kilometres away from Novosibirsk.”
Once again we three Australians share a look, what is it about Novosibirsk that seems to be the centre of our common Russian experience? We find good people from that area everywhere we go. We finish more shots of Samogon and Lena herds me into her room with the computer so I can start to upload the music she had heard on Friday night. I’m happy for the distraction, because eating more processed meat was not the top of my list tonight after the morning’s pain.

Lena and Boysa

Lena and Boysa

Lyuda then starts getting the pancake mix ready and we all gather around to watch the master chef at work. The mix is simple, but the skill is in her handling of the special blini pan and how to make them thin enough. They are very like a crepe in style and it takes all of us many tries to get anywhere near the casual, thoughtless ease with which she produces them. The constant stream of blini also has us moving to the table to eat them with honey and sour cream; a delicious combination. We take turns in trying to master blini production and perhaps the stream of Samogon is interfering with our chances of real success here. It’s still fun to try and tasty to eat the attempts. We spend some time playing with Boysa when Lari spots a picture of Elven Nastya’s father; she is the spitting image. We don’t directly ask where he is, clearly not anywhere nearby and they don’t really mention him. Elven Nastya approaches with the Samogon again,
“Budyesh?”, she asks, “would you like?’
“Tochna”, I reply emphatically.
She laughs and pours as I explain the word for ‘definitely’ to Don and Lari.

After we finish the pancakes the four of us head into the night to get Don and Lari home. Lena borrows her mother’s car to drop us all off. As I’m having my shower back at Elven Nastya’s apartment I reflect that the day started so very badly and turned into a great night of cooking, music and Samogon. We had completely failed to be normal tourists and I was mostly glad the day was over. I still found a reason to put on a special load of washing before sleeping again. I wasn’t going to worry about the nightmare morning anymore, sometimes the best choice in the midst of a travelling adventure is to simply rest and enjoy your freedom; safe in the knowledge that the next day is always a new start.

..and that's how you spell 'kangaroo' in Russian...

..and that's how you spell 'kangaroo' in Russian...

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