This weekend my husband and I went away, as part of a group, to a recreational resort complex on the banks of the rivers Volga and Shosha. The complex, opened during the Soviet times and run by the ‘Ministry of Hospitality’ for the use of diplomats and other ‘foreign representations’, is about 2 hours from Moscow.
The resort has several choices of accommodation including hotel rooms in the main building and cottages in the woods. We chose to stay in a cottage. It was pretty, it was fully equipped and it was incredibly overheated. On arrival we turned off the electric underfloor heating in the two bathrooms and the kitchen area but we were unable to adjust the radiators so we opened a few windows! The environmental costs of heating do not seem to be worrying the Russians.
On our first day, when the weather was -13C with beautiful blue skies and sunshine, our group had a clay pigeon shooting contest. A middle aged, mustachioed Russian instructor helped all the women by telling us exactly how to hold the rifle and when to pull the trigger – I shot down two! The men were on their own!
This was followed by a group outing to the banya (a Russian sauna). We were split into men and women, each side having an area with a small kitchen, dinning table, sofa, where we had a pot luck selection of snacks and drinks. We each had our own sauna and a small tub of freezing cold water; I can vouch for the water temperature! We then had an outside deck that we could meet up on. Sometimes you can cross the deck and plunge into an ice hole on the river but this year the ice by the banya was not thick enough and therefore not safe. So we had to make do with the tubs of freezing water.
The other outside option was the Witches Cauldron! Quite literally a giant black pot filled with water and hung from a wooden tripod over a fire – there was room for 3 to cook together! Having gone in and out of the sauna and tub of ice cold water a few times and gently boiled in the cauldron we went back to our cabin to relax!
The next day we were free to do what we wished so my husband and I decided to go cross country skiing. My husband had spent an intensive two-week course doing this about 13 years ago. I had never done it. So we collected our skis and boots (for free) and set off through the snow. It was a few minutes before my husband turned round and remembered that I had no idea what to do! Then, armed with a few basic instructions, I set off at a slightly faster pace. Straight lines I found were quite easy – corners less so!
As we were skiing along one of the Swedish women in our group came gliding by with a cheery wave and wearing all the gear. Apparently she is in training for a 80km cross-country event. Half way around the circuit she came by again (having done a full lap). I was on the floor at this point! Having learnt that this was my first time she offered me some helpful tips – use my hips more – and then she was off! We managed to complete two laps of the circuit in not too bad a style (I was trying to use my hips more?!!) by which time I was tiring rapidly.
After a quick sandwich lunch we packed up and checked out. At the main reception desk I dropped off the key but was told I had to wait 10 minutes for the housekeeper to go and check the cabin. When she gave it the all clear I was handed a slip of paper which we then had to hand to the guard at the gate to allow us to leave! Very Soviet. Is this because foreigners are untrustworthy?
On our way home we stopped at Klin (about an hour outside of Moscow) in order to see the rather lovely Tchaikovsky House museum. It was here that he spent the last year of his life and where he wrote Symphony no.6 in B Minor, his last one, on a simple table overlooking the lovely garden.
It was lovely to be outside of Moscow in the country and we were so lucky to have both the snow and the sunshine making the place look so beautiful. Most of the drive there was on a brand new toll road motorway, very empty and very dull. But the last bit was on a local road – The Leningradskoye Highway – the continuation of Tverskaya street! (see my last post). Here we drove through a series of small villages strung out along the road and could see the many beautiful old traditional houses with their ornate window frames. Next time I intend to stop and take some photos for a future blog post.