Simanovsk, Russia

  • Date
  • 15 July 1999
  • Lodging
  • Tayozhnaya Hotel
  • Distance
  • 300 KM
  • Total
  • 28264 KM

We walked through the almost ghost town looking for a place to eat. Five or six local children and teenagers stopped us to practice a few English words and then they walked along with us on our search for food. A 15-year-old boy took the lead and showed us to a restaurant that was so oppressively hot inside I cannot imagine having an appetite there. Jim ate there on his last trip in 1990 and promises it looks the exact same, except the place is dirtier now.

Then the teenage boy took us to a place that had air conditioning, but it served only beer. The AC was almost enough incentive for me to forget food but we forged on looking for proper nutrition. On the way back to our hotel’s restaurant, we walked through Red Square and a huge statue of Lenin is all that is still standing. Fountains are in disrepair. Flower beds have not seen seed in years. Sidewalks and benches crumble.

When we found a restaurant, the two women in the kitchen would not serve us since the bartender had not arrived and he ‘handles the money’. Sergei convinced them to proceed with cooking the food and then deal with the money later. About 10 minutes later, the bartender showed up and the place seemed to come to life. He opened the back door to let people know they were open. The little cool air generated by the out-of-date air conditioner went out the back door as well.

A man paced the empty room and told us this was the first night of his career as a ‘musician’. Like most performers in the restaurants we’ve visited, he had an electric keyboard, played pretty average and sang pretty well.

Jim told me that while parking the car earlier in a guarded lot, he met a Canadian, Werner, who was driving his BMW across Russia and China. After eating our food (cucumber and tomato salad and fried pork with french fries), Werner showed up. In his early 60s, he loves riding his bike and, during his lifetime, has traveled around most of the world on his motorcycle. His wife gave him a ‘leave of absence’ so he can drive through Russia and China during the next several months.

I walked out back noticing a growing number of people hanging out there. I met an older man who spoke a little English and I learned that he works with the power industry. He also wanted to talk about Jackson, Mississippi and New Orleans, the two US cities he’s visited.

Then I returned to our table and by now, the music was loud and the place had perhaps 12 or 15 people inside. About 10 minutes later, the older man I’d met outside came over and gave me champagne and chocolates. Then he darted back to his table. I went with Sergei to say thank you and drink a little Russian champagne with the man and his two friends, but mainly to leave the drink and candy with them. We popped the champagne and they all toasted me. I asked the gift-giver to dance and we twirled on the dance floor for a couple of up-tempo Russian songs.