Friday, 9 September 2011

Astrakhan

Wednesday 31st September
I had been dreading negotiating Astrakhan's warren of streets to reach the Volga river crossing, not to mention finding a suitable hotel to complete our necessary 5 day registration in Russia. So I was delighted when Matt and Rowena's friend Brian, who was moving to a post in Moscow, promised he would sort something out with their office in Astrakhan. Colleague Vladimir proved to be a Mr Fixit supreme, and we were met on the outskirts of Astrakhan by highly efficient interpreter Olga and driver Sergei. As it transpired that the hotel was a long way away on the other side of Astrakhan and the temperature was about 40degreesC, we loaded up both horses into the lorry, and followed Sergei and Olga to a lovely little hotel in a charming location on a quiet tree-lined street overlooking a canal.












We had air-conditioned rooms with spotless shower rooms, though in true ex-Soviet style, no plug for the sink, and the hot water took about a quarter of an hour to come through. And the impressive looking bar in the restaurant had no booze. But the staff could not have been more helpful, and the horses were in heaven in the grassy yard behind.
And all within walking distance of the centre of Astrakhan.
Our street had some beautiful old crumbling houses which reminded one that this has been an established settlement for centuries. My first aim in the morning was to find somewhere to change the SIM cards for my mobile and dongle. I was struggling to communicate with the shop assistant when fortuitously it turned out that the lady beside me was an English teacher. Tamara took me in hand, marched me off to the relevant shop and sorted me out!


Astrakhan is a most attractive city, and I wandered through a neat lawned municipal park full of trees, flowers and statues, to the Kremlin - no, I did not wander as far as Moscow. Kremlin in fact means fort in Russian, and Astrakhan has been a fortified site for centuries. The Astrakhan Kremlin is a most impressive place surrounded by great white walls and seven watch towers. It was apparently built on the orders of Ivan the Terrible in place of an older fortress, with regards to which my guide book graphically stated ' This fortress was constructed in due time as only discrepancy between the Crimean khanate and the Turkish Empire buggered up their joint crusade against Astrakhan'.


Hopefully this resigned class of Russian schoolchildren 'doing' the Kremlin were not being given the same take on Astrakhan history.


Then it was back to the hotel as Vladimir had sorted out an excellent local farrier to shoe the horses ( no-one was available in Atyrau) and also a visit by local Astrakhan TV. Quite an unusual interview even for me, as the young lady journalist spoke no English, so an English speaker in their office asked me the questions over a mobile phone and then I answered them into the camera!


The wedding cake. Baurzhan poses in front of the green, gold and white confection of the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Astrakhan Kremlin. Surprising to come across St George and dragon here, or should I know better?










War and Peace Does this waterless fountain show the Astrakhan version of a headless chicken?

2 comments:

  1. Amazing so beautiful, history, horses, and your story. Thank you. Greetings from Australia.

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