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A Few Days in Rural Russia

The Travelling Monkeys went 200 km North of Vologda city to a village called Okulovskaya. The last 50 km of the road were not paved. It was dusty and full of holes and bumps. On the way there was a well. In that well the locals like to get their drinking water, as it is extraordinary clean and full of minerals. The Travelling Monkeys took a few bottles for Babushka Olga.
1. Endless dusty road.
2. A well with extraordinary clean water full of minerals.
3. It was even hallowed.
Okulovskaya has less than ten houses and only one street. All buildings are made from wood, and look quite old. People live simple. They grow their own food. Without their own garden, they could hardly survive, as they cannot earn enough money.
4. Northern summer.
5. Cows.
6. Olga's house is about 100 years old.
They don’t have running water. They have to bring the water from a well. Most of the houses have their own wells, sometimes neighbours share one.
Every household has a banya. Once a week the banya is properly heated and used as a sauna. The common temperature in a banya would be around 70° C. Steam gets produced by poring water over hot stones. For massaging the body and a better blood circulation, the Russians whip each other with little branches of birch trees. In between the usual three sessions inside a banya people cool themselves down with cold water and drink hot tea. On all other days a banya functions as a normal bathroom where they shower under buckets of water.
The toilets in Olga’s house are located inside a barn, that is attached to the house. It is not usual to build an outhouse in the yard, as winters are so cold, that it would not be possible to use the toilet. It is constructed in the same way as a classic outhouse, just the hole in the ground is made under the floor of the barn.
Olga works as a teacher in a local school located in a bigger neghbour village. She has a big family, and they help her in summer with the garden and honey. During the season they produce a lot of honey, and are able to sell it. Their honey is so good, that people order it in advance. Olga doesn’t feed her bees sugar (it is usually done to increase the amount of honey and prolong the time it stays liquid), therefore the honey tastes like a field of flowers. They sell 5 liter for 3000 rubles (≈ 50 USD). It is a good source of some extra money, as in a season they take more than 100 liter of honey from their bees.
7. Honey factory.
8. Painted wooden beehives.
In spite of such a simple way of life Olga has access to Internet in her house. She is thinking of buying a pump and installing a running water system. It is a bigger investment than Internet as the pipes must be buried deep deep in the ground. With the pipes just under the surface there would be a high danger of pipe burst due to frozen water.
The best in the village was food. It was all fresh and full of flavour. Olga suggested to cook a very simple dinner together, made from local products: mushrooms, eggs and milk. She showed them a nice and simple recipe of a mushroom soup (check it here).
9. Of course, in Russia the food does not come without a shot of Vodka.
The next morning Olga made delicious pies in her stone oven. All the toppings, except for sausage, came from her own garden or the nearby forest: spring onions, raspberries, curd, mushrooms, and blueberries. Unfortunately, Bimbino and Bambina woke up too late, and couldn’t watch the process of making the dough, therefore they don’t have a recipe for the pies. And made in a simple oven, they would not be as tasty anymore.
10. Olga is almost finished with the breakfast.
11. The oven is also ready.
12. Olga is putting the pies into the oven.
13. Just another twenty minutes to wait.
The Travelling Monkeys had to get something for lunch, therefore they went to the nearest forest to get some mushrooms for frying. Olga would boil young potatoes from her garden as a side dish. She also promised to give some fresh honey to the monkeys in exchange for their efforts.
At first, the mission to get enough mushrooms seemed impossible. They had to walk, and walk, and walk, but the mushrooms growing around were either poisonous or old and full of worms.
You should be very careful gathering mushrooms in the woods. Lots of them are poisonous, and some look very similar to the good ones.
Bimbino and Bambina saw a few times beautiful mushrooms looking identically to “Bely Grib”. However, when they looked on the backside of the cap it was slightly pink. That feature has one of the most poisonous mushrooms in the Russian woods, porcino malefico.
14. Beautiful orange cap.
15. Not a full basket, but enough for lunch.
In the end they managed to get enough mushrooms, all of them were podosinoviki (orange-cap boletus). …and like Olga had promised them, when the brought her the mushrooms the monkeys received a big portion of delicious honey in exchange.
16. Fresh honey.
Okulovskaya was not the only Russian village Bimbino and Bambina paid a visit to. After saying good bye to Babushka Olga Bimbino and Bambina drove to Istominskoye, located 50 km north of Vologda. Istomiskoe is a typical weekend village: it has a lot of houses but just a small number of permanent residents. Most of the people owning a house there live somewhere else and only come over to spend their free time there. The Travelling Monkeys were lucky to have the opportunity to stay on their family’s property. Here they had a big garden with fruits and vegetables, a comfortable wooden weekend house including a banya and an outdoor BBQ place.
17. A modern country house.
Istominskoe is located on the banks of the Kubena River, one of the clearest rivers in the region. It is surrounded by nature, and it is always great to spend a couple of days relaxing there.
To make the best out of their time the monkeys had brought a rubber boat along with them. They went on a little adventure on the crystal clear water of the river and stopped when they found a little island.
18. The boat.
19. "We are on the boat!"
20. Istominskoye's riverfront .
21. The Kubena river.
This island hand sand beaches and the water was shallow. It was just perfect for swimming, and sunbathing. Seriously, a beach holiday was not really what the monkeys had expected when they were thinking of travelling to Russia.
22. A beach holiday.
23. Sand castle.
24. Istominskoye seen from the river.
The time in Istominskoye passed by way to quickly. Once the monkeys started feeling relaxed and ease they had to return to Vologda.
A train to Moscow was waiting for them.
Once back in town the monkeys finished the last preparations for their journey and wished farewell to their family. Before boarding the train there was just enough time left for a short stroll through Vologda’s old town.
33. Goodbye!

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