This morning, Evgeniy came up with a brilliant idea. He suggested we buy a fishing pole to take advantage of all the lakes and rivers in Siberia! He and his wife Svetlana were planning on going shopping anyway, so it worked out nicely. Early this afternoon, the four of us drove to a large shopping mall full of outdoor/camping/hunting gear in search of the perfect pole.
We were dejected to discover that even the most impressively collapsible poles were still quite large. Perhaps more importantly, they were also very expensive. Just as we were about to give up, Evgeniy unearthed this gem. It has the smallest hook we've ever seen, but maybe we'll catch a minnow or two before it breaks! For the low low price of 100 rubles (about $4 USD), here it is:
Plastic fishing "pole" in hand, Evgeniy and Svetlana drop us off at the metro with instructions to visit the historic center of Moscow, a district called Arbat, home to a street of the same name (the oldest in the city). As we emerge from the dark underground of the subway, to a wide car-filled lane of modern shops, our interest in this stroll rapidly wanes. It is still miserably hot. We are slowly melting with each trudging footfall.
Like an oasis in the distance, a sign for TGI Friday's catches Tara's eye. She excitedly points it out, and, in a heartbeat, we've agreed to satisfy our hunger first before taking on the sight-seeing. American bar-food in an air-conditioned environment! We're staggering like a pair of mummies just raised from the dead as we approach the door. Opening it, a wave of cool air rushes out to meet us.
Stepping inside, we are teleported to the USA. The same kitchy memorabilia hangs on the walls. The same pop music plays loudly on the radio, and we are greeted by the same perky servers with gaudy red and white stripes and suspenders no longer visible under the ever-multiplying mass of cheezy buttons. Stripey Pippi Longstocking socks and silly party hats complete the picture.
This is most certainly not on the list of things we thought we'd miss from home, and yet, we are oddly comforted by the homogenous familiarity of it all.
A server in a sparkly tiara greets us at our table, bringing a real glass bottle of Heinz ketchup with her. If not for her speaking Russian as she places colorful menus in front of us, we may as well be in America. We open our menus and instantly begin drooling. We excitedly tell each other what we're thinking of ordering, and each time, we get louder and louder.
Chicken quesadillas! Onion rings! MOZZERELLA STICKS! *deep exhale* Hamburgers. Cheese burgers! BACON CHEESE BURGERS WITH JACK DANIEL'S SAUCE!
There are things like colby cheese featured in various dishes, and we realize we haven't heard anyone utter the word "colby" in over a year. We had completely forgotten it existed! Do they import it, we wonder, or does some strange Russian cheese-factory produce it just for TGI Friday's?
After much deliberation, I get the Jack Daniel's Burger and Tara gets the chicken finger BLT. Rather than write another four paragraphs oohing and ahhhing about TGI Friday's, I'll just say this: the entire experience was like dying and going to heaven.
We never did find the the historical street. Maybe we got off the metro in the wrong place? In any case, we wound up at Dunkin' Donuts, sitting in air-conditioning, drinking ice water and iced coffee By the time we left to head towards the metro, it was almost 9:00 PM. Before leaving, we lingered in front of the station, listening to this band of buskers livening up the streets.
In Evgeniy and Svetlana's kitchen, our evening tea is replaced with cognac. We sit around the table talking with Danil, a longtime friend of Evgeniy's who is paying a visit. He is much more subdued than our host, but still musters enough crassness to return Evgeniy's affections with a series of demeaning names. Ah, brotherly love.
Over drinks, we consider possible routes through Siberia and learn that the roads are now passable in the far east. We could reach Yakutsk, or even Vladivostok if we wanted to! This prompts an excited flurry of Google searches as we consider passage to Vietnam through Japan, rather than China. Sadly, it seem the ferries required to make this reality don't exist.
Still, we are excited to see as much of Russia as we can, thanks to the information and inspiration from our new friends. Hopefully the record breaking heatwave and widespread fires will abate a little.