Tuesday, June 4, 2013

June 4 2013: Horsing around Ufa

Olga’s and Kostya's parents, who have never been to Ufa, have friends here. They met through mutual friends on a trip through South America, quickly discovering they have very similar interests and travel styles. Leonid and Tanya, excited to share Ufa with us, offered to host us in their flat and show us everything in the town - and that they did!

The bike lanes end rather abruptly!

Olga, Leonid, and an old plane at the mall near his house
Rental car companies in this region of Russia seem to operate as shadow companies. You have to make an appointment of a time and place to meet - they don't seem to have a permanent office anywhere in Samara or Ufa. The Hertz rental agent in Ufa gave us directions to meet at a gas station, and when we got there, guided us to an unpaved parking lot. It took 4 people to return the rental car: me to drive it to the airport, Tanya to drive the getaway car back to the city, Olga to translate, plus the representative from Hertz (and a fifth person if he wanted to park anywhere).

Interesting reaction to Kumis

Dania and Kostya ALWAYS stop to smell the flowers
The population of Ufa has risen dramatically in the past 50 years, starting with the discovery of oil/gas in this region in the 1930s. The population grew from 100k in 1913 to 500k in the 1950s to 1mm in the 1980s. The Soviet Union had a policy of building an underground Metro system for any city whose population reached 1 million. The tragic thing about the timing of Ufa's growth is that it reached 1mm at the same time that the Soviet Union dissolved. Several attempts were made, some tunnels were dug (they have since crumbled), and congratulatory ceremonies were held, alas Ufa never got its Metro. The population topped out at 1.06 million for the past 30 years as control of all of Russia's oil/gas companies (Gazprom, Rosneft, Lukoil, etc) has been centralized in Moscow. The story seems very similar to that of Krasnoyarsk (interesting photos at this link).

Dania would rather YOU drink the Kumis

Tanya, Olga, and me at Belaya river
Historically, the horse we know today was domesticated in this region 6000 years ago. This was in the back of my mind as we visited 3 art galleries, one with an exhibition of paintings of horses trying to gain freedom, and two each with a couple of pieces with horses making an appearance in dreams and spirits. Leonid proudly brought us to try the local specialty Kumis, fermented horse (mare) milk. It's effervescent and toothpastey, perhaps like denture cleaner. My exact response was "Not as bad as I expected." At the nearby scenic overlook, there's a monument with a soldier on a horse. Many locals can't remember what it is a monument to, so let's say it is a horse monument to horse monuments. They say it is the highest horse monument in all of Europe. Clearly the horse is very important to the history of this region, and vice-versa.

Visiting our second mosque so far (on this trip - and ever)

After a tour of Aksakov (Russian author from Ufa) house museum, and a visit to our second-ever mosque (both the local Tatar and Bashkiri people are Muslim, together totaling 45% of the city population), we headed to the flat of their artist friend, Rais Gaitov. Back in the Soviet days, artists were assigned the top and bottom floors of residential buildings because they were not ideally shaped for living. A bad apartment maybe, but Rais' loft in this circular building makes a spacious studio for living, painting, displaying. Rais made us a delicious dinner of greek salad, scallion pancakes, and banana cottage cheese. He is a character with off-color jokes and frequent retorts like "you can't put spasibo in your pocket." He is famous for making toasts, the first being amazing, the second even more amazing, then after that they go so off the rails that nobody can follow the references to arcane poetry.

Jazz club with great ice cream :)

Rais' studio flat (photo taken from loft)

Tanya and Rais both made us really complex teas, mixtures of black tea, currant leaves, thyme, and mint. The Bashkiri region of Russia is inspired by Turkish culture in many ways, not just by religion, but also Halal cuisine, skullcaps, and tasty interesting teas. It’s going to be fun trying different teas while we’re here. We closed off a very full day at a Jazz club, where we had exceptional vanilla ice cream, which seemed to be made from fresh cream just moments before coming out. Feast for the ears and the palette!


Bruce said...

So Dave's really growing out that beard.

Bruce said...

I do realize that the "'" was not necessary

Dave Grenetz said...

Thanks Bruce for your delightful on-topic commentary ;) Do you have any plans to visit Russia?