Wednesday, June 5, 2013

June 5 2013: Ufa Russia straight from the horses mouth

This morning, Olga's parents' friend Leonid took for a tour of his architecture studio. He is similar to Olga's dad Leonid in so many ways: other than the obvious, they have a similar passion for and unending support of the arts, surround themselves with artist friends, love travel to interesting places (and discovery of art/music/culture during the travels), and of course a passion for food. The two Leonids are like twins separated at birth.

Botantical garden and smokestack
cohabitating peacefully

The view from Leonid's office: river, woods, city,
abandoned Metro underground construction site
He says you can see the curvature of the Earth from here
Leonid has architected many structures around Ufa, including a synagogue, churches, car dealerships, apartment complexes, and even the Russian Table Tennis Center in Orenburg. His loft studio has a scenic view of the city and surroundings, including the construction/ventilation tunnel for the ill-fated metro subway project.

Botanical gardens are fun!

Quray, the symbol of Bashkiria
We took a nice walk through Ufa's botanical garden, where Kostya and Dania enjoyed getting ideas for their urban garden in Moscow. My favorite part was the juxtaposition of greenery and heavy industry, cohabitating, making the best of the situation. The garden houses an interesting assortment of plants including Wisemen's banana tree, Arabica coffee bean plant, Poppy, Honeysuckle, Grape vines, and Quray, which is on the Bashkiri regional flag and we have seen its symbol in Samara and Ufa on buildings, signs, and art. The region's connection to the Quray flower traces back over a thousand years. Among other things, locals have used it for feed for livestock (horses??) and to make the Quray flute that is specific to this region.

Who Wants To Live Forever....

Our host Leonid told a funny story about one summer he was entertaining some folks from out of town and, after pleading and negotiating with the security staff at a VIP hotel (where dignitaries stay when they visit Ufa), they decided to let his group through the gates to park at the hotel and go inside. Moments later, there was a huge explosion in Leonid's car. Security forces ran over to see what the hell was going on. Apparently a case of kumis had been left in the trunk of the hot car all day, which did not agree with the fermented beverage, causing a chain reaction plastering glass and spoiled alcoholic horse milk all over the insides of the trunk, simultaneously causing he security team to crack up in laughter.

Shopping for famous Bashkirian honeys

Leonid and Olga walking by McHighlander
and other buildings saved by Leonid,
his new construction in the background
I requested that our ongoing tour of Ufa include a stop at McHighlander, an 11-year-old Scottish-themed brewpub, not knowing that Leonid had a hand in saving this pub from demolition many years ago. He designed an apartment building on the same block and everyone from the city to the owners of the property pleaded with him to tear down the old buildings on that space, but he refused to work on the project unless he could retain and work around them. I couldn't be happier as the pub is a really neat old space complete with hand-carved Scottish wood details, Highlander sword, and kilted staff. McHighlander proudly uses exclusively Czech equipment and ingredients. We tried their Temnoe (dark) and, upon special request, Christmas (9% ABV) beers. They were of the absolute highest quality. The Christmas beer stands out as a very special, Belgian-style craft beer, sweetly delicious with a beautiful full head - the best beer we have tried in Russia.

Tanya, Leonid, and their daughter Sasha at пицца (pizza)

World's smallest postcard handwriting
Leonid says local custom is for women to drink dark beer (because it's sweeter and smells like burnt sugar), men like lighter bitter beers. I think it's the opposite in the US: many women say Guinness is "too filling" and stick to lighter amber beers. Leonid likes beer, but cut back and partakes only during annual trips to Germany and Czech Republic, when Tanya drinks too (she loves Czech beer and refuses all others). They have a license to Prost!

Kostya playing Ivan's (left) Didgeridoo while
Dania tries the floating rocking chair swing

Lala explaining how the tea
is made from local grasses
Leonid and Tanya took us to visit their artist friends Lala and Ivan. She makes sculptures of Himalayan/Buddhist inspiration - and he makes musical instruments out of anything. Ivan gave us lessons on playing various Didgeridoo he had carved (including one in the shape of a crocodile) - and demonstrated a series of mouth harps he had made out of screwdrivers and wrenches. They served us delicious vegan tarts they made for us and a Ivan chi (Kapor tea) they just started fermenting. They pick and ferment grass for tea, it's pretty good on day 1, but they promise it'll be incredible in a month!

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