The heart-warming people of Southern Russia

Diary Entry

It should now go to a completely different corner of Russia. Namely on the border with the Caucasus in a touristically undeveloped city called Vladikawkas.

Why there are few tourists here can be found in a travel advice from the German government:

โ€žNorth Caucasus:
Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia and Chechnya: the personal safety of foreign travelers in these regions cannot be guaranteed either by the central authorities of the Russian Federation or by local security agencies. The authorities’ options for intervention are also very limited in the case of domestic violence (e.g. child kidnapping by a parent, forced marriage or forced admission to a psychiatric clinic). Foreigners are also at risk of kidnapping ransom money – as is the risk of falling into terrorist attacks or uprisings by militant groups. For example, one person was killed and eleven injured in an attack in the old town of Derbent in Dagestan on December 30, 2015.

Travel to the republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia and Chechnya is not recommended.โ€œ

Auswรคrtiges Amt, 2017

This city would never have crossed our minds if Uli hadn’t had friends here. He was walking through town with a friend and motorcycles three years ago when his machine gave up. A car driver happened to stop and spoke to the two of them in Russian – without success. He typed on his cell phone, dialed and held the device out to Uli. At the other end was the driver’s sister, called Aleksandra, who was able to find out what the problem was for them, first in English, then in German.

She again translated to her brother Alan, who said that he had nothing better to do anyway, and took them both to the nearest workshop and, after the motorcycle was officially confirmed as dead, to stay with her for the following week. Uli and his friend Stefan had to find a replacement vehicle and bought a car with enough space for the two machines. Alan and his family helped and provided them with food and accommodation.

Now we should meet her again and were greeted with joy at the airport and our hungry bellies were filled with a lot of shashlik and strange pizza in a restaurant. There was also – no vodka – a green woodruff lemonade, which we should see more often over the next few days.

Although only Aleksandra could translate and Uli could say a few words in Russian, we were always able to communicate. Alan’s wife Angela and their little son Tamilan were there.

They took us to a different apartment than their own. Still a whole apartment just for us with a kitchen, bathroom and internet. The old Mamuschka, who seemed to own the apartment, only emphasized that we should also be very quiet, as there were many workers in the house who had to get up early.

The family said goodbye and were supposed to pick us up the next morning. I spent the night sticking 55 stamps on my 11 postcards.

In the evening we went for a walk with Alexandra in the center of Vladikavkaz. The stereotypes about Russian fashion were confirmed again. Like most women, Aleksandra had worked incredibly hard to create a stylish appearance. Which one could never say about men. After all, we as guests wanted to make a better impression. I even had a jacket with me. We drink kvass, the malty beer of Russia, and tea, and wander through Vladikavkaz and its parks at night.

But Alan calls in between and is worried. He doesn’t like us walking through the city at night. Aleksandra also says it is not exactly safe.

After all, it’s clean, we don’t see any rubbish. But apart from a little brawl among young people, we don’t see anything worrying.

In the morning Uli and I still have some time and in hot summer temperatures we go for a walk to an Orthodox church before breakfast. Since it is Sunday, there is also a service there.

There are headscarves for women at the entrance. You have to cover your head inside the building.

Aleksandra was a little unsure when she spoke to us. โ€œToday is the birthday of one of Angela’s nieces. I’m sure it’s boring for you. โ€But on the contrary, we assured her. But she wasn’t entirely sure we weren’t kidding her. We were really excited to be there for a Russian birthday.

We drove back into the mountains to a barbecue hut that was apparently for rent here. Friends and relatives had traveled extensively for the shy, newly turned 15-year-old. We had a pack of gummy bears with us as a present. We were greeted over-friendly by everyone, the young and the old.

The former really wanted to take photos with us and follow us on Instagram – which we didn’t have. We were amazed that some of the girls weren’t girls anymore, but were over 30 and proud mothers of some of the romping children. However, there were no fathers for them. That seemed to be a phenomenon too. While the grills and the meat were being prepared, we enjoyed ourselves with the young women on the nearby river bank through photos and interesting conversations. At least they spoke a little English, but found the German language incredibly sexy.

There was plenty to eat, tomatoes and of course shashlik and cheese pancakes. There was arak to drink – homemade schnapps similar to raki, vodka (everyone just waved us off) and tea. In fact, there was only one person who drank vodka. Otherwise, without exception, everyone was surprisingly abstinent. It was customary for the host to give a little speech, and only then was something to drink at the end of the toast.

After dinner we reduced the calories by playing volleyball until it got so dark that you could no longer see the balls hitting it. Alan drove up his car, plugged in his iPhone and in no time everyone was dancing to the music of Enrique Iglesias in the night mountains of North Ossetia.

It was the last impression from this wonderful country, we should have to leave early the next morning.

In the morning Alan calls shortly before 6 if we are up yet. By the way, Russians really use the dashcam known from YouTube to play back the events in the event of an accident and thus avoid costly bribery.

He’s bringing a rickety Lada with an old driver who will drive us to the border. It’s sad to say goodbye to the family, but we hope that we will be able to visit them again.

When we left Russia, the older border guard was a bit grim, while a young colleague leaned in the door and turned on us.

When the lady realizes that we are Germans – “pa nemetzki” – she smiled broadly and called us seriously to say goodbye: “goodbye my love”. Even the man behind the wheel of our car was amused by it.



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