Monday, May 6, 2013

Ки́жи - Kizhi

One of the highlights of my trip up north to Kandalaksha from Vologda was the sidetrip we made to Kizhi.

Kizhi is this crazy-rad island in the middle of some lake. I should figure out these names, and will, but right now I'm on a train and Russian trains don't come with wireless... or power outlets (but they do come with constant fresh hot water).

I'm not really prepared to talk about the history or details, but I can remark on my experiences.

To get to Kizhi, in the tourist (summer) season there are frequent ferries and boats, but we were a few weeks before that so the only, only way to reach it was by hiring a man to drive us there in his hovercraft.

We also had to get to a small middle-of-nowhere town to catch the hovercraft. We departed from the town of Velikaya Guba (Guba means lip in Russian – it refers to the mouth of a river). To get to Velikaya Guba took a few hour detour... a rediculous detour from the route on the most hurendous roads I've ever traveled on.

Now, I'm not saying this as a complaint. I'm just commenting that those roads were awful. I was going to say “simply-awful” but “simply” doesn't cover it. It was like driving over a road that was pure-potholes. We lurched forward and back and rocked – and this was after driving on a pot-holed highway all day long.

It was incredible, though. The roads were distracting, but the area surrounding us was pristene and I was grateful we took the wrong road. We were heading through an area tin which we were constantly corssing from island to island and over passages of water. The trees were thick in certain areas and we opened the sunroof so we could listen to the birds. The air was cool and fresh and contrasted that of Moscow.

We came to an opening by the lake in which ice was still hugging the shorelines. With the sun casually slipping away, we stretched our legs and I got to pretend I was a starfish again.

We passed through towns like I had never witnessed before. Parts of the town were decaying before our eyes, crumbling and falling without any hopes of resurection. The rest of the town seemed as though it had been the same way for decades, untouched. We would see the occasional mom taking her child for a walk and she would seem out of place. How does a mother and her child end up in suc a place? H I guess if I were a mo, I would see the draw in raising my child there. They coudl spend their summer afternoons running around free without the worries of the city. Everyone in town would know everyone else and perhaps that comes with a feeling of security – it did for me in Haines. I had a harder time imagining having that be my reality.

At 11:40 PM we arrived at our home for the night. For just $90, we got an entire cabin to ourselves. Sleep came instantly and heavily until 8:30 AM the next morning when Lukas knocked on my door with Swiss-punctuality.

9:17 AM and we were on the on the hovercraft, and experience I had never had except on someone's small homemade one at a science fair back in the days of Kenmore Elementary. No lifejackets were issued and no forms were signed or tickets were exchanged. We just got on.

If you thought hovercrafts meant smooth sailing, well, you're wrong. Very wrong. I was wrong. The hovercraft ride was reminiscent of the car ride the day before. Sometimes we would sort of nose dive into the word and then lurch up into a near-horizontal stage for just second. Water leaked into the small cabin from the roof. It was bliss. I was on a hovercraft in Russia. Happy. Content. No complaints – just observations.

Once we got to the island, I couldn't talk. See, Russia has this thing called charing-foreigners-a-bajillion-bucks-more-than-Russians. It's not uncommon for foreigners to have to pay some 2-5 times more than a Russian would because, well, we must have the extra cash laying around, right?

Luckily, in Russia, there's rarely an expectation for you to talk and there was nothing unusual about someone showing up and not talking. On the island, we were constnatly watched and acommpanied for the first 30 minutes. An entorage of security guards and the ticket-woman waited outside the door of each church or heritage-home we explored and then followed us to the next attraction. Finally, when we were just strolling the roads, we were on our own.

Normally this island is swimming with tourists who come by the cruise-ship-full from places like St. Petersburg. The pathways are packed and the shoreline filled with folks who are like us (even though we like to pretend we're different). But, during our time on Kizhi, we were the only singular tourists on the entire island. It was peaceful and silent. It felt whimsical and like it was originally meant to be.

After our exploration and meanders, we went back to our hovercraft-man who took us back. The trip took an hour and a half and all of us ended up napping along the way. It was my first time to nap on a hovercraft.

Dude! And I learned how to say “hovercraft” in German. Luftkissen bot --- air-pillow boat.

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