Monday, 3 October 2011

Dances with Russians

They should make this stuff more expensive
We're staying at a backpackers hostel here in Ulan Ude, and having an indecent amount of fun. Hostels have their downsides (complete lack of privacy, three hour queues for the shower) but the upside is meeting fellow travellers and having A Proper Night Out.

Within an hour of arriving in U.U. we'd teamed up with an Austrian social worker and a French nurse, and hit the town in search of fun. Fun proved pretty elusive, however - half the bars and restaurants in the Lonely Planet Guide have closed down since the book was published, so we traipsed across town growing ever more hungry.

We ended up in a little Chinese restaurant, hidden down a back alley. It had little to recommend it - the place was almost empty, and looked pretty sedate - its main virtue being that (unlike the last three restaurants we'd looked for) it really did exist. We weren't expecting a party, we just wanted some food. What we got was our most fun night out since arriving in Russia.

It didn't start promisingly. The menu was in Russian, but none of the words were in our (Russian-cuisine focused) phrasebook. We just asked the waitress to bring us a couple of her favourite dishes. She brought us platter after platter of mountainous (and cheap, and delicious) Chinese food:
The dishes kept on coming...
Then we hit the vodka. The bottle of Buryat vodka at the top of this post cost... six pounds. Six pounds a bottle. There really ought to be a law.

Russian etiquette dictates that you don't sip your vodka - everyone downs their drink together, as toasts are made at regular intervals throughout your meal. As we chatted and laughed in a hotch-potch of English, French and German, we made an awful lot of toasts, including some in Russian and Swedish for good measure. We got through three bottles of vodka.

Meanwhile the restaurant had filled up, a dance floor and laser lighting had appeared from nowhere, and the place had magically converted into the most unlikely nightclub in the world. We hit the dancefloor, joining a large Russian birthday party - who insisted that we join them for some more vodka toasts. From there things got a little messy.

An enthusiastic Buryat girl named Marina seemed to fall madly in love with both Sam and I, taking turns dragging us up to the dancefloor. We stopped dancing with her when her boyfriend politely asked us to desist, by waving his fist in my face.

Sam ended up dancing with Russia's answer to John Travolta (at least in his own mind), while his girlfriend whizzed me round the dancefloor and chattered happily in Russian, apparently not minding in the least that I was just smiling and nodding.

Marina insisted on writing down her phone number for us before she left - while her boyfriend stood in the doorway, giving us a glare that suggested that it would be a very, very bad idea for us to call that number, ever.

We left at about half past midnight. Our backpacker friends stayed on (and don't remember when or how they got back to the hostel.) This morning was... a little slower than we'd expected. The Subway sandwich shop across the street from the hostel may have literally saved our lives.

Traditional Russian breakfast
We were planning to visit a Buddhist temple 25km out of town today. That seems unlikely to happen.


  1. Wait until you hit the Chinggis Gold! Serious treat…

  2. Sounds so Russian. For those of us who are geographically challenged, or for the americans who never actually study geography in school, can you periodically post a map to show us where you are...?