Slow wake up today - 12:15pm. Ate breakfast of potatoes and cabbage soup (pretty good), bought some food and a railway ticket to Novosibirsk, then went with my couchsurfer to her parents' place, where I had more soup, chatted with people, and helped remove micro strawberry stems for making jam. At about 6pm we returned to the flat (which is rather nice, I might add), and waited for the other CSer, then with yet more friends (Alex, Sasha (boy), Evgeny, me, and Elena) drove to Evgeny's mother's house in the country (a dacha), and hung out there for the rest of the afternoon. The sun sets at about 10pm at the moment. The dacha was pretty nice - even the barking dog showed an appropriate level of respect when I pointed my camera at him. We searched the garden for ingredients to add to the dinner, but first, the banya!
Before the banya, however, we walked down to the river (a fast flowing tributary of the Ob, and even here, 2000km from the ocean, much larger than the Murray), and had a quick swim. That is to say, the crazy Russians swum in the barely liquid water, I skimmed a few stones on the uncannily smooth, but rolling, water. Meanwhile I spent much time trying to understand the variable nature of Russian plurals. Shivering, we walked back to the house and prepped the banya. This banya was a shed in the yard with a stove in it (and some wooden benches). The stove had a tank of water above it which was kept close to boiling, and the procedure began. First sit in the heat to acclimatise, then pour some hot water on some heated stones to steam the place up a bit. Or a lot, depending on your perspective. The temperature was probably about 60C, though it felt like the surface of the sun. Later, (after several breaks for beer, dried fish and calimari), we took bundles of birch twigs which we had previously ripped from some unsuspecting tree and proceeded to whack each other with them. The procedure, which is carried out under excruciatingly hot and humid conditions, is, bizarreness aside, quite refreshing.
Soon enough (after maybe an hour), the banya ended, we washed off, dressed, and returned to the house. I quickly set about making my amazing pasta with eggs and tomatoes dinner (whose principle virtues are simplicity, taste, and celerity), and before long we were sitting around a table completely covered in food. After the pasta course, a course of potato and cabbage (kartoshka i kapusti) soup, dried nuts glued with honey, coffee, cucumbers, bread, and a million other nice things, and endless conversation about funny stuff conducted in a mixture of Russian and English. Earlier, we had speculated about the manner of walking in Australia (on our hands, obviously), and later we had a conversation about the merits of the LHC. I assured everyone present that it was unlikely to produce a world-killing black hole, but that so many governments could build something so expensive without the capability for killing people or waging war, was a wonderful thing.
Time flew and come midnight we piled back into the car and drove back to the city (Biysk) and all said our goodbyes.
If you haven't already been, now is the time to go to www.couchsurfing.org and join up. One of the biggest difficulties with solo travel is the loneliness or lack of company. Couchsurfing generates instant company, and combines it with free accomodation. FTW.