This trip to Russia signified a change in my life; up until this point I hadn't travelled beyond the occasional sunbed holiday in Spain. This was a great frustration to me. So when my friend Vladimir offered up the chance to visit him when he headed home to Russia I jumped at the chance.
Vladimir's fantastic offer included the chance to see parts of Russia off the tourism path; namely we headed to his home town of Thikvin and neighbouring areas. I met his family & friends, all very welcoming and excited to show of their town and traditions.
Highlights included time at his family Dacha summer house in the sticks, where we got back to nature and went on a hardcore camping trip. The camping was miles from civilisation and involved some serious off roading in Pavel's ex-military 4x4, nicknamed The Grasshopper as it never gets stuck. The camping involved home-made vodka that increased in alcohol volume with each new bottle - I think it topped out at 65%... which led to an impromptu dip in the lake by yours truly as I took an ill advised amount of backward steps towards the water... the less said about that the better.
I experienced a Russian sauna the night after camping - again quite an experience, and if you get the chance, do it!
We had a day out with Vladimir's girlfriends who all get together every year and dress up for a day, they call that one Summer New Year.
The trip ended with taking in the sights of St. Petersburg, a stunning city featuring some of the finest architecture I have ever seen. That place truly does not sleep through the Summer's white nights.
Thank you to Vladimir, his family and friends for their kindness & hospitality!