Russia- Day 9

April 12, 2010

We are back in Moscow as of this morning and I’m just now getting the opportunity to update the site for yesterday’s events.  The colds that Lisa and I have are getting much worse and it’s turning an already exhausting trip into a nightmare keeping up with sleep.

When we arrived back at the banquet facilities on Sunday for the second day of festivities, there was a table set up with alcohol, silver spoons, a tip jar and two “doctors” in white lab coats.  Upon entering, you are supposed to pay for a spoon in order to take your “medicine” and make you feel better from the previous night’s festivities.  All proceeds are then handed over to the bride and groom.

Lunch was served over several courses and the immediate family and close friends were the only ones in attendance.  This day is very similar to a family reunion in the States.  Traditional Russian folk singers and dancers were brought in for entertainment.  I particularly enjoyed the singers.  There were six or seven of them singing traditional good wishes and farewell songs with the accompaniment of an accordion.  (see the gallery below for a picture of them).

The rest of the day was very relaxed.  People came and went from the commons at our hotel rooms and we sat on the sofas and chatted until midnight.  We had to get up at 5:00 am in order to catch our flight but everyone was miraculously on time.  There were two flights leaving for Moscow this morning and we had approximately 13 people flying out.

I have included pictures of our hotel room (don’t mind the mess) so you can see the digs that Sergey hooked us up with.  I have also included some various candid photos taken at the luncheon.  Hope you all enjoy them.

PEKA!

Russia- Day 8

April 11, 2010

As I write today’s update, I am sitting in the banquet room of our hotel suffering from a slight cold and severe sleep deprivation.  It is actually Sunday afternoon and I am just now getting around to blogging about yesterday’s events.

Sergey sent for us around noon yesterday and the entire family met at Sergey and Irena’s apartment which is located about 5 miles from the hotel.  We overloaded the elevator at the apartment complex and got stuck for about 25 minutes.  Ten people in an elevator almost makes a sauna. A great way to start the day!

At approximately 1:30pm we left for the courthouse in a wedding train consisting of one white, stretch limousine and seven black Toyota Land Cruisers.  The tradition is for all the cars to honk their horns sporadically all the way to the courthouse.  When we arrived, we all filed into the building and waited our turn for the official ceremony.  As a couple must go the courthouse for the marriage to be recognized, Saturdays are quite busy with couples getting married.  We showed up at he courthouse at the same time as another wedding party and when we finished, there were two more waiting in line!

The immediate family, close friends and wedding party filled the ceremony room and the actual exchanging of vows was very similar to what you’d expect.  This lasted only about 15 minutes before we were ushered into an adjoining room and toasts were made celebrating the union.  From there we loaded into the vehicles again and started a tour of the city in which various stops were made at area landmarks for pictures and fulfilling local traditions.  The one that made the biggest impression was the stop we made at the big river (Ob river) that runs through the town.  The newlyweds walk to a fence by the riverwalk trail and put a lock on one of the vertical supports.  There are thousands of various locks hanging from the fence!  Once the lock is in place, the couple continues their walk to the river’s edge and together, they throw the key to the lock into the river. Although, even in April the river is still frozen solid even with a boat frozen into in place. After a few more stops, we arrived back at the host hotel at 5pm for the reception.

Walking into the banquet area was like walking into the king’s palace!  The tables were loaded with meats, bread, vegetable and fruits of every kind.  At both ends of every table was a bottle of wine, vodka, mineral water, cranberry juice and cognac.  Instead of trying to explain all of the foods, you will find several pictures in the gallery below.

There was an emcee of sorts that kept everything moving along.  I counted eight tables of fourteen guests along with the head table of four that consisted of the bride, groom, maid of honor and best man.  For entertainment there were violinists, traditional dancers, a live band and a DJ that played mostly American rock and roll songs.

There were a few of the local wedding traditions that made an impression on Lisa and me.

  • The first is carrying the bride around in her chair raised high in the air.
  • At one point, the bride is placed in a chair and wrapped in a shawl given to her by her mother-in-law.
  • Then a crystal candleholder with a candle is lit and the bride and groom dance by themselves.
  • Another time in the celebration, all of the guest light a candle and stand in a circle while the bride and groom go from guest to guest blowing them out.
  • At another point, roses were handed out to every guest and we all line up and created a tunnel of roses by holding them out at an angle. The bride and groom walked through the tunnel and then all the roses were thrown on the floor.  The bride and groom then return the way they came by avoiding stepping on the roses.  I don’t understand the significance or meaning of this ritual and my translator was M.I.A. (Zina).
  • Another interesting thing was the cutting of the cake.  Instead of cutting the cake with a knife, a spoon is used to scoop out a bite of cake big enough to eat.
  • The neatest tradition is the shouting of “Gorka”!!!  The translation is “bitter” and every time the wedding guests start chanting it, the bride and groom must kiss to “sweeten” the bitterness.  You never know when the guests will start the chant and it happens sporadically throughout the night.

I am proud to say that the wedding finally broke up at 2:00am and I was still sober!  You learn very fast to pace yourself when drinking with Russians.  During the wedding there were approximately 150 individual toasts.  I’m not exaggerating one bit.  With this in mind you learn to partially fill your glass.  If you don’t you’ll be plastered within a couple of hours!

Once the majority of the guests left, the immediate family members and very close friends were the only ones sitting at a table.  That’s when the “real” toasts begin.  (The toasts that most people are not privy to).  The toasts are quite lengthy and are often very personal.  I was touched to be invited into this circle and participate.

The first day of the wedding lasted 12 hours.  I’ve never had a more interesting wedding experience!  To top things off…it’s snowing in Siberia!

Russia- Day 7

April 9, 2010

Sergey giving a toast

We arrived in Nizhnevartovsk at 6 a.m. on Friday morning.  Sergey and two of his friends were there to greet us and to take us to our hotel.  The town is still buried in snow and we spot a few cars in various parking lots that are literally snowed over.  Temperature is -21 degrees Celsius, which converts to -6 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cold in anyone’s book!

Sergey took us to our hotel and helped check us in.  The entire 5th floor in comprised of suites and most of them are for us.  I was blown away at our room.  It is probably bigger than our first house and is appointed with the finest of furnishings.  The biggest bonus for the boys is there is an open commons shared by all of the rooms with a very nice ping- pong table.

After a long nap, Sergey was back with a large bus, which took us all out to the outskirts of the city to a “country club” of sorts.  The family had rented a cottage that consisted of a large dining area and a bathhouse.

Grilling meat outdoors

Food was spread out like a Thanksgiving feast, men that work for Sergey were cooking meat outside on the barbeque grill and the Alex took everyone on a snowmobile ride around the frozen lake.  The kids particularly enjoyed this!  The girls gathered and went to the bath house (bana) together.  When they were finished, several of the men including the boys and me were treated to the bana experience.  It is basically a dry sauna with traditions thrown in like whipping the body with oak branches and having ice-cold water and snow thrown on you.  It was quite an experience for us!  The boys are real troopers as they participated in everything with great enthusiasm.  We ate and drank until 8:00pm before heading back to the hotel.  Several of Alex’s friends are staying on the fourth floor and they ventured up to the 5th floor commons for more drinking and socializing.  I gave up by midnight and went to bed.

Hayden on the snowmobile

Tomorrow is the big day for Alex.  I’m not sure yet what to expect but it’ll be fun I’m sure!  I think the after-wedding celebration will be held at the hotel but other than that, we are all being kept in the dark.  I do know that Irena (Alex’s mom) has arranged for all of the girls to be picked up in the morning and taken to get their hair done at a salon.  The hospitality that Sergey and Irena have shown us is wonderful and they have certainly gone above and beyond to show us the best of their culture.

Caleb and Alex on the snowmobile