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September 29, 2002
|We stopped in Astrakhan because it has an attractive name and it anchors the Volga. It's a town of parks and canals. On the train we met a railway worker, Alexsei, who couldn't speak English but won us over with his friendly help. The train dumped us at the city's edge and Alexsei helped us buy train tickets and book hotel accommodation. We returned the favor by treating him and his fiancée to dinner. He'd never been to a restaurant before (too expensive, he said, on a railway worker's salary), so it was a new experience for all of us. We went to a nightclub/restaurant where we paid a dollar cover charge just to enter. We sat down, ordered food, and noticed that our new friends ordered the same and copied our table manners. We communicated by drawing pictures and reading an English/Russian dictionary while loudspeakers blared Russian music. Instead of candlelight, a disco ball threw light around the room. We received our plates of sheesh kababs, greasy rice, ketchup and mayonnaise. Alexsei said mayonnaise is a delicacy. This is Astrakhan fine dining.|
Alexsei breaks Russian photo-etiquette by smiling a little. His fiancee is named Natasha (of course).
Astrakhan sits 100 km north of the Caspian at the head of the mighty Volga delta.