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Alone in the Russian forest...


To be alone is absolutely ordinary for me, but the familiar feelings of solitude and isolation take on an entirely different meaning in the Russian forest. During the recent journey, I visited the village of Astashova in the Chukhlomsky District of the Kostroma region. About the village I'll write a separate post, but today I'll show you the house in which I slept, deep in the woods on a cold, snowy night.

I've seen so many abandoned, sunken homes during various road trips in Russia, but in this village there is life! Our village host had a full house, each bed occupied by men who were helping with local construction projects, or out of town guests. I could either sleep on the hard floor, in the company of four Russian men, or go to an empty home a few kilometers away and have an entire house to myself. After inspecting the old, wooden structure, I picked the latter option.

During the day it seemed charming, like something out of a Russian fairy tale with its colorful blue windows and snow-capped roof. When I returned late at night, in utter darkness, the old home took on a different aura. A sort of spooky, far-off cabin, where no Internet or phone existed. Something out of a horror movie, where the victims never see the light of day again. I suddenly realized I would be by my lonesome, many kilometers away from the few humans I knew in the area, and an uneasy feeling overtook me. A slight fear of being alone in the middle of nowhere, in a distant country...But I sucked it up, and carried on into the night. Let's take a look inside my sleeping quarters...

1. Open the old, creaky door, and here is what greets me. An ancient, wet, musty smell, and a big stack of wood for heating. The house was freezing cold, but this was my choice. Early in the day, the local villager asked me how warm I wanted the home for the evening, so he could go gather wood and start the fire in the stove. I told him - "NO HEAT!". I was happy to be in a frigid space, after suffocating from the oppressive heat in almost all Russian hotels and restaurants earlier in the trip.


2. Behind this door was a surprise! A sort of mini antique shop, with the owner's collectibles on display. The house was built in the late 1800's and is in need of repair, but overall in a livable condition, at least by village standards.


3. Old bottles, animal heads, other junk which clearly hold some sentimental value to someone. I always like digging through stuff like this, as I've shown you in other posts. Photo credit for this image goes to my travel companion macos.


4. During the day inspection, I was certain I would sleep in this bed. It was the only stand-alone sleeping option in the house, but when I returned in the dark evening I didn't like how the small window had no curtain. I guess it's from watching too many crime shows, but I would not rest all night, for fear that some forest creature or mad man was staring at me through the window. :) The local also suggested I sleep here because it's the same room in which the heating stove is located. Upon learning that I would not use the wooden stove, he was in shock, trying many times to convince me to light the fire, but alas I'm stubborn and rejected all his pleas.


5. My bed. The bottom, center bunk with a thin mattress thrown on a hard, wooden plank.


6. Kitchen, stocked with some goodies in the refrigerator. Old soup, fruit juice, and other items left by construction workers who sometimes sleep in the house while working local jobs in the area. In the middle of the night, this floor was so cold! I will never forget the sensation of walking on it, an immediate ache in my joints and tingle in the nerves of my toes.


7.  Nostalgia! It's possible to share all your meals with Grandpa Lenin at the dining table, or perhaps he is the protector of the home?


8. How to wash your face, brush your teeth, make tea, or boil pasta? It's necessary to carry heavy jugs of water into the home, dump them into the archaic plastic dispenser above the sink, and then magic happens. Water flows from the faucet! :) I noticed a red button on the plastic container, so I guess it's possible to heat the water, though I'm not certain. The house was fully supplied with pans, the standard stove carved out of the wall, and even a photo of Ded Moroz to bring some cheer all year round! Btw, I wish to thank the young man who helped me settle in for the night, and navigate the unfamiliar surroundings. Sorry, I can't remember his name, but he took very good care of me before he returned to the "man" house to sleep.

9. I've stayed in many American cabins, in remote mountain areas, but they always had toilets and showers. So, the most adventurous part of this night was doing ordinary human things - using the restroom and taking a shower. I'm sure many of you still have grandparents or other relatives living in villages, but the "toilet" is something extraordinary! How does a female use this thing? It's impossible to sit, for fear of being swallowed up in the deep, unsanitary hole. I tossed and turned in the middle of the night, doing the pee dance that children sometimes do, wiggling in my bed to avoid using this restroom, but eventually it became necessary. So, I simply stood on it and did my business. Later, some of my Russian friends told me this is called "eagle style." I could not control my laughter when they said this. In America, an eagle represents freedom. In Russia, piss. :) And the smell in this small wooden cave, well you can imagine. I don't know which is worse - having a toilet like this in the home, or using an outhouse in the middle of the night??


10. After a long day of walking in the village and meeting with the locals, I wanted to take a hot shower. It was then that I learned yet another lesson in Russian life - how to use an authentic banya! What an experience, so hot inside, yet so cool! :)

house21 (1)

11. After a lecture about how to bathe in the banya, I began the process of dumping water all over myself, scrubbing with old, dirty soap, and then throwing liquid on the hot rocks to immediately be encompassed by steam. Ahhh...great sensation! Then, in true Russian style, I ran outside naked, jumped in a pile of shiny snow in complete blackness, and returned to the banya. In this moment, I felt completely alive! Unfortunately, I was here alone, but the locals explained that it's typical to sit in the separate room, drink vodka and have snacks. Next time. :)

12. I can't say I slept very well that night. I was extremely cold, snuggled in numerous blankets with chattering teeth through the wee hours of the evening and morning. This was my own fault, I underestimated how cold the temperature gets in the Russian forest. In the morning when I woke, I walked past this huge stack of wood outside the main door and regretted not using it. For the next few days, I had a wicked cold, snotty nose and congested head.


Second, my mind wanders too much in complete silence and solitude, with no distractions or sounds. I began to think about life, love, sex...all of the existential questions that plague an insomniac like me. I sat on that hard bed, wondering how people live their entire lives in a village house like this, with no modern amenities or basic conveniences. Yes, there's some rustic romance to it, even for me. It was a unique and memorable experience, but to spend every breathing moment on the planet in a place like this - there's no real desire.

What did I learn most from this trip? Something I already knew, but never truly understood until I spent a day and night in this village. Russia - a country for the strong!

When was the last time you spent the night in a house with no basic water, toilet or shower? Perhaps some of you are currently living in a village? If so, tell me where. Maybe next time I'll visit you, because remote places like this are my favorite areas to explore. In America, Russia and around the globe!


( 298 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 24th, 2015 11:11 am (UTC)
It's so inteteresting to learn about my country from foreigner) But I'd to remark that this experience is a little unusual even for us. It's very little part of our traditions and culture. This house from last age, but the toilet is real disgusting, I hate this kind.
Mar. 24th, 2015 02:54 pm (UTC)
In village life, these conditions seem normal. None of the houses I visited had any modern conveniences, but they were nice inside. I'll show you in a different post. I don't know what percentage of Russians live in villages? There were mostly old pensioners here, but there were a few young families and children. I imagine it is the same as in the USA, young kids want to leave village life for the big city and better opportunities. The toilet - definitely the worst part!! :)
(no subject) - Игорь Филатов - Mar. 27th, 2015 07:35 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 27th, 2015 03:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2015 11:11 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing this story! I spent my vacations in my granny's house in a village like that. I can understand what you wanted to express:)) but my granny's house is like the Four seasons hotel compared to the house where you have stayed:)
Mar. 24th, 2015 02:56 pm (UTC)
This house was very old, perhaps your granny has newer construction? I think most of these pensioners would be scared if they came to the big city of Moscow. They would not know how to handle all the people and fast paced life!
(no subject) - andrejefremov - Mar. 24th, 2015 04:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2015 11:19 am (UTC)
A little point of reason about this scary outhouse.
Usually such a holes were in use in very passable places, like railway terminal or army barracks.

Porcellain or glazed toilet bowl can be easily and accidentally smashed. So, there is a constant need in on-duty plumber, another bowl etc.
Another reason is the relative ease in cleaning and sweeping. You must only beat down the goo with the swab, maybe pour some water and strew the bactericidal agent around. Usual cleansing of the standard toiled bowl takes too much time in comparison.

Most of this work can easily be done even by aged and incapable person.

So, the relative ease of maintaining this hole is the main reason which keeps them in use.
Mar. 24th, 2015 02:59 pm (UTC)
Modern toilets are very easy to clean! You simply need a toilet brush to wipe around the bowl. "beat down the goo with the swab..." ahhhh..it's so gross!! This toilet had not been cleaned for a very long time, and the smell was horrible.I prefer modern plumbing, even when living in the boondocks!
(no subject) - verniy_leninetz - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - verniy_leninetz - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - verniy_leninetz - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - 7dyan - Mar. 27th, 2015 08:25 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2015 11:34 am (UTC)
I'm so impressed. It was almost the life my family had until I was about 15. But well, we did not have a fridge... of course. We were too poor for that.

Regarding not starting the stove, weird. But I understand you.

Regarding heating the water for washing, better not. If you wash with warm water, you will have problems surviving the cold outside.

Regarding the toilet, nobody sits on it; people squat.Again, the kind of life my family had. I had to bring water in buckets, carrying it for about two blocks, it was my duty... the stove too, my grandfather had Alzheimer, they did not trust him matches, but I was okay, at 8. Great experience actually.

Thank you so much for reminding!
Mar. 24th, 2015 03:01 pm (UTC)
It's good to remember our roots! My mother also came from such humble beginnings in Southern Virginia. She grew up poor, in the Appalachian Mountains and when she was a kid her family had no normal toilet - only an outhouse. Perhaps people in Appalachia still live this way? I'm not sure. Maybe I'll take a weekend trip there sometime soon to find out. It remains one of the poorest areas in the USA.
(no subject) - ex_juan_gan - Mar. 24th, 2015 07:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2015 11:42 am (UTC)
I'd like to explain you some things about problems with water and toilet. As you know, Russia - is cold country, and rural houses often are abadonned for winter. If you have in house water closet, shower and water-supply - you have to empty all pipes. Otherwise, the ice will damage pipes seriously .
When I prepare our rural house for winter, it takes about half-hour, and about 5 liters of coolant.
But, if you have no water-supply in home - you just close the door and go away. Ancient, but cheap and easier in maintenance way of living.
And, people in such vilages usually dont have the shower every day. They wash theyselfes in banya every week.
Sorry for grammatical mistakes ;-)
Mar. 24th, 2015 03:03 pm (UTC)
There aren't many grammatical mistakes in your comment, so don't worry! :) There are many cold countries on the planet and even States in the USA that have below freezing temperatures in winter, yet they still have plumbing and normal toilets. The climate isn't a good excuse for the lack of plumbing. There is simply no infrastructure in these areas of Russia to support the modern conveniences of life. And there is no one to blame for this except your officials.
The climate is a shitty excuse - montrealex - Mar. 24th, 2015 04:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The climate is a shitty excuse - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 24th, 2015 05:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barabaan - Mar. 24th, 2015 06:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dn54 - Mar. 26th, 2015 10:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2015 12:35 pm (UTC)
Great story! :)
"Eagle style"?... I never heard such a phrase. One my american acquaintance called this kind of toilet "squat-and-drop". Also quite funny. )
Mar. 24th, 2015 12:55 pm (UTC)
Never heard of Eagle Style??? А как же классический детский стишок:

Как горный орел
На вершине Кавказа,
Я гордо сижу
На краю унитаза.
(no subject) - vitsky - Mar. 24th, 2015 01:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Mar. 24th, 2015 02:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - doctor_notes - Mar. 24th, 2015 04:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - t80k - Mar. 24th, 2015 01:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ski_traveller - Mar. 24th, 2015 02:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - vitsky - Mar. 24th, 2015 02:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2015 12:46 pm (UTC)
By the way, did you hear something about Ivan Susanin? He is a Russian hero, who perfomed his feat in 17th century somewhere in Kostroma region. I supposed, exactly in those places you visited. :) See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Susanin
Mar. 24th, 2015 03:04 pm (UTC)
I don't know this Russian character, but we probably stomped on some of the same paths in the Kostroma region. :)
(no subject) - mishafrol - Mar. 27th, 2015 02:07 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2015 01:03 pm (UTC)
It's real time machin for you, i think. ))

And now you have a rural toilet experience. ))
Mar. 24th, 2015 03:05 pm (UTC)
Definitely - life from another century! I've experienced a more horrible toilet in Thailand, and even other parts of Russia. Simply a round hole in the ground and no toilet paper! Very problematic for a woman. :)
(no subject) - drfunfrock - Mar. 25th, 2015 09:38 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 25th, 2015 03:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - drfunfrock - Mar. 25th, 2015 03:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 25th, 2015 03:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - drfunfrock - Mar. 25th, 2015 03:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 25th, 2015 03:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2015 01:15 pm (UTC)
Russia - a country for the strong!
And America makes people soft. Lol
(Do not ask me where from I know that. :) )
"Eagle style" is hilarious isn't it? ))
Mar. 24th, 2015 03:06 pm (UTC)
I prefer American way of life. I don't understand or desire the constant need for struggle to achieve the most basic human functions each day.
(no subject) - olgor - Mar. 25th, 2015 01:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 25th, 2015 01:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - olgor - Mar. 25th, 2015 01:36 am (UTC) - Expand
I visited a doctor... - xpo_xpo_xpo - Mar. 29th, 2015 01:38 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - a000796 - Mar. 25th, 2015 09:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 25th, 2015 03:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Александр Шмит
Mar. 24th, 2015 01:30 pm (UTC)
Это ещё не само страшное.
Дом добротный из бревен. Есть электричество, значит возможен телевизор, интернет
. Прочие атрибуты современного жилья, типа водопровод, канализация (или биотуалет) для суровой продолжительной зимы весьма сложны и затратны для частного дома.
Также проблемы и с обогревом. В деревянном доме газ пожароопасен Более предпочтительно отопление углем, причем без водяных батарей, ибо большая вероятность замораживания. Необходимо несколько печей из кирпичной кладки, если дом большой, или одна большая русская печь.
Русь 80% территории в суровом климате, причем в зоне вечной мерзлоты..
Mar. 24th, 2015 03:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Это ещё не само страшное.
Russians blame their harsh climate for all problems in the country! But what about neighboring Finland, or the Yukon Territory of Canada? They also have permafrost, but normal living conditions.
Mar. 24th, 2015 01:34 pm (UTC)
Это еще "цветочки" ты еще не видела русских пьяных медведей -они тебя напоют и будут делать с тобой разные вещи;)
Mar. 24th, 2015 03:08 pm (UTC)
I have not met any Russian bears in the forest! :))
(no subject) - t80k - Mar. 24th, 2015 10:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
But if you open vodka nearby... - xpo_xpo_xpo - Mar. 29th, 2015 01:42 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: But if you open vodka nearby... - t80k - Mar. 29th, 2015 02:17 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - Денис Нос - Jul. 19th, 2016 01:11 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2015 01:35 pm (UTC)
А, ведь, потом скажут, обязательно скажут, что все русские именно так и живут!
Mar. 24th, 2015 03:24 pm (UTC)
No one thinks ALL Russians live this way, but some of them do. When was the last time you visited a village? I recommend it. :)
(no subject) - cbp123 - Mar. 24th, 2015 06:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 24th, 2015 06:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2015 01:48 pm (UTC)
Lenin forever!
Mar. 24th, 2015 03:09 pm (UTC)
I had a long discussion with some Russians about the legacy of Lenin and all of the statues in his honor, esp. in provincial towns. Should they remain, or be demolished? A lot of different opinions on the topic.
(no subject) - egorov - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - egorov - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - verniy_leninetz - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - verniy_leninetz - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - verniy_leninetz - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
What's the reason to demolish? - xpo_xpo_xpo - Mar. 29th, 2015 01:48 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: What's the reason to demolish? - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 29th, 2015 04:29 am (UTC) - Expand
Capitalism is a positive feedback system. - xpo_xpo_xpo - Mar. 29th, 2015 05:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2015 02:09 pm (UTC)
I believe this type of "toilet" is called "privy" or "outhouse" in English. I hear you can find them in US, but there they are more like museum pieces. We had such when I was a kid, I always was afraid to fall into the hole and sink ) In the summer the experience is enhanced by the little white worms wiggling down there, and flies buzzing... It's romantic, the real countryside life!
Mar. 24th, 2015 03:11 pm (UTC)
Oh, I can't imagine in the summer time with the heat and heightened smell, white worms, insects...horror! Nothing romantic about it to me. Such toilets present unique challenges for women. It's much easier for men to use them. :)
(no subject) - qi_tronic - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Mar. 25th, 2015 11:44 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 25th, 2015 03:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
US military manual - xpo_xpo_xpo - Mar. 29th, 2015 01:58 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: US military manual - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 29th, 2015 04:30 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2015 02:09 pm (UTC)
Wow, this is a very authentic Russian experience indeed, not many Russians would dare to spend a night in an old wooden house in the middle of winter these days. Not using the stove wasn't very thoughtful though ;)
As for the fancy restroom - well, I live in China, and here you can only find Western toilets in some apartments, some hotels and some shopping malls, while a normal bathroom is basically a hole in the floor. For me some of the most memorable experiences was when I had to pee into sort of a long ditch covered with tiles together with a banch of Chinese women at a provincial bus station. No toilets, no doors, no flushing - absolutely lovely :)
Mar. 24th, 2015 02:21 pm (UTC)
I had the same experience with the ditch in Malaysia. It was probably the weirdest thing I've ever done))
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - south_of_broad - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - weilami - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - weilami - Mar. 24th, 2015 03:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
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