Getting drunk on my own in the former Soviet republics: Confessions of an alcohol analyst

It’s long past midnight in a rugged little town high up in the Caucasus Mountains, and I’m lying on my back in the middle of an icy street, gazing up at the stars. There is freezing air in my lungs, a mountain climb in my legs, and half a bottle of chacha in my veins. I am so happy I can’t move.

I arrived in northern Georgia from Tbilisi the night before, and booked a room in a guesthouse in Stepantsminda (also called Kazbegi), to make the trek up to Gergeti Trinity Church – one of the most beautiful places in the Caucasus.  … More Getting drunk on my own in the former Soviet republics: Confessions of an alcohol analyst

Letter from Ulan-Ude (Republic of Buryatia – Siberia, Russia)

The Rinpoche Bagsha temple crackled with the deep murmur of Buddhist prayer. Under the gaze of a golden cross-legged Buddha, eight monks in crimson robes sat at a low table in the centre of the room, ethereal chants bursting from their throats. A bell tinkled. During the final prayer the congregation, squeezed together on benches close to the monks, picked up parcels of food and waved them in front of themselves in clockwise circles. The bell tinkled one last time.  

And with that, a hundred Russians put on their hats and coats, and came outside to where six marshrutka buses were waiting. The driver took their 20 roubles before taking them down the hill to Soviet Square. So begins a Sunday evening in the republic of Buryatia, Eastern Siberia’s Buddhist province. … More Letter from Ulan-Ude (Republic of Buryatia – Siberia, Russia)

Kandalaksha – Russia’s Arctic North

A thousand miles from Moscow, a thousand kilometres from St. Petersburg, the Arctic town of Kandalaksha, on the frozen shores of the White Sea in Murmansk oblast’, is one of Russia’s most northerly communities. Founded 500 years ago as a fishing village, but with an aluminium smelter and locomotive depot giving the area an industrial purpose under the Soviet Union, Kandalaksha has been forgotten for the last twenty years. It is now only a dot on the vast Kola Peninsula – a 100,000 square kilometre expanse of pine forest between the White and Barents Seas. … More Kandalaksha – Russia’s Arctic North