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Overlooking the Volga from the city border, Samara, Russia

... is really wide in Samara. I first encounter her covered under a thick layer of ice. Crossing her is easy, and kind of the next best thing. So that's what we do. It takes an hour and a half before we arrive on the island, which lies before the second much narrower half of the stream. The road is patrolled daily and thus deemed secure. Although the snow is pressed where we walk, we sink up to our ankles. Only Ева (Jewa), the family dog, doesn't have any problems. She rolls around in the snow and tries to push her nose under the white blanket. The grey sky, the tiny snowflakes and cold wind don't put her off. The rest of the family has already pulled hats, gloves and scarves over the areas of skin exposed to the harsh winds. As we usually do what we set out to do, we walk silently to the island on the other side of the river. There, I see this year's first spotted woodpecker clunking away on the trunk of a birch. Here too, the spring stretches out its feelers defying the thick snow cover. The island is a paradise for hunters and ice-fishers, who we pass in considerable numbers. All are in camouflage clothes, equipped with army green backpacks, frequently pulling ice drills on stretches behind them. As we already observed the marshland and its inhabitants on the island, we decide to go back home and enjoy a hot cuppa instead of walking another hour or two to reach the other side. The way back would be long enough as it was.

Cityscape, Samara, Russia

The Volga River contains the most amount of water and is the longest river in Europe. In winter it's covered by a thick layer of ice and is the recreation spot for the whole city. People do cross-country skiing, ice-fishing, jet ski racing, ice-swimming and they cross the river on hover boats that glide over the ice. The slopes, which fall into the river in some places are used to ski and snowboard. It's forbidden in the city, of course, but still done. We are in Russia after all. There are endless prohibitions and rules that people weigh and follow or disregard on personal preference.

Three peas in a pot, crosscountry skying on the Volga, Samara, Russia

I have seen the Volga in the sun, in a snowstorm and surrounded by grey mist. It's fascinating what different forms it can take. On one day it looks like a lake spreading out into the vastness of the mountains, on the other closer to a narrow creek in front of a grey wall of fog that swallows up all the noise and then, like a mirror, reflecting the light of the sun in all directions. I am already looking forward to the day when the ice breaks and I can see the water itself.

The Volga near Samara, Russia

I am a little surprised with what instinct, or better luck, I have found the right place. Mother Volga, as people call the river in Russia, is considered the cradle of Russian culture. At this torrent, wars were fought and lived. On every corner, I encounter stories that talk off widely travelled merchants, seeking artists, crazy legends or heroic tales. I have already learned that most of them are not provable and that this is a trademark of Russian culture. So much has been obscured over time, concealed by differing political systems, eradicated or embellished that any rumour persists eternally. Everything is possible here. Every story can be credible. The grey areas, I think, are particularly exciting. Especially, since I still can't read and have to rely on the translations of my people. For me, everything is a story here anyhow. I can't weigh probabilities or locate anything. I am unable to recognise normality. Russia remains a mystery. It's like a puzzle, much too large for my head. Currently, I'm at the point where I can match the first pieces. It's a fantastic feeling and makes me a little proud. Maybe my struggle isn't a lost cause after all.

The Volga near Samara, Russia

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