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7 August 2014 / leggypeggy

‘Go ahead, get in the car,’ she said, ‘If you’re not afraid’

old Barnaul, Russia

Old architecture in Barnaul

Diego, Poor John and I must have looked like typical tourists—daypacks strapped to backs, cameras slung over shoulders and lost looks plastered across faces.

We were in Barnaul, a large town in the Altai district of Russia. One bank had already refused our request to exchange our fistfuls of Kazakhstan tenge. In an attempt to help, they waved a hand in a far-off direction and scribbled the name of a bank that might oblige.

That vague hand-wave got us nowhere, so we stood on a corner trying to decipher the bank name written—in Cyrillic—on a slip of paper. Suddenly a chirpy blonde woman with a ponytail appeared at our side. Her English wasn’t perfect, but it was damn good.

Can I help you?

Handing her the paper, we explained that we needed to change Kazakh money to Russian roubles. She and her hubby consulted and decided the nearest branch office was quite far away.

But we can take you. We have just come from the police station where we were completing forms. It’s okay. Go ahead, get in the car, she said. If you aren’t afraid!

Hmm? Police station? Completing forms? Oh, what the heck.

They seemed genuine. Besides, we were three and they were two. Not that Poor John and I would be a match for determined kidnappers.

So we piled into their Mercedes and off we went. And what a wonderful experience we had.

Elena (sounds like Helena without the ‘h’ but foreigners never pronounce it right) drove through traffic for almost 15 minutes before pulling into a bank parking lot. Her hubby (whose name I never got) was charged with getting Diego and Poor John set-up in the bank, while Elena and I had a good old Aussie chinwag out in the car.

You know plenty about us, so let me tell you a bit about them.

They have their own business—ball bearings that get sold in Kazakhstan and other neighbouring countries. Her hubby spent much of his childhood in Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan, where we had just spent almost a week.

new Barnaul, Russia

New architecture in Barnaul

Their grown-up daughter (their only child) is studying in St Petersburg. She has promised to join them on a family outing to the lake region in the Altai sometime this month. Every night recently, they’ve searched Google maps trying to decide exactly where to go.

They’ve had fun being on the register for couch surfing even though not many people choose Barnaul as a travel destination.

They are avid travellers and would love to visit Australia, but the challenge of obtaining a visa is costly and time-consuming. Elena said they would have to fly to Moscow to be interviewed and stay in a hotel while waiting for certain processes to be completed. Even then, a visa was not guaranteed.

I reckon that people who own and run a business in Russia are unlikely to overstay their visas, so it made me sad they were finding it so difficult to visit Australia. It also made me think back to how easy it was for Poor John to front up to the Russian Embassy in Canberra to get our visas a couple of months ago.

Oh, and why had they been at the police station? To fill out forms to provide a letter of invitation so an Uzbek could apply for a visa to visit Russia.

Eventually the fellows returned with the roubles (after Elena went in to hurry things along). Then they drove us back to where we got ‘lured’ into their car.

Russian bus stop

Near where we got picked up

We hoped to buy them lunch as a thank you, but they were running late for another appointment, so they dropped us off and moved on. I did have time to scribble down the url of this blog and I hope Elena finds her way here to know how much we appreciated their help.

When I get home to a better internet connection, I’ll find their listing on couchsurfing and post a link here. They’d be wonderful hosts.

P.S. We had just a couple of hours in Barnaul and didn’t manage to fit in much sightseeing. These pics are what we captured between the time we finished our banking and when rain started to bucket down. Notice how the colour of the sky changed.


Leave a Comment
  1. artandkitchen / Aug 7 2014 8:13 pm

    Love reading your stories and seeing the world with others’ eyes!


  2. Midwestern Plant Girl / Aug 7 2014 8:23 pm

    It’s nice to know you can get a ride without getting slaughtered these days. .. 😉


    • leggypeggy / Aug 7 2014 8:27 pm

      There are lots of good people in the world and we feel lucky to meet so many.


  3. suchled / Aug 8 2014 9:26 pm

    Most people love to help. But you have to give something in return – usually a genuine smile does the trick.


    • leggypeggy / Aug 17 2014 9:38 pm

      I’m a big advocate of the smile. Works wonders almost always.


  4. Beautiful story…some sad aspects of the passport and visa requirements for Russian citizens…and it so marvelous how the generosity of the human spirit floats above the politics! They were a remarkable and kind couple! and your story was so interesting to read! Thank you!


    • leggypeggy / Aug 12 2014 8:08 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind words. Elena and her husband are such wonderful people and we felt so blessed to have had them ‘find’ us.


  5. / Aug 23 2014 5:10 am

    What a great experience, Peggy. You just never know where kindness will pop up when you’re on the road. It looks like Barnaul is a pretty place – I love your first photo. Very Dr. Zhivago … without the snow. 🙂 ~Terri


    • leggypeggy / Aug 24 2014 3:46 pm

      Always grateful for the kindness of strangers, and the experiences that go with it. I couldn’t resist posting that photo.


  6. Sy S. / Aug 24 2014 10:53 am

    Hello Peggy and Poor John’s daughters, It has been over 11 days since Peggy posted. I know she was surprised to get a WiFi connection in the “Stans” and headed for Mongolia. Any contact info from your end, Australia ?

    Sy’s in NY


    • leggypeggy / Aug 24 2014 3:45 pm

      Hi Sy, we’re safe and sound, but had quite a few days without electricity (no power points in the middle of Mongolia). Plenty of blog posts on the way.


  7. jeanleesworld / Apr 26 2016 9:06 pm

    A lovely bit of kindness. After reading your hostel cautionary tales, it’s nice to see people be decent to one another. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Apr 27 2016 9:02 am

      What a lovely couple they were and so very kind to us.


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