Drinking Vodka and Chasing Pickles

I’m sitting here getting drunk off homemade moonshine at eleven o’clock in the morning on a Tuesday.


Actually, this is what we’re all doing in Uglich, the twelve of us who’ve opted for this special excursion in this river city that sits on the shores of the Volga River just a few hours from Moscow. Though I’d heard that cruises are notorious for their free-flowing alcohol at all hours of the day, what I hadn’t counted on was having it here, at the dining room table in the house of a sweet local woman named Elizabeta Gorulova.



The vodka is strong to the nose but, as she tells us, sweet on the way down. For me, the girl who prefers wine, I am still skeptical.

I, millennial travel writer, look at my mom, baby boomer on her first international journey, and together, we smile, tip our glasses, and let the warm, stinging moonshine do its magic. Across the room, our fellow American, Canadian, and British guests gulp down the contents of their glasses, cough, clear their throats, and laugh at the ease with which our host, Elizaveta, drinks hers with true Russian poise. A few of our shipmates have brought gifts from their own homes for Elizaveta and her family, and the grandkids are running around the yard playing with the ribbons they pulled from some of the presents.


As we talk and share stories about our lives (through the translation help of our amazing tour guide, Andrey) and the few Russian words I’ve learned over the past week, Elizaveta fishes out some photographs of her and her students—she has been a middle-school math teacher for almost 30 years—and talks to us about her love for collecting replicas of famous religious Russian Orthodox icons. She pulls a beloved one off the shelf and, with the translation help of our tour guide, Andrey, tells us a little bit about how much she loves the gold-plated detail on this particular rendition of Mary. Although I don’t ask her right then, I can tell: she loves this summer work.


And even though I can’t bring myself to try the sweet pickles (don’t ask me why I have such an irrational aversion to pickled products in general), I heartily say yes to the seconds, and the thirds, of Elizaveta’s moonshine.

Oh yes, and I adore her cat.


Article and photographs by Kristin Winet.

A special thanks to Viking River Cruises and the staff on the Viking Truvor for hosting our stay and for arranging these special home visits in Uglich! To read more, please see my other posts about Russia on my blog, Bon Touriste.

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