The Lonely Planet guide recommends the Bristol-Zhiguli hotel in the city center. As we drove blindly through the streets completely disoriented and looking for the river, a young man stuck his baseball capped head out of the window of his black Nissan SUV and asked us, Where are you going? I’ll be happy to show you there. He led, we followed, and he dropped us right where we needed to be. Our hotel was a welcome relief, with hot showers, air conditioning and wifi. After cleaning off five days of dust and diesel Mike’s first order of business was to Skype his bank and get the locks taken off his credit and debit cards. Our young, blond, receptionist was a little stern when she ran Mike’s card and it refused to cooperate, and a little surprised when it worked an hour later. Russians, we have noticed, often start off with a gruff shell, but we have found a bit of friendliness generally yields a warm smile. It doesn’t help that men in Eastern Europe all sport buzz cuts straight out of the Gulag Salon collection. There is a theory that there are two types of people in the world, cat people and dog people. Americans can broadly be described as dog people, in your face friendliness and needing lots of attention, Eastern Europe has thus far been full of cat people, diffident until they come to you, but when they do they respond well to a bit of stroking.
Downtown Samara is San Diego on the Volga. It’s a young city filled with beautiful people. A long sandy beach stretches for a good kilometer or more and entertains families and sun lovers with beach volleyball, frisbee, and swimming. Along the front rollerbladers preening for each other weave in and out of the crowd. As you walk in the warm air of the evening you are serenaded by karaoke singers on one hand and the clink of beer glasses on the other. Our stroll before dinner provided us some of the best people watching on the trip so far. We liked Camapa and wished we had had more time there.