Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Traveling Alone in Russia: A Mistake?

My first Russian train ride started off very poorly. The following is a direct transcription of my hastily scribbled notes from the actual ride, as I somehow did not see it fit to use my personal computational device at the time.

(Gray, dismal, and much worse than my tiny camera could ever convey)

"I nearly missed my train as usual- but this time it was not due to poor planning on my part but the fault of the complete absence of signage of any kind, specifically in English, in the entire train station complex. There seem to be three or more different station-like buildings huddled on top of the Leningradsky Metro stop; between them has sprouted a sort of informal marketplace where useful things* are sold to travelers, in the unlikely event that they happen upon their train. I wasted five precious minutes fighting with a woman who tried to sell me warm beer, presently found a both cheaper and colder source, and then proceeded to be bullied by various teenaged security guards and ticket takers until at last throwing myself onto my train literally one minute before it pulled away from the platform**. Two attendants peered skeptically at my printed e-ticket, muttering its details to themselves or to each other, I shall never know which, until sufficiently convinced of it's authenticity. Thus I was given the "grand tour" of the train, being dragged through fifteen sweltering cars on the way to my own. The third class accommodation is designed to provide a social bench seating scenario during the day and tolerable sleeping at night, but sadly, it does neither. Armed with not vodka but two large beers and two boxes of strange Russian chocolates, I asked at least ten people in my vicinity if they spoke any English, while enticing them with my goodwill tokens. I got three blank stares, three very negative hand gestures, three "niets" and one "is very bad, and not like chocolate." These statistics we're enough to discourage even me, so now I am eating chocolates and drinking Kozel Cerny in forced solitude. Woe!"

Apparently I can be a bit dramatic at times. I went on complaining to myself until they "shut off the lights in order to trick us into going to sleep, while an insane four-year-old ran the length of the car swinging from bunk to bunk like a monkey and screaming in very convincing Russian."*** It never got fully dark, as we progressed toward the Arctic Circle and daylight stretched to twilight and back again merely brushing shoulders with evening. I curled myself around my possessions and closed my eyes for a few hours, finally giving up around 3am, picking my way through a jungle of sleeping bodies to the giant samovar at the end of the car to medicate myself with black tea and lemon, and continued to do so until our 6am arrival in the town of Novgorod. As the other passengers awoke, my diabetic bunkmate asked if I slept, and I said that the hard wooden bench had kept me fully conscious for the duration.**** He looked at me, thought for a moment, and replied,

"For Russian, is not hard."

I will never complain again.*****


*Thousands of types of beer, cigarettes, and meat pies, as well as disposable cell phones, dried fish, and rather disturbingly, various knives and other self defense implements. I was very distressed to find not a single purveyor of fine Russian vodka, however.

**21:50! Right on time!

***Is it too self-obsessed to quote oneself in one's own blog? Mark Twain did it at times, but at least under the pretense of referencing other actual published works in a roundabout manner.

****I have slept on many an unfortunate surface but I really must warn you these are not American or even European mattresses but, exaggeration aside, more like cardboard with a sheet on top.

*****Obviously that is completely untrue.


  1. maybe if you had beer and condoms as goodwill tokens you would've had a more positive response. - mj

  2. Haha , you have some moments in your posts made out of pure fearlessness :)

    Other than that, your post confirms my stereotype theory of the Russians being "hard" & direct.

    The best of luck