A Train and a Pizza Parlor Game

05/11/14 

(The image is one of the only pictures I took that day, and I took it from the train).

On Thursday morning we got up at 6 a.m. to be ready by the time the taxi was scheduled to arrive at 6:30. I had hoped that we would be able to get our stuff together rather quickly and then eat some breakfast, but we ended up having to wait until we boarded the train to eat. The train ride was 5 to 6 hours from Yaroslavl’ to Kovrov, and the first leg of the journey was very enjoyable. Unfortunately as the train carried on along the countryside, it was required to pick up more passengers. At one of the stops, a whole group of Middle-Eastern men boarded the train. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but they were noisy and rambunctious and carried too much luggage with them. There is a weight limit of 33 kilos per person on passenger trains and they seemed to have a lot more. I am speaking of at least 20 men who each had this amount of luggage, they seemed to swarm in and take over the train. One of them thought it would be okay to throw one of his bags on top of my stuff, but even though I was flustered by the sudden influx of people I managed to tell him in Russian that that was not okay with me. I knew my friend and I would be departing the train sooner than they were and I didn’t want to have to dig my bag out. I also think that it is just inconsiderate to think it is okay to put your stuff on top of someone else’s without asking. What if they have something fragile in there?

The conductor did not like them very much either. He yelled at them quite a bit about how they were only allowed to have 33 kilos of luggage and how theirs looked like a lot more. He continued to yell at them as they spoke in their native tongue, telling them to speak only in Russian because it was rude to speak in a different language and he told them that their language was too noisy and not nice to listen too.

On long trips I cannot stay awake on transportation, so I slept most of the time even though it hurt my neck, but at least it helped the time pass. As we drew closer to our station, the same conductor who had been yelling at them men earlier was very kind to us and gave us updates on how soon we would arrive at our station. The cadence of his speech was very awkward and very hard for me to understand but I managed. I was glad to get off of the train and away from all of the noise.

All I had eaten so far was a piece of bread with poppy seeds (which prompted a conversation about Christina and me not being able to pass a drug test, which in turn gave into joking around about poppy seeds being a gateway drug to opium. I tripped over my words and the gateway drug to opium became a gateway drug to oatmeal. We go hard on oatmeal…), so when we got off of the train, we decided to look for a place to eat. We knew Kovrov was small, and initially we had planned to spend the day there walking around and seeing what a small Russian city was like. Unfortunately we did not factor our bags into the equation. We had to carry them around everywhere we went.

As we started our walk towards the street that ran straight outside of the train station, Christina’s wallet fell out of her pocket. Luckily she was able to pick it up and put it back in her pocket, but I thought for a moment that maybe she should move it if it fell out once because it might fall out again. Unfortunately I didn’t say anything. We continued to walk down the street and as we came to the end of the block and decided to turn around because we were not seeing anything more promising than what we had already seen, Christina realized her wallet had fallen out of her pocket again. We quickly retraced our steps again to see if it had been left on the ground (although I realized then that we didn’t check the corner we had just been standing on) but we didn’t find it. Christina started to become more and more agitated, which I understand, but I couldn’t deal with it because I hadn’t eaten. I asked her what was in the wallet, and after realizing that it was about 1500 rubles and her driver’s license, I agreed that it was unfortunate but that we needed to move on.

We went to a pizza place to eat because Christina said she still had other money. It was interesting to eat in Kovrov because it seemed as though they didn’t often run into people who speak English. We ordered a pizza to split (smaller than the regular size found in the United States). None of their pizzas looked normal exactly, but it was good to me since I was hungry. It is also hard to go wrong with pizza. We ordered cocktails with our pizza as sort of a comfort drink to Christina for losing her wallet (I think she was more upset about losing the actual wallet than the stuff inside it, but in general it not fun to lose things, especially personal items).

I remember part of the way through the meal she got a phone call from an unknown number and we both agreed that she shouldn’t answer it because how could someone get her Russian phone number? Since she didn’t pick up, they texted her a few minutes later, but her phone can’t read Cyrillic leaving the message to just be a bunch of boxes on the screen. I told her to forward the message to me to see if my phone could read it, and it could. Someone had been very kind and written to her in Russian that they found documents with the name Christina on them. She immediately called the number back, but the person didn’t answer. On the second try, a male voice answered, but Christina had trouble understanding him so she handed the phone to me. It was very hard to understand him because there was a lot of background noise and a woman talking too, but I got across where we were and what we were near and it was decided that they would meet near the train station. After hanging up, we waited for a bit to see if the man would call back when he got near the station, but eventually I sent Christina outside because I didn’t want her to miss this opportunity.

In the mean time I waited. I finished my portion of the pizza, but I felt like I couldn’t just sit there, so I ordered another drink which I made sure to drink very slowly. Christina returned probably after about 20 minutes with a huge smile on her face. All of the money and her license were still in the wallet. We looked in her wallet and speculated how the man had gotten her number, but the only thing I could find was a business card that had the numbers of program coordinators for our program back in St. Petersburg. He would have had to call one of those numbers first before being able to get Christina’s.

Christina ordered another drink in celebration instead of consolation this time. As we sat there, I found out that the man who had brought Christina her wallet was actually a young man. I thought it would have been an old couple, but it turns out that Russian’s are just nice people. Not that I thought they weren’t before, but they have helped us every step of the way on this journey.

Christina ordered a salad to conclude our meal, and we enjoyed seeing how long we could stay at the restaurant. The waiters and waitresses did not seem to become irritated with us, probably because we kept ordering new things. In the end the bill was smaller than a meal for two without drinks would be in St. Petersburg. When we decided it was finally time to leave the restaurant, I only had a 5000 ruble note, which is a really frustrating piece of money to have. It is sort of like a $100 bill; no one wants to accept it and no one wants to give you change for it. I decided to pay with it to see what would happen and have Christina pay me back later. The bill was less than 100 rubles for the two of us, but the change I got back was all in 100 ruble notes. There are two possibilities for the reasons behind this. Either the waiter just wanted to give me a hard time, or the restaurant genuinely did not have bigger notes, which I somehow don’t believe.

For the rest of the time in Kovrov we sat in the train station waiting.

The train ride to Vladimir was very short; it took only about 30 minutes. Before we left, we had looked up what transportation would take us from the train station to the hostel so we thought we were ready. As we sat at the bus stop outside the station in the cold watching bus after bus go by with the time, Christina started getting frustrated again. In the end we decided it would be good if she went back inside and looked up the transportation again. It turned out that a bus that had already passed us multiple times was the one we needed to take and we had been waiting for the wrong number the whole time, but at least we figured it out before the public transportation stopped running for the night.

To add a dark alley to a long day, it turned out the hostel was located in a small building in between apartment buildings, on a poorly lit side road. But, again, we made it safely and that is what matters.

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A New Journey (02/11/14)

My new journey was spent in the company of my friend Christina. We left the hotel in Moscow at about 5:30 p.m. because our train was supposed to leave at 7:05 p.m. We knew we would have extra time to wait at the train station when we got there, but it was good that we did because we spent at least 15 minutes trying to figure out where our platform was and what we were supposed to do with our electronic tickets. We were lucky the workers at the train station were so willing to help us out, but as it was, we had to ask multiple people what to do and where to go since the directions were all in Russian and we didn’t always understand everything they were trying to tell us. In the end it worked out, and we knew we were on the right train because the train left at exactly 7:05 p.m. Russian trains are never late.

This train ride was only a few hours, so we arrived in Yaroslavl’ (our first destination) at 10:21 p.m. We had looked up options for transportation online prior to making the journey. Yaroslavl’ public transportation is supposed to stop running at 10:00 p.m., so we decided our best option was to take a taxi. Usually at train stations or airports in Russia, there are men standing around outside asking if anyone needs a taxi ride. It was no different in Yaroslavl’, but when we gave the address for the hostel we had made reservations at, none of the taxi drivers seemed to know where it was. This was very odd to me because it is a taxi-driver’s job to know where hostels and hotels are, or at least to have a gps to find it, but I guess this is Russia. Eventually one man did show up who seemed to know where our hostel was located, and he took as straight there.

The hostel seemed very nice and well put-together, but there seemed to be a few discrepancies. Usually at hostels they provide towels to accompany the sheets, but here they only gave us a small hand towel. When I went to the bathroom, I saw no hint of a shower, so I wondered if they hadn’t given us real towels because they had no showers. Later Christina found that I hadn’t been observant enough and that half of the stalls in the bathroom were bigger and did indeed have showers in them; we just didn’t get towels to go with the showers.

The second problem for me was the beds. As I mentioned in my last post, I had thrown my back out that morning. The beds at the hostel were a thin mattress place on top of wire. My back did not like it, but eventually I was able to fall asleep despite this and one other inconvenience. My friend and I stayed in a 10 bed, gender neutral room because it was the only room left open when we booked it. On this first night there was a man already sleeping in the corner. Throughout the whole night, he snored and coughed very loudly. I kept wondering why his coughing didn’t wake him up, but it definitely woke the rest of us up. Another guy who stayed in the same room, on a bed near me got mad at the guy in the middle of the night. He said these in Russian so I didn’t understand them completely, but he kept making comments to the man about why he was there, and how rude he was being. I understand that one cannot control themselves if they snore, or if they are sick and have a cough, but I also think that one should not stay in a hostel in close proximity with other people if they are sick and risk infecting other people.

Since Yaroslavl’ is not as large of a city as St. Petersburg or Moscow, it seems that every other person in our hostel except Christina and I, were Russian. I didn’t mind it, I had a good time practicing my Russian with the staff, and the other people in the hostel basically ignored us.

Thankfully, our first full day in Yaroslavl’ held a much more rewarding experience than a room with a coughing and snoring man.