Now It’s a Memory

08/11/14

I am entering finals week, but have been pretty much swamped since I returned from travel week. Despite my intentions to keep up with my blog, I obviously have not managed, but I will keep trying to post something interesting every now and then. In the meantime, I had started writing about the Sturday we left to return to St. Petersburg, so let me see if I can finish it in any sort of interesting manner.

Our last day of vacation was Saturday because we wanted to have a day back in St. Petersburg to recuperate. Since we hadn’t gone to Suzdal’ the day before, we decided to go that day, even though it was risky because our train left at 6:50 p.m. We woke up earlier than usual to try to give ourselves more time in Suzdal’ since it would take an hour to get there and an hour to get back on the bus.

Even after making sure we woke up earlier than usual, we didn’t make it to the bus station until about 10:45 a.m. which allowed us time to buy our tickets for the 11 o’clock bus since the busses left every half hour.

We arrived in Suzdal’ a little before 12 p.m. and had the option of paying a few extra rubles to the bus driver to be driven into the city center, which we decided to do. The first thing I remember as we started from the bus station to the center of the city, was a small field that seemed to take forever to pass in the bus, which made it seem longer than it actually was. Directly after the field we started passing a residential area that seemed very colorful. The one house that stuck in my mind was lavender. I don’t remember details; I just remember the color because it seemed so odd at the time.

Suzdal’ is a small, but very touristy city. In the main part of the city, there is a row of tables set up under small canopies (to keep the rain out since this was obviously a rainy time of year) each hosting a variety of souvenirs ranging from your typical magnets and mugs, to more traditionally cultural related pieces such as head scarves or woven shoes that peasants used to wear. A few yards in front of these tables facing in (to create a sort of walkway where you can buy something on both sides) are people selling the most delicious looking honeys and jams as well as fruits and vegetables. I remember being very tempted to buy honey then because it looked so delicious and I love honey, but I didn’t because my host parents feed me so much that when would I have time to eat it when I returned anyway?

I can’t say that there is anything about Suzdal’ that particularly struck me at this point, it was really a place of beauty, fun to enjoy without pushing ourselves to seek out whatever fabulous cultural experience the place had to offer. The cultural experience was in going to Suzdal’, and experiencing what a touristy city in Russia is really like. (I am not counting Moscow and St. Petersburg in the experience of a touristy city because although they are big cities that attract tourists, it is really not their sole purpose.

One place my friend and I went was out behind the row of buildings that seemed to stand in front of us. It was a bit foggy that day as it had been in Vladimir, but behind the buildings was a cliff that looked out over a small valley with a village of beautiful wooden houses by a small stream. On the other side of the cliff was a group of churches rising out of the mist, all with their own style or color of domes.

Eventually we decided it was time to get lunch because we would have too head back to Vladimir to catch our train soon, so we found a café. I ordered a pasta dish with a white cream sauce and seafood in it. Even though the seafood wasn’t bad, the undercooked noodles smothered in such a heavy sauce just did not make the meal appetizing. However, despite my disappointment with the meal, my friend and I decided this was a good place to ask about a specific drink they only make in Suzdal’. Reading online, it looked as though the version of it sold on the street was either not genuine, or maybe not of a good quality. It advised people to ask their tour guide where to buy it, but obviously we did not have one, so we asked the waitress at the café. She proceeded to ask someone else who asked someone else, but finally we got an answer.

Walking around the building we had already been in we went to the back where there was only mud for a path and nothing particularly noticeable. In the back of the building was a room with ladies behind a counter displaying many different types of Medavuha (the drink in question). I wondered at first why there would be a random room in the back of a large building to sell something sought out by tourists. But as my friend and I walked in to the room, there was noise coming from a doorway. To our right was a sort of old-fashioned banquet hall with people dressed up in older styles of clothing thoroughly enjoying themselves, and probably drinking Medavuha.

I bought a bottle for my host parents and Christina and I bought a bottle to share. After that we walked back to the bus station (better enjoying the colorful houses on the way, although I did not find the lavender house, but the field was not as long as I had imagined it to be).

After we arrived back in Vladimir, it was a whirlwind to catch a bus, make it back to the area of the hostel, buy food to eat on the train, go to the hostel, carry all of our stuff back to the bus station, and make it to the train station. Of course after making it to the train station came the ordeal of trying to figure out the electronic tickets again. I feel sorry I rushed poor Christina, but you can’t be late to something like a train. It doesn’t work.

We did get to the train station in enough time, which is good, and we didn’t have to wait around for too long before we boarded.

On the train we both had the top bunks of our compartments, and unfortunately it was very hot again. The only way to cool down enough was to lay down as still as possible in whatever clothing we brought with us that would give us the most room to breathe (a skirt, a baggy shirt, whatever). We shared the compartment with two older women, of course one of the snored horribly. After one of the women left, a Chinese man took her place (they give each new passenger a new set of sheets and pillow cases). He also snored. I think I eventually fell asleep, but it was definitely hard to stay asleep.

09/11/14

We arrived back in St. Petersburg about 11 hours later (at 5:40 a.m.). The public transportation does not start until 6:00, but while waiting for the people before us to get off of the train and then wading through the masses going in and going out, by the time we made it out of the train station, the transportation had started.

When I arrived back at my homestay at around 6:30 or 6:45, my host mom got up to welcome me back and offered me tea. (Which I gladly took because in such a hot train, Christina and I did not have enough water to stay properly hydrated). Then she promptly went back to bed.

That Sunday I don’t know exactly what I did but I definitely tried to study since I hadn’t done much of that over break, despite my intentions. That day of recuperating concluded my trip to the lesser-known cities of Russia.

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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.