This post is copied from the journal I kept while traveling in Russia with the intention of being able to look back at it years later and be able to remember small, long-since forgotten memories of my first international trip and dream come true.
It is raw and unedited with the exception of changing my husband’s name. Some posts in this series may be very short, some may be too detailed and some may be flat out unentertaining. I may interchange past and present tenses, have run-on sentences, have strange wording and just generally not meet my usual writing standards.
The experiences and thoughts I share are those of a sheltered, small-town southern girl, and what I mean to relay by this statement is that my observations while traveling to, in and from Russia may not be specific to the cities, countries, cultures and/or people I mention.
The FIFA World Cup is the largest sporting event in the world and therefore brings together people of different races, nationalities, cultures and backgrounds. I may reference these races, nationalities and cultures when talking about people and situations I witnessed and do not intend to stereotype or offend anyone.
We all went to sleep fast last night since we were all so exhausted, and the three men snored hard.
We forgot to open the window before going to bed, so I was sweating when I woke up. I asked Ron to open the window, hoping our bunkmates wouldn’t mind, and it was so loud afterward that I couldn’t fall back asleep. I was hot and felt disgusting, and I was really regretting not thinking to pack more clothes at the last minute – another shirt at the least.
I got up, went to the bathroom, changed my panties, brushed my teeth and washed my face, growing accustomed to the fast little routine I’ve had to develop.
We stepped off onto the platform, tired and ready for one more day of having no home base, glad that the train ride later tonight will be our last consecutive night of them for this stretch.
Our first priority leaving the station was, as is becoming the norm, finding food. As we did our first morning in Moscow, we walked back and forth looking for a sit-down restaurant. Growing more hungry by the minute, we settled on Burger King again, glad for a familiar experience with no new challenges to figure out. We ordered the same things as the first time and sat for a while, enjoying and savoring not only our meals and desserts but time off our feet with somewhere to be. We were so tired.
We used their wonderful, private bathrooms and went back out to wander, but before we went too far, we needed to get cell service back on my phone. We stepped into Билайн and explained through Google Translate what had happened. The young man told us that we could buy another SIM card for ₽300. We were concerned since we’re leaving tonight for St. Petersburg, so we told him we might come back.
Walking out, we noticed a FIFA tent set up nearby, so I thought it would be a good idea to ask them for advice about getting a card that will work through our travels. The volunteers suggested a company called MTC, saying that it works in cities outside of Moscow, so we went there next and bought a card. We felt instantly better now that we have access to GPS again, but we’re nervous to use data much in case we run out and have to keep buying SIM cards, so we’re keeping my phone on airplane mode until we need to use it.
I took a few minutes to check in with everyone at home to let them know we’re okay since they haven’t heard from us, then we looked up how to get to the Red Square. Heading toward it, we walked down the most beautiful – and crowded – street we have come across yet. There were lights strung above it the whole way across the street and the whole way down it. Some of the lights were molded into balls with little plastic butterflies in them. I was in awe and tried to look up at them as we walked, but it was difficult considering we were shoulder to shoulder with so many people – tourists and locals.
The Mexicans, with their flags and sombreros, were a huge hit with the Russians. They sang and jumped up and down while being recorded on cell phones, and people stopped them as they walked and asked to take pictures with them, sometimes donning the sombrero for the picture.
We finally reached the end of the street, our eyes on the buildings of the Red Square, and were disappointed when we came to blockades that had been set up. Thinking perhaps it had just been set up on this road only, not understanding why one of the main tourist attractions of Moscow would be closed during such a major event, we backtracked, turning down a street that ended up being a very ritzy one.
We took a break, being in absolutely no hurry, and sat on the steps of Dolce & Gabbana near other FIFA fans who looked just as exhausted as we felt. It was an interesting area for people-watching, and we spent a while doing it. We watched women walk up the steps and pose in front of the store as their husbands or friends took pictures of them. We saw the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen – tall and statuesque with honey blonde hair in an elegant bun wearing a light tan polka-dotted dress with a ruffled slit on the side and matching heels. She was absolutely breathtaking. We watched as a black car pulled up to let out an older man and an attractive, skinny brunette with a sleek ponytail wearing a tight navy dress and stilettos. He held his arms out to clear a path for her as they walked, and Ron commented that we could see someone who is famous here and have no clue.
After some time, we got up and started walking toward the square again with no luck. It was completely blocked off. We took a selfie in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral, which was far off in the background and looked tiny in the picture.
There were a lot of booths set up with vendors selling food and souvenirs of all kinds. We walked around, looking at what all was being sold before coming to a McDonalds. We joined the line, and as I heard them calling out numbers, I wished I had thought to learn numbers in Russian. A couple EMTs got out of a van and walked past where we were standing, carrying bags and wearing socks and sandals.
We decided to go ahead to the Kazansky Station to get our backpacks from the cloakroom and received them back from the same man in the same black outfit and same white shoes. Heavily laden with all of our bags, we went to a nearby cafe and sat outside to eat. The food was amazing and we were so happy to be offered ice with our water. From there, we went to the station we would be leaving from later tonight.
The Leningradsky Station is more modern in appearance. We stepped into the pharmacy on the first level to get some headache medicine. I asked, “Вы говорите по-английски?” and the pharmacist shook her head. I typed in “headache medicine” into Google Translate, and she walked to a shelf and handed me a box labeled НО-ШПА. We paid and walked around the station.
We – especially Ron – were pleased to find a TGI Fridays upstairs. We hesitated at the entrance and after a couple minutes of no one looking up at us, we spotted a high-top table in the bar area with a decent view of the Brazil/Switzerland game. We stuffed our bags under it, sat down and ordered a couple drinks. After a while, we flagged down a waiter so we could pay, and we went downstairs to wait for our train.
The large, rectangular waiting room has a huge play area to occupy kids. Looking around, I noticed we were surrounded mostly by Asians, some of whom were sleeping, spread across chairs. We people-watched, and I read Harry Potter in my Kindle.
Ron was energetic and so was I. We feel like we’re taking a little vacation from our vacation and are excited to board our first train with tickets we bought instead of tickets arranged for free by FIFA. We’re looking forward to sleeping next to each other again for the first time in days in a real bed tomorrow night.
We boarded around midnight. This train is called the Red Arrow and is red and yellow on the outside. A red rug is laid across the hall, which is a little wider than we’re used to. We have the first compartment, and we had to wait outside of it a few minutes as an older Peruvian gentleman passed suitcases to his son to stow above the door, which is another luxury of this train. There are cream and red curtains over the window, and below, there were boxes of food and bottles of water sitting on the table, which really excited me. The compartment is roomy, and the beds are much wider than the last trains we were on.
Ron helped the younger man unlatch the ladder, he climbed down, and we introduced ourselves. The younger one’s name is Jorge, and he speaks decent English while translating everything to his father Victor, who only speaks Spanish. They are extremely nice people, as are all of the Peruvians we’ve met over here.
Jorge and Victor are here to support Peru through the World Cup but are not actually attending any games. I showed them the photos and videos I took at the game yesterday, and their faces lit up, especially when watching the fans around us sing Peru’s national anthem.
Jorge told us they had a layover in Paris on the way here and that they visited the Eiffel Tower. We told them how envious we were of them, and they were surprised that we didn’t enjoy our short stint at the airport in Istanbul. We talked more, sharing our unique experiences.
We’re so glad to be sharing a compartment with such nice, genuinely happy people and are so fortunate to have had such good bunkmates so far. I hope the second half of our train rides go this well.
I put on the slippers that were provided in the compartment and went to the bathroom to do my nightly routine. There are two bathrooms on this train instead of one, and both doors were open, each occupied by an Asian girl washing her face. They chatted casually as they did so, taking no notice of me or the growing line behind me as I stared at them. Finally, one of the two girls grabbed her things and walked out.
I returned to the compartment when I was finished, and Ron told me he ordered pancakes for me in the morning. I didn’t realize we got breakfast, so I’m pretty excited for it.