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.
I woke up ten minutes before arriving in Moscow, and my husband and the Argentinian were snoring away.
I got up and stood behind the Russian woman from our compartment in the long line for the bathroom. A little anxious, I asked if she spoke English, and she held her thumb and index finger close together to indicate just a little. I asked how much time we had on the train after arriving, and she said “Ten.”
A few minutes later, a conductor walked by us and the woman spoke rapidly to her, motioning at the long line in front of us. The conductor walked to the front of the line and knocked rapidly on the three bathroom doors. A Russian man emerged from the first door. He walked by complaining in a deep voice, and the woman in front of me pressed her hand to his chest as he passed us, yelling at him.
I returned to the compartment after finishing my short morning routine, and it looked like Ron and I were one of the last ones on the train. I told him about our bunkmate accosting that man, and he told me how she stood up last night after the lights went out and took her pants off.
We stepped off the train onto the platform and went to the cloakroom to drop off our Osprey bags for the day. The man in all black with white shoes smiled and shook his head as we approached. We walked out of the station and back onto the one street in Moscow we are really familiar with at this point, ready for another homeless day until boarding the train to Samara tonight.
We decided to go back to the street that had all the butterfly lights and look for somewhere to eat. We walked the whole way down it, passing at least 30 city workers sweeping the already spotlessly clean street in orange clothing, and realized the barricades were no longer up. It was early and hardly any tourists were out yet, so we just went on to Red Square.
Walking slowly, we oohed and ahhed over the buildings and laughed at the lengths people were going to in order to get a good picture of themselves in front of them. I was especially excited to finally see St. Basil’s Cathedral, and we walked around it, taking in every tiny detail. I was obsessed with a light blue, arched door we noticed as we circled the cathedral.
We considered buying a ticket for a tour, but the line was really long, and we were really hungry, so we went back to the street. We found an American-style 50’s diner that was situated down the stairs off the street. The tile floor at the bottom of the stairs had recently been mopped with really dirty water. It smelled bad and was extremely sticky.
We opened the door to the diner, peeking in at all of the brightly colored fluorescent lights, mirrors, and booths shaped like cars before a waiter told us they weren’t open yet. He closed the door, we stepped back out onto the sticky floor and waited.
A few minutes later, a woman came and placed something through the handles so that it couldn’t be opened. We watched them through the glass doors as they took pictures in front of the car-shaped booths while 10:00 came and went. A man walked down the stairs and tried to open the doors with no luck before turning and going back up the stairs. Annoyed and hungry, we too went up the stairs but didn’t see any restaurants that didn’t look packed at this point, so we went back.
We walked back down the stairs and walked right in, choosing one of the booths in the middle of the diner. It was an overwhelming space, very dark but with bright lights and walls of mirrors. The menu was expansive, and I was excited to see fluffy American pancakes. The waiter came and I pointed at the picture of the pancakes, as well as the picture that showed eggs, bacon and toast.
We sat in a daze while we waited, tired and missing St. Petersburg. My eggs, bacon and toast came out first and I got so full I wasn’t able to finish it. The waiter then brought out my pancakes, which were the size of the plate. I ate as much as I could, but they just didn’t taste the way I had hoped and I was so full I felt like I was going to explode.
We sat a while before leaving and going back up the stairs to the street, and all we really wanted to do was lay down in that booth and go to sleep. We went back in the direction of the square and went in ГУМ, marveling at its huge size.
I’m terrified of heights, so I was nervous walking past the stores on the upper levels and had to walk quickly across the narrow bridges without looking down. We went into a Levi store, which seems to be a big brand over here and looked around. I wanted to get a shirt, but the prices were insane.
We came upon a fountain filled with soccer balls and huge inflatable soccer balls hanging over it. I braved standing on the bridge for a minute to get a selfie in front of them with Ron.
Next, we went into a bookstore, and I laughed when I saw three large “My Little Ponies” set up in the children’s area. The Russians are so weird about bare feet and cleanliness over here that the hooves of the stuffed ponies that were sitting directly on the floor had been wrapped with brown paper. The third pony was sitting on cardboard.
Ron wanted to eat at the TGI Fridays in Leningradsky, so we headed there to stay a while and watch Portugal vs. Morroco. A Brazilian walked in and sat alone at the high-top to my right. He asked the waitress if they were going to turn on the game, and she nodded and walked off. A few minutes later he asked again, and she said yes. He started looking around anxiously, concerned that the game started in 30 minutes and they didn’t have it turned on yet. Finally one of the staff got tired of him, grabbed the remote control and turned it on.
The guy turned to us and asked where we were from, to which I replied the USA. He looked at me for a second and said he liked that I said USA, as most Americans would have responded with the state they live in. I told him I didn’t expect that anyone over here would have ever heard of Tennessee. As we talked, I learned that he had dual citizenship in Brazil and Italy, and he spent most of his time traveling.
The game started, and Ron commented that the guy wasn’t even watching. I glanced over and he was scrolling away on his phone. He paid quickly, saying he had to catch a train, and he tipped the waitress by giving her a pair of earrings. Ron and I have never seen that done before.
We finished the game and left, heading back to Kazansky Station to get our bags and catch our train that left earlier than our other ones since Samara is so far away.
We’re on another doubledecker, and it’s strange being on a train while it’s still daylight outside. Our bunkmates are a couple a little younger than me. The guy is from New Zealand and the girl is from Australia, but they live in England now. We’re so glad to have another English-speaking couple to room with, especially one with such a similar culture.