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.
Our second day in beautiful Samara was too short.
I woke up early and wanted to wake up Ron so that we could go down to the river, but I couldn’t bear to wake him up when we were finally in another bed with no immediate place to be. By the time we got ready and packed our bags, we didn’t have enough time to go to the river and go to the space museum, so we chose the museum.
Our host said we didn’t need to be out until 3:00, so we left our bags on the kitchen counter and arranged a Yandex Taxi to take us to the museum.
The museum looked really cool from the outside and had a huge rocket attached to the building. It was very crowded, and we were happy that a man at the counter spoke English. He had us download an app on our phone so that we could scan barcodes at each exhibit and hear details about it in English, but it never worked when we tried it. The exhibits were cool, but everything was in Russian so we didn’t really know what we were looking at most of the time. The second floor had been set up for FIFA spectators and showed details about soccer and the stadiums.
We walked through the perfectly maintained garden outside of the museum as we waited for another Yandex Taxi to take us back to the apartment complex to get our bags. We didn’t linger, as we had a train to catch pretty soon and since we weren’t very familiar with that station, we wanted to get there quickly.
Arranging a taxi to get us there was a frustrating process, as the app kept telling us the address didn’t exist. We finally just put in the address of the mall we had walked to from the station yesterday and were picked up by a young man with a booster seat in the back seat. He spoke really good English and asked us about life in the US – if we liked Trump, our thoughts on Putin, what we did for a living, and after learning that Ron is a policeman, he asked how much he makes.
We mentioned that we were actually heading to the station but had trouble with the address, and he took us all the way there. We gave him a large tip in cash in addition to tipping him the highest amount we could through the app, and he seemed very grateful.
The train station is very modern, and it took us a little time to figure out where we needed to be. We stopped at a little cafe and pointed at things that looked good, not really knowing what we were getting. Ron ended up with some sort of wrapped hot dog while I had a chicken and potato pie that was really good. We got a cherry pie and lemon pie for dessert and watched Napoleon Dynamite on Ron’s tablet while we waited.
We boarded the train, wondering who we were going to share our very last Russian train ride with. Right after we walked in and put our bags down, a middle-aged Russian couple walked in and sat on the lower bunk opposite ours. I asked, “Вы говорите по-английски?” and they both shook their heads, so we just kind of looked at each other and smiled.
They got up after just a couple of minutes and walked out. The man returned a short while later, sat down and started waving out the window. We looked out and saw his wife standing there smiling and waving.
I spent the first couple hours journaling and watching the scenery as we passed while Ron watched movies on his tablet and the Russian man played on his phone. Conductors occasionally knocked on the door offering slippers and candy, which didn’t happen on the other trains, but then again, we weren’t on any of our other trains this early in the day.
A young woman came by and introduced herself as the English translator. She told us the train would make a couple stops along the way and that we could get off to stretch our legs but to stay close so that we could get back on it quickly. She told us the restaurant car would be open well into the night, and she asked that we let the conductor know to get her if we need anything. As she walked away, I looked at Ron and asked where this lady was on our very first train when we had no idea what we were doing.
As time went on, we started to get hungry and decided to check out the restaurant car. It was three cars away, so we had to “train surf,” and I hesitated the first time as I watched the ground pass quickly under my feet.
We reached the restaurant car, and it was packed with Danish and Australian men. I asked a Dane on a barstool if he knew English, he nodded, and I asked if he knew what the wait was, to which he replied, “One hour.” We took a quick look around for somewhere to sit and wait, but every single seat was taken.
Disappointed, we walked back to our car and sat back down on the lower bunk in our compartment. We managed introductions with our Russian roommate and learned that his name was Vladimir. He pulled a huge bottle of vodka out of his bag and held it up to us, and we waved our hands to decline. He sat it back in his bag and pulled out an unsliced loaf of bread instead, as well as sausages, tomatoes and cucumbers, and opened his pocket knife to start slicing it all.
We all looked out the window for a while as he ate, and Ron and I decided to try the restaurant car again with no luck – it was still packed. It was getting dark outside at this point and we were resigned to just not eating tonight until Vladimir pulled out two pies and handed them to me. I split them down the middle to share with Ron and found that one was full of cherries (and was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten), and the other was the same chicken and potato pie I had eaten at the station.
We ate, thanking him profusely as he pulled out a bag of fruit that resembled very small peaches. He gave us a few, and after watching him to see how he ate it, I bit in. They were very good.
We’re wondering if anyone else will board to take the empty bunk when we stop. I’m laying down now on the top bunk and can see the light from Ron’s tablet. I wonder if he’ll be able to sleep not knowing if someone else will be coming into our compartment or not.