Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Russia - The Train Ride

I have 27 mosquito bites at the moment. As Lindsay so graciously described it, I’m starting to look like I have chicken pox.

Sorry. I’m a bit out of it right now, as I try to stay awake until dinner. We didn’t sleep much on the train last night. The bonus was that this time Lindsay, Rose, Allison, and I were all next to each other, with Lindsay and I on bottom bunks. On the way to Petersburg, we were spread throughout the car, all on top bunks, which kept us from being able to sit up for the duration of the ride. Note to travelers – get the bottom bunk. You can store your luggage inside the bench (as opposed to sleeping around it, as I did going out there), and you have enough headroom to sit. The top is nice because that’s where the breeze from the window goes, but get the bottom bunk. Or, even better, don’t do third class.

I figured I should be more descriptive today, you know, using imagery and all that creative writing stuff, so here’s a description of the train ride:

Picture an older-looking train, perhaps from the 1980’s. It’s green on the outside and the windows are curtained with yellowish lace. You walk down the platform, looking for your assigned car by checking the numbers in the window. You find number 11, and hand the female conductor standing at the door to the car your ticket and your passport. She checks them, then hands it to you with a stream of Russian. Somewhere in there is your seat number, which you fortunately know from the ticket because the number’s syllables are buried among the Slavic tones. You step up into beige plastic-and-metal interior, take a sharp left turn to squeeze past the toilet, drinking fountain, some piece of heat-emitting machinery, and the conductor’s compartment to find yourself surrounded by red-pleather benches. There are two benches on your right, one above the other, running parallel to the train. To our left are sections of four benches apiece, laying perpendicular to the train two above and two below. Between each four is a collapsible table, and the middle part of the lower bench on your right also flips over to become a small table. Scattered on the benches are various bedrolls, luggage, and Russians.

The heat is stifling on the train – there’s no air circulating at all. You find your seat number, shrug off the backpack, and immediately try to open the window. By practically dangling from it so that your are using gravity and your body weight to assist you, you manage to lower the window about 6 inches. You lift up the bench you’re assigned to and store your backpack inside.

While trying to sleep last night, I searched for some comparison to these benches. I think they must have been padded at some time, but the padding left long ago. So imagine a bench made of metal or plastic. There are the bedrolls – thin cushions you spread out to sleep on. They smell a bit, but at least you paid the higher price for your ticket so the conductor hands you a plastic-wrapped package of sheets when she comes by to check your ticket.

Once the train starts moving, the motion is actually rather soothing. I felt it still for a while after we got off the train in St. Petersburg – kind of like how you still feel the waves of the ocean after you spend the day at the beach. They play techno music during the waking hours, then apparently arbitrarily, decide it’s bedtime. That’s when they turn off the music, turn off the lights, and everyone lays down to sleep.

If you are a male reader of mine, let me speak directly to you. Please don’t take off your shirt in public. It’s not attractive. Even if you’re young, no no. And especially no if you’re older. Just, no. I know it’s hot on the train, believe me. But I manage to keep my clothes on, and so should you. There were many fellows on the train whose sweaty backs I had to see (or worse, sweaty fronts with man-nipples and such. Ew.) on the trains, including two guys who stripped down to their boxers to sleep. Again, ew.

This train didn’t stop as often as the one going did, which was nice. I started to drift off around 1:30am, when there was suddenly a loud bang and this older Russian lady in a green floral dress in the section next to ours started screaming. She yelled at somebody for several minutes, then I guess the conductor managed to appease her. The same thing happened again around 3:30 am. I’m not sure what the banging was. Theories include – someone falling out of bed, a bench collapsing, a car hitting the side of the train, the train hitting a metal barrier. Who knows?

The conductor shook my knee at about 4:30 am, saying “Yaroslavl” gently. My traveling buddies and I packed up hurriedly, folded and returned our sheets to the conductor’s cabin, rolled up the bedrolls, then sat and sat and sat. I really needed to use the bathroom at that point, but the conductor locks them up within 30 minutes of a town, so I sat there cross-legged, waiting desperately for the train ride to stop.

As we waited the 45 minutes or so of slow arrival into our station, I watched the sun rise. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but a sunrise does look and feel different than a sunset. The sky turned milky-blue, then cream with pink streaks under the clouds. As the light grew, you could see this fairy-tale mist between the trees and bushes in the forest alongside the tracks. As dawn came, the mist crept back into the woods, dissipating slowly around the greenery and the few scattered houses. It was really rather lovely.

We got back to our hotel around 5:30 am. Rose went straight for the shower, and I dropped my bags right next to the door and curled up on the bed in a fetal position. We slept until 8:30, getting up in time to dress for our placements for the day.

Speaking of, I feel like I haven’t done justice to my descriptions of the work. I was going to write about today’s work, to give you some ideas of what it’s like, but this entry’s long enough. Tomorrow, then.

1 comment:

  1. So glad to hear you all made it safely through the train experience! Anna has her own tale to tell - quite kind in the end but glad it is over (the ride that is)
    We too really enjoy St. Petersburg. Kept looking for all of you, but didn't see you. Walked by the Subway...
    We saw Giselle at the Hermitage theatre. Beautiful setting for a ballet, although the stage is small!
    Hope you are home safely! nancy