I woke up today on the train to witness a beautiful site. The sun was beginning to rise over the snow-covered hills (Haha sounds familiar?) The famous birch trees of Russia ran along the scene. These trees are a classic representation of Russia, seen in all movies set here and in several novels and stories. In our first three weeks in Russia we have traveled and visited Moscow –> Suzdal –> Moscow –> Saint Petersburg –> Moscow –> Omsk –> Sheregesh –> Novosibirsk –> Irkutsk
Obviously there is a lot to cover but I guess it is always good to start from the beginning.
I flew from Roma to Kiev via Budapest to meet back up with my Trans-Siberian bound boys. With luck from a beautiful Ukranian woman (I have to add that Ukraine is filled with the most BEAUTIFUL women in the world. SERIOUSLY. No matter who you are or what you think if you go to the Ukraine you will notice all of the incredibly gorgeous women who fill the streets) who befriended me in the customs line at my transfer airport in Budapest. I followed her lead as she cut the entire immigration line almost causing a riot. It was hilarious and embarrassing.
I walked off the plane to find my bearded fellows waiting for me. I had been completely filled up emotionally, mentally, and with delicious Italian dishes at La Rocchetta and so I was ready for our intensive journey. A big THANK YOU to Michelle Noon, Claudio Cesaretti, my mother, and Ken for that!
The boys had purchased tickets to Moscow leaving the next day. We had one night in Kiev together and were so blessed to have incredible CouchSurfers, Alexandr, Yulia, and their friend Alex show us around.
The next day we boarded the train to Moscow. There are 3 classes on Russian trains, 1st and 2nd class have their own compartments with doors, etc. Our tickets, which are significantly cheaper, are for platskart. Plakskart is a dorm-like train car that has no doors and six beds per section. So you really have no choice who you will share your “space” with. Of course we had heard and been told several times about Russian trains, platskart, and the activities that go on. Ok, imagine that scene in Titanic when Kate Winslet’s character goes down to 3rd class where there is a big party going on with drinking and dancing. Now replace the entire scene with rowdy and loud Russians, lots and LOTS of vodka, and on a train.
In all truth, platskart is not always a party haven but once we open our mouths and people hear English their curiosity is sparked. Soon after that, it would be discovered that we were American.
“Amyereekanskee!” was whispered all down the train car.
This has happened on every train we have been on. It was a little weird at first but we soon realized that people are only genuinely curious as to why we are here and what we are doing. We have been the superstars of every platskart trip with many Russians offering us food, conversation, and of course vodka. I have to give a big shot out to Jordan because he has endured several friendly Russians who really like to share their vodka with him.
Our first train was certainly the craziest so far. Our neighbors were two men who spoke fairly decent English and an old man who was quiet but attentive. The two half-Ukranian half-Russian men talked ALL NIGHT LONG. I should mention that this was a 14 hour train ride. At 3PM where we were pulling out of the Kiev station and they had already fed Jordan 3 shots of vodka. The men were so excited and exuberant and spoke of interesting things. Such as the state of the world, the young generations making a better world, politics, technology, art, and books. It was amazing and wonderful. For what really seemed like two drunk and belligerent men they knew quite a lot about the world and current events. This pleasantry did not necessarily last for the entire trip though.
It was only 9PM when they gave Jordan his 10th shot of vodka. Luckily, for him and us, they provided pickles, cabbage, Russian fruit juice and as the man exclaimed,
“Jordan! Do not worry. We have…..a chicken!!!”
As he said this he moved his hands like he was holding a ball and gesturing the size of the whole roasted chicken.
The quiet old man who we finally learned to be Uncle Sergei became a part of the festivities, taking shots of vodka and even presenting some AMAZING dumplings he bought at one of the train stops. Uncle Sergei was a man in his late forties who had one of the most intense lazy eyes I’ve ever seen as well as a half toothless smile. However, even with his awkward appearance, Uncle Sergei was the nicest and most trustworthy of the bunch.
Around midnight, Uncle Sergei pulled out a plastic green bottle. He poured three shots for Jordan, himself, and I. We were curious to know about this mysterious liquid but we knew better than to smell it. So we clinked our glasses (like they do here) and took the shots of what we learned was homemade raki.
The boarder guards came and inspected us deligently due to our loud friends. We were nervous but everything went smoothly and we crossed the boarder into Russia.
In the dark morning hours we arrived in Moscow and said our goodbyes to our train mates. Each one gave a hug goodbye and the quiet Uncle Sergei even gave me a kiss on the forehead.
As in many early mornings with my travel companions we did not exactly know where we were or where we were going. Poor Jordan was swimming since the men on the train had woken him up before arriving into Moscow and convinced him to take more shots of vodka with them. We decided to go inside the train station and recollect ourselves.
On our way to the entrance we could see the streets, buildings, and signs written in Russian Cyrillic. It was a wonderful realization to know that after all the work and preparation we did we were finally in Russia.
Here comes our wonderful serendipity….Jordan found a hostel online and we decided to go there, rest up, and plan the rest of our time in Moscow. When we arrived Todd saw a sign soliciting photographers. In the end, they were both hired to film and photograph the hostel in Moscow and in Suzdal (a small town three hours east of Moscow.) This resulted in a payment for them and 5 free nights, two in Moscow and three in Suzdal, for us all! OUR LUCK!
After all was arranged we walked over to the Red Square. This was truly an exciting moment. The Kremlin that I have seen in numerous documentaries and videos was right before us. Lenin’s tomb, the Safire stars, and cobblestones were all there in front of me. So much history was played out in this space it was overwhelmingly nostalgic and powerful.
But even more powerful was our satisfaction and pride in getting there and making it all together.
Yes, we had made it and this was only the beginning…