Middle of Russia
Dear Little Laptop Diary,
Well. The St. Petersburg-Moscow sleeper really spoiled me and set my expectations too high. Hell, 2003-era New Jersey Transit set my expectations too high. Our first superlong train, the 24 hour sleeper from Vladimir to Yekaterinburg, was a bit dismal. The cabin was fine, it really was, and we had a very nice older Russian lady in with us who helped us make our beds when we proved completely incompetent on that front (the mattress pad doesn’t go IN the duvet-cover looking thing, YOU do! Or nothing does! Still unclear!). But that first sleeper to Moscow was oh so special. They gave us slippers for crying out loud! Our beds were made for us! They were comfy! There were no slippers to be found on this one. And thank the lord I brought flip flops, because the toilets were the most disgusting I have seen since our non-sleeper train throughout the countryside of Bosnia. At least on that train I didn’t have to take my contacts out. On this one I did. It was horrific. The floor was wet and coated in sludge, the soap dispenser was dry, and the toilets were reminiscent of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor ones. I should have remembered Amtrak the first time I had to use the sink, because I wasted 10 minutes trying to get it to work by turning the spigots as you do normally before I finally asked a Russian lady to help. It was the kind of sink you had to push up with your palm to get a trickle of water out. My god. On the Moscow sleeper I accidentally brushed my teeth with the train water; I wasn’t thinking because it was all so clean and nice. We were definitely using bottled water for this one.
It’s the rockiest train journey I’ve ever taken, the kind where you are tensing your whole body so you don’t fly off the seat. Of course I couldn’t sleep like that! I was being thrown around my little bed mat by every bump and turn. It also made a lot of overnight stops, and when the train stops it’s like the world is stopping. The huge brakes made the loudest banging noises like we were being attacked. At least 30 times during the night I thought the train was going off the rails, it was that bumpy and uneasy. At the 5:30am stop, our second stranger cabinmate arrived, for the bed above mine. She had to stand along the side of my bed in order to make hers. Needless to say I didn’t sleep until maybe 7am, until 9:45. What a great rest. The other woman, the older one who seemed so nice, had the attendant close our cabin’s window because it would blow on her neck on the top bunk. But like. We are four people in an enclosed closet and you’re shutting off our air supply? Nyet nyet nyet! Also, fresh cool air is the only thing that really helps my constant motion sickness, so taking that away from me meant a restless night of severe nausea, discomfort, strangers, and tears.
Also, the sun is still rising like it did in Helsinki and all through Russia so far -- at 3am. At some point in the night I lost my eye mask.
When I gave up trying to sleep, I brushed my teeth and washed my face with bottled water (hard to do the latter). The stranger above me was ready to eat her food which means she had to sit on my bottom bunk and use the small table that Husband and I both banged our heads on repeatedly during the night. So I just kind of stood in the cramped hallway for a few hours by the open windows out there (yesss) as more people smoked illegally and I tried to relax. There’s a bar running along the hallway so I did some barre exercises which a small boy found HILARIOUS. I felt a lot better after doing them though. The nausea got a little better with the fresh air and I had an orange that I brought for breakfast. I reclaimed my table and wrote for a few hours before a lunch of dehydrated vegetable crackers I got at Veggie Bro in Vladimir. Interesting day, I must say. Happily, I didn’t realize that 2 of the 26 hours of this train journey were just time zone changes (we are going through so many time zones jesus this country is enormous) so we have only 6-7 hours left! Ugh I can’t believe this is only the first of its kind. Once we land in Yekaterinburg, we have a night in a nice hotel, which seemed like a really sweet idea at first, to pamper ourselves after all these hostels and immediately after this first gross train - and immediately before our big 3-day gross train - but I think it might just feel like when Lewis Black talked about how the government one year gave refunds of $350 to people with kids to help out with that and he said it would have been nicer to them to just knock on their doors and piss on their feet. What I’m saying is I think a hotel might just make me feel worse about going back to close proximity with strangers for 3 days and the grossest bathrooms ever. At least not using my contacts for that long will be good for my dry eyes. Man alive.
People are still smoking, which is just like really cute for all of us. I love when people flout rules and common decency. At least some of the scenery is starting to get pretty. We just passed a big river which was nice. And we passed Chaykovskaya station, which is where the composer Tchaikovksy was born. It’s fun not having to worry about how to spell that in English anymore because it’s just made up transliteration. Like Chanukah! Spell it however you want when it’s not in its real language. Anyway, so Chaikoffskee was born near this station so they named it after him. Our guide book says that historians now believe that instead of dying from cholera, he was blackmailed into taking poison when his affair with a nobleman’s nephew came to light. So I guess that is worse than all these gross train journeys. As long as I don’t use the tap water. Oh also I figured out why the toilets get locked at every station besides trying to make me explode - because they ‘flush’ just onto the tracks so they don’t want the station tracks to be disgusting like the countryside tracks. Seriously the flush is a lever you step on that just opens the bottom of the toilet and you can see onto the tracks. I need to stop thinking of my clean bathrooms at home, my lovely clean bathrooms with potable water. I’m having a hard time remembering why any sane person would leave those bathrooms. Oh right to see the world.
We are at a longer stop right now called Perm, which is where they do fun curly hairdos that work on 9% of women, so most people disembarked to buy food from the babushkas selling all kinds of things on the platform. I am guarding our stuff. Outside my window right now, there is a babushka singing a traditional Russian folk song (I mean I’m guessing but come on it’s not like it’s a Nicki Minaj song) and intermittently she will stop singing to scream at someone who crossed her. I can’t see any of the babushkas with food, but I do see the ice cream cart (everywhere you go in Russia!) and it is swarmed, of course. Z money just came back and said the babushkas failed him and only had ice cream and soda and bags of chips and stuff, which is laaame. Luckily we brought tomatoes, cucumbers, and bread so we will make sandwiches. Sure to be better than my dinner last night of plain bread and cinnamon-y cookies I found at a supermarket (sure of their veganness this time because they also had English ingredients!!!) .
Overall, I’m grateful that the strangers are nicer than they could have been, I’m grateful that older lady allowed me to open the window for the daytime, I’m grateful to Iberia for our last flight when the soap dispenser wasn’t working and they showed me where they kept the single-serve liquid soap packs and I took a lot for this trip because we will DEFINITELY need them, and I’m grateful that I’m not being blackmailed into taking poison. I will keep repeating this to myself as a reminder that it’s not so bad, that we could smell worse, that I could be really sick and I’m not, that everything could be worse. As it is, I’m just on a kind of gross train through Russia and out of my comfort zone of silence and cleanliness. It’ll be okay.
Okay older lady just shut the window again goddammit.