Moscow came pretty quick alright. Thank goodness. Between the cramped seats on the Tupolev 154, where someone in front leaning back would send their seat through my knee, and the high-pitched whine from the engines (I kid you not) which sent a shiver down my spine, I will seriously advice anyone to not take domestic flights in Russia. Take the train whenever possible. Like I said, Moscow came quickly as did twenty minutes of circling the airport.
Also with arrival at Moscow came incessant passport checks and security detectors that went off with alarms though no one bothered to check why and another half-hour wait for luggage. Thankfully all our luggage did arrive and we lined up to exit the luggage area. Guards actually checked the luggage tag number against the one on the luggage itself. Don’t lose that luggage claim tag!
Finally outside all the insecure security, Keli and I said our goodbyes to Mike. I hoped I would get to see him again in Edinburgh or something, he was a really good egg. Same with Ahsan and Anders. I suspect I will see all my climbing companions again – one climb with Dups – friends for life (even if they don’t want it!).
Keli and I headed off by train to Moscow and by metro to the hostel. I have to say again, rail truly was the ideal mode of transport in this country. Despite the relative ease of train and metro it was already 10pm by the time we arrived at the hostel – long past the time we were supposed to meet Tom and the Americans for supper at Red Square.
So to recap, for a one-and-a-half hour flight we had a three hour car ride, four hour wait, two hours trying to get through security, one hour waiting to get on the flight, two hours in flight, two hours to go through security (again), get luggage and one-and-a-half hours by public transport to the hostel. Add an extra twelve hours of peace and quiet and we could have gone much more comfortably by train.
By the time we had settled in and re-registered our passports and visas, I was famished and my temper was getting quite short. Keli was feeling the affects of not eating all day as well, so we walked around Ryzansky Prospekt where the hostel was and found a restaurant. The restaurant was called “Toxic Zone” (which left us wondering what the food was like), the menus were in Russian and the waitress was in fits of laughter at our inability to speak Russian.
Despite the communication set backs, my pasta turned out to be vegetarian (this was not a given when we ordered). With our limited Russian we were forced to drink exotic Carlsberg. It was a late night talk of all things Newfoundland, relationships and watching the horny men in tight mesh shirts hitting on the 14-16 year olds at the bar.
Thursday was meant to be a day of sightseeing. We went to the Kremlin only to find that Thursday was the one day during the week that they were shut. I think our brains must have gone on a hiatus as we had both read the entries in our guide books but the timetable had not registered. We then headed to see Lenin’s tomb only to discover a line so far out of sight that we decided gawking at Lenin’s dead body was something we could do without.
That left Red Square, the stately large shopping centre (GUM) and St. Basil’s Cathedral both inside and out. They were all amazing and pictures will tell a thousand words. One thing I didn’t get a picture of was this amazing group of church musicians singing inside the medieval halls of St. Basil’s Cathedral.
Our day continued with the lucky find of the Transit Cafe which was done up as a train carriage. They had staff who could understand English and carried English menus (hey so we’re heathens). The food and beer really filled a hole. Following lunch and beer we took in the State Historical Museum next to the Kremlin. I would suggest going there with a Russian though. We had to try and interpret the exhibits ourselves, which became quite hilarious. Keli tempted arrest by touching the glass cases. Apparently they have people stationed in every room to prevent glass smudging. We ran out of time in this comprehensive and impressive museum. The building and interiors alone are worth the visit.
We found our next stop: a typical American style mall for some Internet access. The whole point for me was to see if I could send an email to Anton in Irkutsk (my next stop). I had contacted Anton through the web before I had left Canada. He is a climber and guide who has said he would pick me up at the train station and take me around Lake Baikal for five days. Unfortunately, I forgot to e-mail him. Hopefully he will show up. We then returned to the hostel for some supermarket shopping for supplies for the train (I was not going to get on a train without adequate supply of food and vodka this time). Keli was going to take the train to St. Petersburg and I would go in the opposite direction for my 5000km journey to Siberia. Luckily both trains left from train stations near the same metro stop. For those intending to do these journeys: Leningradsky station has trains for St. Petersburg and Yaroslavsky is the departure point for most Trans-Siberian trains. It was there that I said good bye to Keli; I’m going to miss her. We’ve been through quite the adventure in the past two weeks and now I would be on my own again. After a bit of a wait, and using my meagre understanding of cyrillic I found the right platform and the right train. So here I am waking up the next morning on a high bunk on the Baikal Express.
My compartment is filled with three Russian women. Two women in their fourties (I think) – Mila and Natasha, and Natasha’s 14 or 15 year-old daughter, Dasha. In the next cabin is a retired Danish couple Nils and Anne-Marie with their grand-daughter Natalie on their way to Beijing. Next to them is another group of Danish women and a single Russian guy Yuri whose English is not that good. The three Russian women in my compartment cannot speak any English. This is turning into an odd episode of “Three’s Company”, should be an interesting 4 days.
So far I’ve laid out all the food I brought with me and we’ve all shared a breakfast. I’ve shown them postcards from Canada. The train has just gone past Kotelnich and I have adjusted my watch for the first time – 590 km into the journey.
It’s been a most interesting day on this train journey. A day of discovery and making friends. I’ve made friends with the Danish family next door and the family next to them. The Russians and I finally have understood some things about each other in my compartment and now they know I am 31 – much to their shock. They all thought I was 22, what a compliment! The young girl with the second group of Danes (16 year-old Rosa) also thought I was young. I spent quite a bit of time talking to Nils about Denmark, Canada and conservative politician in our respective countries (neither of us like them). I’ve also made friends with the rather cute (and probably quite young) Providentsia, Elena.