The Trans-Siberian Railway and Moscow: A Green, Post Soviet City
I made it to Moscow!
Hello friends, I made it to Moscow! I’ve been here for 4 days and it has been quite the cosmopolitan experience. Before I indulge you with my city life, I’ll tell you some funny stories from my 4 day train ride from Irkutsck.
Well, where I left you last, I was rushing to the train station to catch my 3am train. I got to the station on time, but found out the train was delayed for 2 hours. So, I sat on the main steps and tried to read my book for awhile, but I started dozing off. I was worried that I’d sleep through the train arrival (since the delay time was changing constantly), so I started humming to keep myself awake. Little did I know, there was a 19 year old Russian boy who noticed me and (he told me later) thought I looked really sad and lonely. As I was dozing off again, this boy approaches me and starts speaking Russian. I told him, “sorry, I don’t speak Russian.” He was so surprised to meet a foreigner that he didn’t know what to do, so he grabbed my bag and started walking away with it! I jumped up and asked him to let go of my bag, but I could tell that he was trying to help me. So, I followed him to a bunch of chairs and he placed it down and pointed to a chair (where he was sitting before.) He then extended his arms, did a little dance, and said “Tah-Dah.” I laughed and sat down; I knew we’d be friends.
He ended up being my Russian teacher for 4 days and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he spoke a little English! His name is Konstantin, but I call him Kostia, and he just finished his military service. Everyday, we would meet and he would teach me new words and I would help him improve his English. It was a great way to pass the time on the train!
So, about the train. I took 3rd class, which means I was in a carriage that has no privacy. There are 6 beds per room, but the room is only 2 sided. The way the beds are set up: 4 beds are in a bunk bed style and they are perpendicular to the train, another 2 beds are bunk bed style, but parallel to the train and they are in the hallway part of the carriage. I was in the latter bed at the top. If I laid down correctly, I could look out the window while in bed; I really liked that.
I woke up the first morning and found 4 Russians sharing a meal of ham and bread. I smiled and they smiled and a very large busty woman motioned me to sit beside her. She said some Russian to me and I made that ‘sorry, I don’t speak your language’ face. Well, she erupted in laughter, and gave me a huge grin. This is when she started feeding me food. I ate and ate aaaaaand ate. They wouldn’t stop. Kostia arrived by this time and told me how to say I’m full and it stopped. The busty women laughed some more, told me I was her daughter, and then gave me a huge, wet kiss on the cheek. I had just become part of the family.
This group of people ended up being paegans with an Indian influence. They would meditate and hum chants together (there were at least 15 people). It was a very special experience. I was happy to learn a new method of meditation and to share food with these kind, open people. Sadly, they left after 2 days, but we exchanged contacts and I plan to send them American food/souvenirs as a thank you. As a side note, the people who replaced them were total opposites. These 2 women walked in with their noses held high, and Kostia translated to me that they thought I was ugly because I did’t wear make-up. When he translated to them that I feel pretty without make-up, they scoffed and told me I would never find a man to love me and I will never have children. (Before you send me pity notes, please understand I know they are wrong. I just think it is a very funny and sadly, a very Western-Russian thing.)
The rest of the train ride went well. I read my book, learned Russian, slept a lot, looked out the window, did lots of thinking, and talked with Kostia. I was very lucky to have a friend on the train.
I must say, Moscow is a very beautiful town. It is surprisingly green and it is full of historic buildings. It tickles me to see the hammer and sickle engraved into the older buildings. There are lots of red stars decorated about and I still see the CCCP on some old monuments. The USSR era may have fallen 2 decades ago, but there is still a presence. I went on a free tour of the city and one of my favorite stops was this church that survived the Christian purges of the USSR. The government told the public that this church was very sacred, but in actuality, the KGB (secret police), would question and torture criminals in it. All in secrecy. How crazy is that? I also saw the Red Square, Saint Basil’s Cathedral, and the Kremlin of course.
I spent some time exploring the town. The farther you go away from the town center, the more you’ll see old soviet style apartments and lots of ugly block, cement buildings. There is also a wall that the soviets built to defend from attack, but most of it has been demolished or is now used for random buildings. I visited some old factories that were used during war times, but are now hip bars/restaurants.
My last comment about Moscow is that the metro system tunnels are exceptional. They are huge with lots of arches and decorations. Some have chandeliers, some statues, and many are lined with paintings (some dating back to the 1930s). When I got off the subway from the train station, I was blown away by the criss-crossing stairways. Kostia didn’t seem to notice just how cool it looked. You know, seeing so many people walking up, down, and around the numerous amounts of stairways! Also, the escalators were so long and the tunnels were gigantic. Okay, I’ll stop talking about the metro, but I honestly was blown away.
Other than that, Russia has been a great time. Irkutsck, Lake Baikal, the TransSiberian train, and Moscow. I wish I could’ve seen St. Petersburg, but I guess I’ll just have to come back. I am glad to have spent time here and that I was able to make new friends. Today, I will go to the cosmonaut museum and then I will catch my plane to Prague to meet my father and brother in the morning. I can’t wait to see them. : )
I’ll talk to you soon.