Red Square and Some Nice Young People

Trip Start Jan 31, 1996
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
A dump of an apartment owned by a guy named Sergei

Flag of Russia  ,
Tuesday, October 3, 2006

"We'll meet at 14:30 here in Red Square to exchange information." I said to Ellen as she was about to slip in the front entrance of the Moscow Armoury to view the crown jewels.
"Shall I call you Maxwell Smart or do you wish that I use your code name 86?" she replied in play-along.
With a smile and a wink I pretended to pull up the collar on my trenchcoat. I adjusted the brim of my invisible fedora, threw the gal a kiss, then walked straight towards the side entrance of the GUM department store in search of new sneakers and cafe espresso. It was special that I was able to do all those things with a woman before setting off on the task at hand. Who knew where it would all lead? Ever since the height of the Cold War I'd wanted to exchange information in Red Square. We were here in Moscow and I was damned if I'd be denied.

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You notice subtle differences in people as soon as you cross the border into Russia. In the Moscow train station, for example, a child of three or four made fun of the little hair thingy growing below my bottom lip. I took this as a sign of perhaps good things to come.

Andrey and Sasha, our more than exceptional hosts in St. Petersburg, had dropped us off at the train station Saturday night after taking us to an evening performance of early Baroque music at one of the Tsars' palaces. We walked up to the conductor on platform 5 and showed her our tickets. She tore off the piece that she keeps, gave us back our portion then told us to go to cabin 21. To shorten a long and rather ugly story, we found out with three minutes to go that we were on the wrong train. We grabbed our bags and rushed off the train. Ellen was able to get the point across in Slovak to the stupid conductress that she had put us on the wrong train. The surly woman slowly fiddled trying to find the other half of our tickets. Once we got them back we ran for the train on the "other" platform 5. Just like in the movies, with the whistle blowing, we climbed aboard the last car as the train pulled out of the station.

We shared a cabin with a young newlywed couple from Moscow. Sasha and Anton barely spoke English and were thrilled for some reason to have us as cabin mates. They told us about life in Russia. We told them about life in Canada. They told us about their studies in university, we told them about our work in Canada. They related their fears of the USA. We did the same. The talk went on for three hours - well past bedtime.

In the morning we showed Sasha and Anton our map and told them where we were staying.
"No problem." said Anton. "We take you on Metro." (subway)
"You can't do that, it's out of your way." Ellen replied.
Anton looked at Ellen, puzzled by her foreign words, and said simply "Come, Metro this way."

We arrived in the still dark, rainy morning at Kropotkinskaya Metro station, somewhere near our apartment. Oh, and Kropotkinskaya, like every other word in Russian, is written in the very different Cyrillic alphabet. While Ellen, Anton and I stood in the misty darkness, Sasha ran up and down alley and avenue asking people where 13 Obydensky Street was. After twenty minutes, she found the place. Once in, we offered them tea and bread. They declined with smiles and hugs then left us.

At 7:00 a.m. Ellen and I crawled back into bed, wondering aloud what would bring a young couple to be so kind and generous. And similarly, a person like the train conductress to be so cold and nasty.

Anyway, Sasha and Anton, you're both invited to stay with us in Canada. Ah, what the hell, so are you Andrey and Sasha of St. Petersburg.

Afterword: There will be no further correspondence until we reach Beijing. Tonight we board the Trans-Mongolian train.
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