A Shady Overnight Train Ride and Red Square

Trip Start Aug 25, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2007

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

From St. Petersburg, we took an overnight train to Moscow.  Walking to our train seemed kind of like a time machine.  The only other time I've been on trains are the regional trains in Denmark or the TGV, both of which are very nice.  These trains just looked very very old, and maybe a bit rickety.

Inside, everything was squished.  With four people to a room, it was a hard time figuring out where to put the luggage and I got stuck on one of the bunks.  It was really skinny and I was scared of falling off.

The worst part, though, was that it was just dirty.  We found an extra hole way up to put luggage in, but it was scary to look in there.  Instead, we tossed the blankets in there.  The sheets were clean enough but it was quite apparent that the blankets hadn't been cleaned in the last 10 years.  There was also a packaged breakfast for us.  I didn't touch it, but I heard from some people most of the stuff in it was expired.

Most people complained about the bathroom.  I didn't think it was any grosser than any other one in Russia although flushing it onto the tracks is always fun.  As Jeff put it, "I feel like a left a little bit of myself in this country, specifically on the tracks right outside of St. Petersburg."

Some people decided to party it up in their teeny tiny rooms but were quickly stopped by Russian police looking for bribes.  Turns out it's against the law to drink on trains.  No one knows that, of course.  Anna scared them off, and the kids continued to drink anyways.  I quickly passed out despite the top bunk being hot and stuffy.  Another wonderful feature is that no windows open on these trains.  It's just one enclosed, hot, stuff, dusty nasty little compartment.  But oh well, by 9am we had reached our destination.

Traffic in Moscow is a nightmare so it took us forever to get to the hotel on the other side of the city.  Moscow is worse for traffic than St. Petersburg as it's a much older city.  St. Petersburg was at least built for carriages.  Today, there's way too many cars and way too little space, despite an excellent and extensive public transportation system.  Like the US, owning a car is a status symbol.

I immediately liked Moscow more, minus the traffic and minus the service at the hotel.  We stayed at Hotel Kosmos, which was built for the 1980 Olympics.  It took us over an hour just to check into our rooms and my room wasn't even cleaned yet!  It's a ridiculously huge hotel with at least 10 restaurants, casinos, bowling, a night club (which in Russia means strip club), and tons of souvenir shops.  You also get a view over all the old exhibition centers, probably for the Olympics.  Oh and it's really sparkly.  I have a video, but it's in a later entry.

After a much needed shower, we went out for a full day of sightseeing.  We saw Saint Basil's Cathedral in Red Square.  Red Square is not red.  It consists of the Cathedral, Lenin's Mausoleum, the Russia Museum, walls of the Kremlin, and a high end shopping mall.  The Red Square McDonald's is also very close by. 

Unfortunately, dead Lenin wasn't available for viewing on this day.  His tomb operates under mysterious hours, and apparently closed for the next two days.

After Red Square, we walked down to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.  The Cathedral was recently built in 1996.  It was modelled to look exactly like the old one that stood in its place.  Under the communist government, all churches were closed and reopened as public spaces for recreation.  This church was turned into a swimming pool before eventually being dynamited in 1931.  This church was an important symbol for many people so it was rebuilt, exactly, in 1996 by Boris Yeltsin.

Afterwards, we met with some Russian students that go to the university in Moscow.  The two that met with my group were Anya and Tim.  We went back to Anya's house to make dinner.  That involved us getting on a metro and going to the very last metro stop.  It seems most middle class people live at the end of the metro, where housing is more affordable.  It's about a 45 minute commute, and during rush hour, a total nightmare.  Tim told us that, at the end of the line where the trains turn around, people often hide under the seats as it's illegal to stay on the train while it turns around.  People do this so as to get a seat during rush hour and can be fined heavily for doing so.  Otherwise, it's a crush of people, so no reading or anything nice on the commute.

The metros are also the places that show the most signs of communism.  Stalin wanted to make the metros the replacement for cathedrals...a kind of communist religion.  The ring line, which circles the city, has the most elaborate stops, only one of which I got to see.  I couldn't take pictures.  There were Soviet Art murals depicting the working class...and lots of floating heads of Lenin.  In one station there was a series of bronze plaques where the sickle and hammer had been pried off...you could see the shadow.  Yet, they haven't removed anything else.

At the end of the metro, we seemed far outside the city.  There was absolutely nothing but rows and rows of identical apartment buildings in a massive circle.  It seemed completely desolate and a bit intimidating.  We stopped at the local grocery store to pick up food for dinner.  As none of us had had lunch, we bought a TON of food.  Anya and Tim also bought a ridiculous amount of Russian candy and desserts before heading back to Anya's house.

Anya still lives with her parents in one of these apartment buildings.  People don't move out for college.  It's too expensive.  Neither Anya or Tim know what it's like to have a room to themselves.  Anya's apartment is pretty much what everyone else has.  It has two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom.  No dining room, no living room.  Her parents room acts as the living room.  Despite the deteriorated stairwells and the scary looking elevator, once you enter the apartment, everything was perfect and really nice.  You hardly noticed how horribly small it was.

That group picture is taken in her parents room.  We pretty much take up the whole room.  To the left is a couch which can be pulled into a bed at night.  Anya's room was a bit smaller with a similar type of bed for her and her sister.  The kitchen is even smaller, yet we somehow fit 9 people around it for dinner.

For dinner we had meat dumplings with tons of sour cream and a spicy red sauce that Tim claimed came from Chernobyl and was radioactive.  There was also bread, meat, cheese, greek salad, and a huge bowl of fruit.  For dessert there was cake and 3 bowls of candy.

During the dinner, Anya kept getting calls from her coach.  She plays table tennis at the university but wanted to quit the team to focus on schoolwork.  She's studying Japanese and wanted to study abroad.  However, the university system is also corrupt and very competitive.  Her coach called her to say that he would basically fail her in phys. ed. if she quit the team.  She needs three years of phys ed to graduate.

The whole dinner was a lot of fun and I was also excited to have sour cream again.  They just don't have it in Denmark.  I sat next to Tim and I've never seen anyone eat that much in my entire life (he's really skinny).  At one point, he started plopping sour cream on his plate...and just eatting it...straight.  It was interesting.
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