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Published: February 28th 2006
These Russian entries are from the spring break trip taken with my study abroad classmates from Lithuania Christian College.
For some reason, the most direct route to Moscow from Western Lithuania was up through Riga, Latvia. We took the bus to Riga (several hours) and stopped for lunch before heading over to the train station. I guess they figured it would be too uncomfortable to leave at around 6am and grab lunch on the go while seeing the city. Thus, we rolled through some parts of Riga and went directly to the station without so much as a glimpse at the major sights. From arrival on, the train ride was a blast from the past. The station had the aura of a soviet people transfer depot, and when the train arrived and the cabin service attendants stepped out to check tickets, there was no mistaking them for the occupational relatives of Aeroflot Flight Attendants (known for their 90’s motto: “we don’t smile because we are serious about making you happy”). We were booked in first class, which meant that we would be sharing sleeper cabins in groups of 4. About two hours into the ride, we discovered that our ticket
also included drinks (this information came from our travel guides, not from the train staff). There is no cart that comes rolling down the aisle, but studious individuals who venture up to the galley can request it. I learned my three words of Russian on this ride. Shay (tea), Prozousta (please) and Spaciba (thanks). Once we were settled in, the tiny size of our cabin got to us and Sam and I went exploring to see what the other classes of service looked like. There is a steady progression towards wooden benches with no padding. This would make for a long night. Other than finding sleeping on the train on par with transatlantic flying, the rest of the journey was straight forward. We went through passport control at 2am, with the Russian lady who swung our cabin door open being more ‘pleasant’ than the Latvian. This was surprising. Upon arrival Moscow, the hoard of the thirty of us walked through the depot, down to the metro, rode a few stops and then headed to the hostel. We had all been given $100 to last us through the trip (spending money) and had to do the whole currency exchange at a
place that gave decent rates. The hostel was surprisingly nice (this is in comparison to expectations and not other places I have stayed). We ventured off to look at the national gallery and take in the Orthodox church of Christ The Savior
. It is too bad that they don’t allow people to take photos in the church (I snagged one off the official church website). Not only is it huge, but because of the design incorporating a covered alter and amazing icons everywhere, the scale of the size is magnified. The church was dynamited in 1931 to make way for a Soviet Memorial that never materialized. As the Communist era came to a close, the Orthodox Church received permission to rebuild in 1990. The project was completed in 2000 and the result is one great looking building. To the never-ending consternation of the ladies who looked after the church, there was a priest or monk that was chanting his prayers and prostrating himself before one of the icons. I guess it wasn’t the right time of day for people to be praying in the church. Right outside, there were several venders who had great pancakes made fresh on the spot. At about
Our compartment to Moscow from Riga
Sam and I are on the top bunks, Ashley and Katia (our travel troup leader from Vladivostok
$1 each, they were one of the not too expensive things that made passing through the area fantastic. Just beyond the church along the skyline, a true testament to the fall of communism rotated for all to see: A huge Mercedes star two stories tall. Yes, the country has entered a different time.
For some unknown reason, the group of us decided to go to a Korean restaurant and grab a bite before heading on to the Opera. This was our first encounter with Russian customer service in Moscow. The staff were all Russian (cooks unknown), and not really finding anything on the menu that jumped out yelling ‘order me,’ I went with some kind of Pancake pastry with Jam (yeah, so what if I liked Russian pancakes and didn’t feel adventurous). Twenty minutes later, the waitress emerged with the update that they were out of Jam, and asked what I wanted on the pastry. At this point I just felt like ordering somwhere elsewhere, so I passed on my desire not to have anything. Well, this was a problem, because they had already prepared the pastry, and I “had to order a different toping.” I guess it didn’t
occur to them to check back to see if I was still interested BEFORE continuing. As many of you know, I would normally not hesitate to engage in a lively discourse about the rights of a customer in a capitalist society. On this night, I was honestly just fairly tired and didn’t mind the thought of giving another option a try. I forget what it was that they actually put on it. It was ok, and I came away with a better appreciation for service in other countries.
The opera was an opera, in Russian, and about something significant that happened in Russia that I had no comprehension of. That aside, the other aspects of it, save for the intermission, were ok. The intermission introduced me to the worst case of air pollution I have ever encountered. Now folks, at this point in my life I was still a smoker. But nothing prepared me for the trek across the lower lobby to the men’s restroom. My eyes haven’t burned this bad since I accidentally put my contact cleaner in instead of my drops. The smoke was so thick that I wasn’t sure I was going into the right door
until it was right in front of me. The combination of an incredibly low ceiling and what seemed like two cigs per person smoking did the whole room in. After this encounter with poison gas, the redeeming factor of the night was seeing Red Square illuminated by a full moon and spotlights. We had not been there yet, and were thrust into its spender by turning a corner and going through a small gate. The whole experience was surreal. We got some great pics, and came away with a general understanding that we were indeed in the capital of the nation that was the other superpower for the majority of the 20th century. This identity was not going to fade into the sunset without a fight.
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