Remember that 30 hour train ride I kept talking about? It was, more accurately, a 32 hour train ride. Just thought I should clarify.
The second part of our odyssey to Ukhta began in the parking lot of a hotel in Moscow, where Vickie and I (plus Kaylin, who had a different train leaving at about the same time) were instructed to wait for a hired vehicle to take us to the train station. We were standing there, looking for a minivan or something similar to appear, when we saw a compact car pull up with a flustered-looking driver sticking his head out the window saying something unintelligible but obviously irritated.
15 minutes later, after trying out multiple arrangements to fit our collective six suitcases, three backpacks, and three purses into a rather smallish car, the still-irritated and now-panting driver took us on a silent ride to the airport.
In retrospect, we should have taken this as an omen for the whole trip.
Getting to the train was okay, although it probably did take us 20 minutes to get all of our stuff from the terminal, out to the platform, into the car, down the narrow hallway, to the compartment where we’d be staying. Then it took us plus a rather buff man from the compartment next door another 20 minutes to figure out where to put all of our suitcases and then to get them there… because whatever you might think, it’s kind of difficult to maneuver 49.5lb suitcases into an overhead compartment.
Then we settled in and sat down on the vacant bottom bunk (although we’d both purchased top bunks) across from our traveling companion: Babushka Lyudmila, who was also going to Ukhta. The first thing one notices about Babushka Lyudmila is her collection of gold teeth. I don’t know exactly how many she has, but I only ever caught a glimpse of two real ones. Out of all the Russians I’ve spoken to this trip, she has been the easiest to understand… she enunciates and speaks slowly. So in that sense, she was probably the best traveling companion for two amerikanki to have.
But in another sense, she was definitely a babushka with all the senses of entitlement that Russia gives to babushki, which while understandable was a little less than ideal. Although the space under her bunk was half empty, she not once offered to let us use it—totally normal in the way things work here, but maybe not the most helpful at the moment. Then she made some unnecessarily critical comments when Vickie was struggling to get up to the top bunk in one piece—again, totally normal in the Babushka Code of Conduct, but really not the best thing to say as far as we were concerned.
After the initial conversation, in which we all introduced ourselves and chatted for a bit over lunch, I went into Katie-is-an-infant mode. So basically, I did barely anything but eat, sleep, and read, and the only place I walked was to the bathroom… about 7 steps away. In total, I slept pretty near exactly half of our trip, including 10 hours overnight and 6-7 hours’ worth of naps Thursday afternoon-Friday evening.
But lest you think all I did was sleep, I should tell you that I made it 8% of the way through Anna Karenina, in Russian. That was pretty fun.
I also helped orchestrate a total reshuffling of luggage when… you guessed it… Babushka No. 2 arrived with her own boxes and found no place to put them. This drama featured a moment when Babushka No. 2’s husband came in and gave Vickie and me a little lecture about some bagazhnaya kareta. I had just woken up from one of my naps and was trying desperately to figure out what he meant. My train of thought went something like “bagázhnaya … bogataya … rich … expensive? … oh, he’s mad because bottom bunk tickets are expensive and one of our suitcases is under her bed.” But it turns out that my mental autocorrect way overthought that problem, and bagazhnaya kareta is just the baggage car (bagazh- sounds pretty much like baggage), and he was telling us that in the future we should check bags there.
I also spent a lot of time staring out the window at birch trees. There’s a whole lot of birch forest up here.
And then we had to get our suitcases back OUT of the train. But you’ve probably already gotten the message about luggage: less is more, or maybe take the plane next time.
But if you do take the train, be sure to make friends with the muzhiki in the compartment next door.