on the rails again

This week, Vickie and I went to Ukhta State Technical University’s “filial” (partner university? satellite campus?) in Usinsk. This is pronounced Oo-sin-sk (only two syllables, but separated for easier reading). Usinsk is… tiny. Like, we walked from the center to the edge in about 20 minutes. We drove around the entire city (all four streets) in about 30 minutes. But it’s also quite cute, and there’s a nice forest. There’s also a nice 600-student, single-building university, which is the actual reason we went: to teach! (It’s almost like that’s our job or something.)

But first, I want to talk about the going… the train.

Last time Vickie and I took the train, you’ll remember, it was a 32-hour ride from Moscow to Ukhta, about 96 hours after entering the country. We had a nice (only mildly traumatic, and maximally sedated) experience in kupe (4-person private cabin).

This time, we had a nice (still only mildly traumatic, although less sedated) experience in platzkart (open, barracks-style car). We took the fast train there (10 hours) and the slow train back (12 hours).

The Good: Lots of time to sleep, no creepy guys in our immediate vicinity, no drunk people anywhere we could tell. …And, on the way back, our neighbor from the dormitory was just a few bunks down from us!

The Bad: SO HOT. I can’t even describe it. Okay fine, it was only 80 degrees F, but there was literally no movement of air, and a whole lot of people… especially on the top bunk, breathing isn’t really a thing that happens. Also, we had one cabin-mate whose snore resembled the revv of a chainsaw. So the “lots of time to sleep” didn’t exactly translate into “sleep.”

The Amusing: “Katie, the bathroom is so great!! It has toilet paper.” –Standards.

Once in the city, we got settled into our apartment-hotel. I have no pictures, sorry, but I can give you the Good, Bad, and Amusing of it…

The Good: Beds! Hot shower! Functional kitchen!

The Bad: Have you ever seen The Irony of Fate? …yeah. The first night we spent about 30 minutes trying to find the right place, then about 15 trying to get the key to work in the door when we’d found it. Turns out we were still in the wrong building. I at that point was mildly feverish with a headache and sore throat, and Vickie also had a migraine, and we were carrying ~7kg of groceries, and basically we were a sight to be seen.

The Amusing: Trying to leave a note for our roommates telling them they could help themselves to our pasta… while slightly delirious and with no good sense of Russian whatsoever.

We had classes with the university students…

The Good: My class on Wednesday had only eight students, so we could play games, and they could all have a chance to talk!

The Bad: Only two of the eight wanted to talk. Too bad for the others, because I didn’t take a 10-hour ride in a fiery furnace just to watch people stare silently at me for two hours.

The Amusing: At the English Club meeting on Tuesday, Vickie and I started (as usual) in English. This was met with much and vocal protest, and pleas to answer their questions in Russian. We, receiving affirmation from the authorities there, did so. We heard later that the students had complained that they “expected us to speak English with them, but we only spoke Russian the whole time!” Okay.

We also got to see some of the dostoprimechatel’nosti (tourist sights) of the town.

The Good: Nice weather, flowers, an interesting tour guide (hi Olga!)

The Bad: I was sick the whole time and carrying an enormous backpack for part of it, so I was kind of grumpy.

The Amusing: Can we just talk about the mosquito monument?

Among the other dostoprimechatel’nosti, we got to see the forest in Usinsk. The idea was, I think, to take a nice, brisk walk… which turned into more of a run/quick tramp for us. But we lived. And the forest is beautiful.

The Good: Beautiful nature, beautiful dog.

The Bad: Vickie falling into the snow, my feet freezing.

The Amusing: Yeah, that hole in the ice? Olga literally went swimming in it, then we walked for another 45 minutes.

All in all, good trip. But now I need to go take some NyQuil and catch up on sleep. (…And consider packing ice and an oxygen tank next time I take a Russian train.)

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