This site contains the archives of my travel blogs from 2010-2016.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Overnight Train: A Necessary Experience

The best way to describe my over-night train ride from St. Petersburg to Moscow would be to say, as Joe -- one of the other interns -- always says, “a necessary experience.” It was a truly Russian experience, to say the least. I ended up in a купе (coupé) with three Ukrainian sailors – soon to become three drunk Ukrainian sailors. Two of them were middle-aged, 50 and 55. And one – Sasha – was younger, thirty-five at the very most. Andrei and Aleksandr, the older men, didn't speak any English but were happy to converse in Russian. Sasha kept wanting to exercise his small English lexicon.

It was fun for the first few hours; I talked as much as my limited vocabulary would allow, while the sailors drank. And drank. And drank. Until all the vodka was gone. Then things took a turn for the worst. I knew it was going downhill when Sasha took a deep breath and said, “So, I have a proposition for you,” in his thick, almost-unintelligible Ukrainian accent. He then proceeded to try to convince me to marry him. Of course I played dumb and hoped that my “lack of understanding” would make him lose interest. Bad call on my part. Instead, Sasha seemed determined to not only make me understand his wishes, but to convince me that marriage would be a fantastic idea. The two older guys must have taken this as their cue to leave, and went out for a smoke – closing the compartment door behind them with a bang.

Sasha, who had been sitting next to the window, directly across from me, moved to my side of the bench, picking up and holding my hand. As he leaned in, in an attempt to kiss me, I retreated even farther into the corner, flattening myself against the wall. Hoping to escape without angering this guy, I succeeded in pulling my legs up to the bench and turning my body perpendicular to his, creating a barrier between us with my knees. I continued to deflect his marriage proposals, and eventually Andrei and Aleksandr returned from the smoking platform at the end of the car. Using their arrival as a segue to what I thought would be a more comfortable situation, I stood up and said “Ya budu spat” – “I'm going to sleep.” My bunk was a top bunk, so I climbed up and got situated. It was about 11PM, and the guys decided to prepare for bed as well. By which I mean that one by one they stood up and started undressing, changing into very short shorts and t-shirts. Again, a little awkward, but they didn't seem to think twice about it.

I was just about to close my eyes when Sasha – who was on the other top bunk – sat up in bed and turned to face me, his long legs dangling in the aisle between us. He tried to start a conversation but I closed my eyes, hoping to fall asleep despite my uneasiness. When I opened my eyes a few minutes later, Sasha was six inches from me, standing in the aisle with his arms folded on the edge of my bed. He leaned forward as if he was planning to climb up on my side. I was not happy at this point, and beyond polite rejections. I raised my voice in Russian, pointing to his bed: “You – there. I am sleeping here. You are sleeping there. Don't touch me.” He raised his hands in the air and looked at me with a simultaneously dejected and offended look on his face, as if I had launched some unreasonable insult at him. But I had had enough. When he didn't move, I took to yelling again, this time in English. Now I didn't care if he – and everyone else – thought I was crazy. I just wanted him to go away. Andrei came in from his third smoke break and yelled at Sasha that I obviously didn't want him; that he needs to leave me alone. I gave Andrei a grateful smile as he pushed Sasha into his own bed. Sasha was very, very drunk and started making a ruckus: coughing, moaning, thrashing around in his bed. I was convinced that he must be sick in addition to being drunk. In fact, he was teetering on the edge of his bunk so much that I commented to Andrei, in the bunk below, "I'm scared he's going to fall."

“Nah, don't even worry about it," Andrei replied. "He won't fall. He's just drunk, he'll be fine.”

Okay, I thought, these guys have been doing this for years. I'm sure this is nothing out of the ordinary. But sure enough, I woke up about an hour later to a big crash and turned over to find Sasha half-sitting on the floor in the narrow aisle - five and a half feet below us. The vodka bottles on the table were scattered and a few were broken. Sasha had hit his head on the table as he fell, and if he hadn't been sitting there in a still-drunken stupor, looking around, I would have guessed that he was unconscious – if not dead. After about five minutes, he grabbed the wool blanket that had come down with him and curled up in the aisle. And that's how I left him when I got off the train in Moscow at 4AM. Best wishes to the next lucky girl that finds herself in his compartment.

Upon arriving in Moscow and relaying my experience to a woman at the Embassy, she replied, “Why didn't you request a “zhenshchina” all-women car?” It would have been nice to have known those existed back in St. Petersburg, when I bought my ticket.

Miche: J'ai pris le train de nuit pour aller à Moscou ce weekend, et je me suis retrouvé dans un compartement avec trois marins ukrainiens qui avait trop bu. Un d'entre eux voulait me marier! Il m'a demandé plusieurs fois, et puis il a essayé de monter dans mon lit. C'était vraiment effrayant, mais après que j'ai crié à lui en russe et en anglais il s'est dégagé. Puis, pendant la nuit, il a tombé presque 200 cm de sa couchette, cogné sa tête sur la table, et atteri sur le sol dans l'allée entre les lits. Quelques bouteilles de vodka vides se sont cassés, et je pensais que peut-être ce gars était mort. Mais non. Il s'allonger dans l'allée et dormait et c'est comme ça que je l'ai trouvé le matin. C'était dingue. Enfin j'ai survécu ce voyage de fou et on a passé un super chouette weekend à Moscou! Photos à venir!!


  1. OMG. This probably gave your parents gray hair!!! With all the alcohol consumed by these guys, you are fortunate to come out of there unscathed. All girl car for sure next time!!


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