Friday, June 28, 2013

June 17, 2013

I woke up much earlier than I wanted to and found that Willoughby had been quietly knitting at her berth waiting for me to wake so we could drink coffee. She told me two other passengers had boarded our compartment in the middle of the night and upon getting to the upper berths, immediately shut the window.

I consulted Willoughby about tipping Elvira, our waitress, for saving us the hassle of having to walk through six cars to get to the dining car. We agreed on 500 rubles with each one of us sharing one half.

Now that the sleeping portion of the train ride was over, I changed into a long navy blue skirt I had brought with me and sat by the window enjoying the much more pleasant landscape composed mainly of forests. Once in a while, a house made of wood come along and trash could be seen burning at the edge of the town.

By 8:20 am, Elvira hadn’t shown up with our breakfast, so I had no choice but to run the gauntlet of smokers once again only  to find Elvira fast asleep as she had had to stay up late taking care of customers that came to the dining car to drink. She appeared totally exhausted and that made me feel worse. I told her not to worry about it, but she insisted on sending the breakfast as soon as she could.

A young man came with the tray. We were hoping that Elvira would come by to pick it so we could provide her with the tip, but neither one of them ever returned, and I wasn’t about to make that walk again.

The new passengers on the upper berth appeared to be a man and his young daughter. He smoked like a chimney while she played with her cell phone. It started to rain as we approached Moscow and we got into a cavernous train station where we asked for Wi-Fi so I could retrieve Irina’s directions. We were directed to a minuscule food court where I ordered a beer to quench my thirst and obtained the password.

We couldn’t make heads or tails of the train system and didn’t realize the metro and suburban trains run from the same station. I opted for asking a well-dressed woman if she spoke English and to our relief she did. This woman made sure we got on the right train after buying the tickets for us, asked a fellow passenger who was heading in the same direction to let us know where to get off, and called Irina to her let her know we were on our way. Ah, the kindness of strangers.

The ride took fifty minutes and the view outside was mostly that of ugly high rises and advertising billboards. Across the station we stopped, a church was being reconstructed after the Soviet years when it had been turned into a market.

Irina was waiting at the metro station with her young daughter and drove us in her car to her parents’ dacha where after showing us the place, we sat down to eat a bit of fish and rice. She was marinating pork chunks for a barbecue, but wanted to wait for her friend Galina. We sat under the gazebo where the mosquitoes promptly started feasting on me, so when the rain really picked up, Irina suggested going inside to eat and we were more than happy to comply.

Irina’s father was in the hospital for testing related to a kidney condition he’s fighting, and so we didn’t have a chance to meet him. The family seemed very happy with the four jars of jam we’ve brought them along with the bag of dried apricots.

Once the meal was over, Irina took us for a drive around her neighborhood and fortunately the rain stopped long enough to allow me to take a few pictures. I fell asleep on the way back even though I had started feeling a bit of low back pain, something rather unusual for me.

Irina’s city featured wide boulevards, clean streets, orderly traffic and lots of flower beds. It was the beginning of the famed “white nights” and it was still light outside at 11:00 pm.

We were occupying Irina’s daughter’s bedroom, and so I got the top bunk bed.

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