Tuesday, October 30 – Moscow


Well, it happened. I snapped today. At least I did it privately though. I was in the shower when it hit – although I’m not really sure what "it" was. All I can is that I cried and cried and it took everything I had left in me to not start screaming.


I think I need a hug.


I’m not really sure what is wrong with me – it is probably just "trainleg" which I’ve heard can be just as, if not more, dehabilitating as jetlag.  I think I’m tired, people. T.I.R.E.D.  I’m really enjoying traveling, but being on my own this long is finally wearing me down. I’m tired of having no one to talk to. I’m tired of being the one who has to always sort everything out. I’m just tired.


I arrived in Moscow perfectly on time yesterday. Anne and Greg (the only other people in my carriage) also got off at Moscow. I’m so happy they did! They were here before and knew their way around. Also, Anne knows a little Russian. Moscow is NOT set up for tourists. At all. There are no signs in English. If you are going to be here, you had better learn Cyrillic. Fortunately, that isn’t too hard. I learned on my own, on the train. And although I can’t say I understand Russian, I can find a KОФи shop or мкдоналдс. And that makes me happy.  Anyway, without Anne and Greg I would have been lost trying to find the metro station that should be right there. They were even, in part, going the same way as me. We went one stop together, to Prospekt Mira, then had to go in opposite directions on the same line.


I went the one stop and exited the station with no problem. Well… I shouldn’t make it sound as sweat-free as all that. I was constantly looking around for potentially corrupt cops and gangs of gypsy children. Both are supposed to prey on tourists, especially around metro stations and the like. The first supposedly take your passport, find something "wrong" with it, and make you pay them to give it back. The latter knife open your bag and steal shit. In my case, most of my bag is filled with dirty laundry. (Except hand washing my undies in Siberia on the train, no laundry has been done since Langkawi. Sick.)  I didn’t see either cops or gypsies though.


I found my hostel with relatively little trouble as well, dodgy as it seemed. A bleak, unmarked door with nothing but a peephole and a number pad.  111K111 and I was in. Rode to the fourth floor in an elevator that barely held me, my stinky bag, and a woman going to the second floor. The hostel is the only place on this floor. The door was heavy, padded, brown, obviously locked with a peephole. Taped to the door is a computer-generated sign that says "Welcome to Lenin Hostel" that did not exactly inspire confidence in the place as an upstanding five-star resting establishment. At first I couldn’t figure out how to get in. The door was, as I surmised by looking at it, locked.  I finally saw an unmarked button that surely must be a doorbell of some kind. I pushed it and, joy, it made noise. An unsmiling young Russian let me in. He checked my reservation and got me some sheets. He showed me to Room 10 and threw the sheets up on a bunk, said "ok" (as a statement, not a question) and left me to make my bed. All the furniture in here is obviously Ikean.  It was in China too. What’s with that? I made the bed and went to shower. Oh God! How glorious a hot shower was after six days! And the water pressure was much better than in Beijing.


Feeling much more human, I went online to (mostly) delete spam and get my train tickets delivered to my hostel. I also emailed my moms so she knew I was alive, and then booked a flight from London to Dublin.  I’m officially sick and tired of booking tickets without understanding the layout of the country. At least, in this case, I understood the language.


After that, I went to an ATM and got some cash.  Then to find food.  Once again, I was sorely tempted to go to мкд’с. Not because I like it, but because I was tired of being so on-guard that I just wanted something familiar and safe. I bucked up though and went to "SMall Pub".  And nearly got burned. The menu was entirely in Russian. Balls! I figured out the beer part of the menu but was lost after that. Fortunately, there was a young girl there that spoke English. She helped me order Cream of Mushroom soup as a starter, and then a porkchop with fried potatoes for the main. It was pretty good. After I ate, I came back to the hostel and, at about 7:30pm, I went to bed, exhausted.


The next day (today), I woke up very early (6:30am first), and was up and out of the hostel by 9am. And off I went, to find the Belarus Embassy.  Although I don’t know where to look for road signs, and trying to follow an English map (which I finally realized I was looking at upside-down*) to find streets labeled in Cyrillic, I found the embassy at about 9:25am**. So I left and walked back to a coffee shop I had found. I had fresh grapefruit juice, drip coffee, and a smoked salmon croissant. It was great. At 10am, I walked back to the embassy. Problem one: the door was locked. There was a buzzer, and a voice answered (in Russian, natch). When I said hello, they said more to me in Russian. Which I didn’t understand. Fortunately, people who did speak Russian arrived right at that moment, glanced at me contemptuously, spoke back to the box in Russian, and the door opened. I followed them in. And guess who was there getting their visas?  Anne and Greg! I was happy to see them, but not happy with what they said – namely that yes, I would need a passport photo, as well as a copy of my passport and Russian visa, as well as my train tickets. They had also downloaded the application off the internet. Of that list, I had a passport photo and a copy of my passport. I went up to the window anyway. She gave me an application, but basically (in Russian) told me to piss off and get a copy of my Russian visa. So I filled out my application and went back out into the mean streets of Moscow, uncertain where to get a fucking photocopy made. And the greatest part was that I only had just over an hour left to get my visa application in or it wouldn’t get processed.


At this point, I felt boned. I mean, I could be in Vancouver, and equally unsure of where to get a photocopy done. But in Vancouver, I could ask someone. In Moscow, not so much. And then I had the greatest idea ever.


The night before I had used the ATM at Citibank. The damned machine gave me a 1000R note. The bank appeared to still be open, so I went in to ask for smaller bills. One of the women inside spoke perfect English and explained that sorry, they couldn’t help because the "money part" of the bank was closed. Near the Belarus Embassy was another Citibank!  Hoping that each bank had an English-speaker, I went in to ask if they knew where I could have a copy made. Genius! The English speaking woman in there not only understood, she made the copies for me and wished me good luck. I needed it, because I was going back to the embassy with everything except my train tickets.


Back to the same unsmiling (but not necessarily unpleasant) woman at the visa desk. She accepted all my forms and said, "Billets?"  Thank God for all those (mostly) useless years I spent being force-fed French by the Canadian government, because I knew to tell her I had "nyet billets".  And surprise – she was okay with that. I paid my $45USD (post 1996 bills and exact change only) and was turned out into the streets, sans passport until 4pm. I stayed away from heavily touristed areas (avoiding the aforementioned potentially corrupt cops) and walked around Moscow – mainly Kuznetsky Most (supposedly a shopping area but not very interesting) and Chistye Prudy (where, had only it been colder, I would have gone ice skating).  Eventually I wondered back to my hostel, chilled out, and read for a bit.


At 3:30 I headed back to the embassy to pick up my passport between the seemingly arbitrary, militaristically exact, and maddeningly short window between 4:00 and 4:30.  I certainly did not want to miss it. Of course, however, being less-than-bright these days, I didn’t count on being a Master of these Moscow streets. So I was early.  I walked around a bit, and then headed back at 5 minutes to 4:00.  Anne and Greg were there too. We all picked up our passports with Belarus visas and no further hassles. I had no better plans, so I followed them to an internet cafe near the Red Square. St. Basil’s Cathedral at the Red Square defies description. It is simply unbelievable. We didn’t linger long, but rather went into a mall and found the internet cafe. I was dying of thirst and needed to find a toilet***.  I went pee, but was again overwhelmed by being in a Russian public place, so I headed straight back to the internet cafe.


Two side notes:


1. I’m in a "mixed dorm" in the hostel but it is a bunch of dudes and me. Boys smell bad.


2. I think I’m feeling overwhelmed here because of the language. Yeah, yeah. Korea for two years. But in Korea, everyone was Korean. I didn’t expect them to speak or understand English. But I expected all the white people to! Now, here in Moscow, everyone (and I do mean EVERYONE) is white, but few speak English. I guess I don’t know who to turn to if I need help (certainly not the cops, who are all supposed to be corrupt). I suppose I could keep going into Citibank. It has worked thus far.


Anyway, I went into the PC cafe. Saw Greg, but he looked busy. Didn’t see Anne. Found an empty PC, typed in my access codes, and goofed off for an hour. When I was done, I didn’t see Greg or Anne. They must have thought that I took off. I did my best to backtrack our steps to find my way back to the hostel. I’m so happy Moscow doesn’t completely transform at night into a new city (the way, for example, Hanoi did!)  I made it back no problem. 


I stopped in the bakery next door and bought something to eat and drink – it had been about 10 hours since the last meal.  My train tickets (which I don’t really understand) were finally at the hostel desk. I ate my pizza-esque pastry-thing, drank my Pepsi, and finished reading Franz Kafka’s "The Trial".  Grabbed some stuff, took a shower, had a breakdown.  Back to my bunk to write all this senseless shit down. Chatted with the guy from Japan who sleeps in the bunk under mine. And now I’m bone tired so I’m going to sleep.


Tomorrow I will go back to the Kremlin and the Red Square. I might (if I have time) check out Arbat Street. I’ve been looking for souvenirs, but there’s nothing. This is not a tourist town. I haven’t even seen postcards yet. Hopefully I’ll sleep well tonight and feel better tomorrow. Then tomorrow night starts the last bit of the trip and the end of the train portion of it. I can’t believe that after tonight, the next real bed I sleep in (or couch I sleep on) will be in five days at Orla and Joe’s in Dublin. I can’t wait to see them!



*I wasn’t literally holding the map upside-down. I was thinking about it upside-down, if you can dig what I mean. I thought the Red Square and stuff was to my left (making south to my left) when it was really to my right. And it took me a long time to get over it.


**Belarus doesn’t open until 10am.


***For quite some time after the train, I was very paranoid about being caught having to pee with no toilet. I’m getting over it now.

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