We’d done so much so far, that it’s difficult to realise that only now, we would start the ‘real trip’, ie the Transsiberia train (which ‘technically/officially’ starts in Moscow)!
We made our way to the station feeling a mix of excitement, apprehension… and sore eyes and throats (because of the smog, see previous posts, lol). After all, this was going to be a night train, third class, in Russia. Moreover, earlier the day we had seen the St P equivalent of a Gay Pride Parade: hordes of drunk men dressed as sailors parading down the streets, singing songs :D (click here for the Moscow version, which looks pretty much identical). These were all going to go back to Moscow in our train, as cheap as possible… we felt our butt cheeks contract.
Well, to make a long worry short: we were pleasantly surprised. Third class was filled with, shock horror, normal people! Yes, there were elderly, couples with young children, a young Chinese couple on their way back to China
– the first of many many people we would meet that were doing the most amazing trips; they had been travelling from China through Thailand, then back up to Russia, to Moscow. Now they were going back non-stop to Beijing, third class, to save money :).
in short, nobody was even slightly weird or annoying or drunk. Well, except us :S.
After not even a bad night’s sleep, but way too short, we were unleashed onto Nizhny Novgorod, a city we picked for… reasons that we had forgotten about since we picked NN :-/. Apparently it was more authentic than Yekaterinburg that we spurned. We left our luggage in the station luggage storage (another pleasant surprise, since we had no hostel in NN to stay in we didn’t fancy walking around in the heat with all our stuff) made our way into some residential area of town because someone (my name shall remain unmentioned) picked the wrong bus, then made our way back to the station, and finally picked the right minibus to end up close to the city centre. The good thing about arriving so bloody early is that you actually have time to lose and you’re still bloody early!
We bought breakfast in a supermarket, ate on top of the park next to the river, and started exploring town. The first thing we explored was the Kremlin – like in Moscow a large area, surrounded by a wall, built for defense ages ago. The one in NN contained a church and, much to our delight, a small open air exhibition of various warstuffs, where we could climb onto! Not that we were happy to do that, of course not…
We also explored the wall of the Kremlin, that we were allowed to visit after paying a certain amount of money – how much was decided on the spot by the woman behind the counter, based upon (1) the fact that we were not from the city, (2) that we were (well we all claimed to be) students, (3) our age, (4) the day of the week, (5) the relative humidity, (6) the square root of our combined heights but mostly (7) that we were eager to get in and therefore (8) were unlikely to argue with her.
Halfway around the wall we were stopped by a door that was firmly locked. We briefly – very briefly – thought about asking the lady behind the counter for a partial refund, but quickly decided we were unlikely to get one, so we made our way back and out into NN proper. By that time, it was already getting warm-ish.
That Rock ‘n Roll attitude, at 10 am, in a café
By this time it was coffee break time so we… proceeded to ravage the fanciest café in town! How? Well…
We quickly found this posh café close to the Kremlin which promised wireless internet – good for our netbook and iPhones. Upon getting in, we asked (tried to ask) how much a Coca Cola cost. That’s when it started to go wrong for the café, as they proceeded to actually serve us four Cokes – that they then splattered all over the floor because the waitress tripped. Before we had a chance to change our order into what we REALLY wanted – Coke, coffee and tea – they had the next four Cokes out. As Coke was actually the cheapest thing on the menu, we decided to leave it at that and just use the free wireless thank you very much.
Things got worse for the restaurant when we discovered they had really clean and luxurious toilets; a few of us decided we needed to, er, ‘unload’, while a few others thought that the heat had made such a mess of their feet that these needed a thorough wash. I leave the state of their toilets after our respective visits up to you to imagine.
We added a final insult to their injury when, after paying the bill, we also decided that the prices were high enough that we need not tip them and we picked even the last Kopek from the tray with our change. All staff stared at us when we left – such rude personnel, would you believe it?
The café did get their revenge, sort of, when we forgot our water bottle on the table – despite returning after a minute, the table had been wiped pristine clear with not a sign there had ever been a bottle. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.
A closed museum, an open museum, no more museums
After putting the entire neighbourhood to work, we eventually found the birth house of Maxim Gorky. Then it was easy to find the Gorky museum that was closed on Thursdays. We were there on a Thursday.
We then found a museum that was open: the Most Overstaffed Museum in the World. Hundreds of middle-aged ladies crawling around in rooms filled with paintings, switching on the light before any visitor (that would be either one of us four, or one of the two Russian visitors) came into the room, and flicking the light off again when the visitor had left.
How much preservation this was doing to the paintings when the temperature in the museum was so far off the scale of the thermometers that the alcohol nearly was spewing out of the top, god only knows. Meanwhile, Rows of ladies were watching us walk through the corridors. Scores more ladies watched us, and talked about us amongst themselves in Russian, as we ascended the stairs. So many ladies occupied the cloakroom to attend to our three bags, we had to push our way through to get our bags back.
When we left, they all came outside and a hundred ladies waved us good-bye, wiping the occasional tear from the corner of their eye. It was touching. Oh and the paintings weren’t too bad either, a good cross-section of periods from icons through to the early 20th century. (THIS was my favorite painting, by the way).
An eerie nap
After briefly failing to find more museums and a bath, we decided to find a nice, quiet place for a power nap. We walked a short bit into a park and lay ourselves down. We were awoken, one by one, by some drunk Russian bloke gibbering incomprehensibly. Being quite freaked out, we ignored him for a bit, and after that didn’t work – he kept on talking – we packed up and left. Ted told us he’d been going on about how we should be careful, of course he would never do anything to us, but others, you know… Well, to us he was still just a drunk who wanted money. plus we realised just how bloody deep we’d been sleeping and we, indeed, may have been robbed.
We slowly made our way back to the station – breaking the trip temperature record once officially (see photo)
and once unofficially along the way (when we were stood still in a traffic jam in a minibus without aircon, it must have been at least 45 degrees – we followed the Russians out of the bus and walked the last bit).
The rest of NN was fairly uneventful, we found fast food, and sat in the station waiting for our next night train, and Diana and Ted played ping pong. Nothing special. Then the train arrived.