Friday, October 22, 2010

Nizhni Novgorod: It Begins

Our excursion started with an overnight train ride on Thursday. After school we all met at the aptly named "Moscow Train Station" (if you couldn't guess, the trains all go to Moscow or cities in that area). I love taking overnight trains in Russia, everyone is crowed into these tiny little coupes with four bunks a piece, with another two lying parallel to the aisle across from you. It's kind of romantic in a way, everyone sits around the tiny tables and eats, since there is pretty much nothing else to do for the twelve plus hours on the train. I had a lovely time sitting and chatting with my bunk mates, eating, laughing, and trying to organize a night of partying in Moscow with the son of the head of the North American Cossack League (he is also a Duma member) but unfortunately those plans fell through, since he was apparently off doing Cossack things in Rostov on Don. In the end it didn't matter, we did just fine for ourselves in Moscow, but that's a story for a different blog post...
We arrived in Nizhni really early Friday morning. As much as I love Russia trains, sleeping on them is absolutely impossible. I had ended up passing out around 10 without actually having made my bed. Coverless, I spent a night of fitful sleep getting my feet mangled by approximately every single person on the train. The bunks on these trains were made for someone approximately the size of a leprechaun, meaning that a rather large portion of my body hangs off the bed and into the aisle. Over the summer, I always had the top bunk, so when I wasn't squeezed into the overhead storage bin like I was on my first ride when my feet ended up hanging out the window, my feet were safe to dangle in the aisle. Since nobody wanted to rick getting my sasquatch feet to the face, they usually ducked out of the way. Being on the bottom bunk was a completely different matter. Having your feet at knee level is practically asking for mutilation. I honest think people made a conscious effort NOT to get out of the way, if only to see my combination look of sleepy consternation and grimace of pain. Nizhni Novgorod itself is a beautiful city, and one of my favorites of the whole excursion, we first visited the apartment that was used to basically imprison the inventor of the Soviet A-bomb (his name escapes me at the moment). I found the museum to be dreadfully boring, I was stuck at the tour group with a small group of people, so we couldn't really hear anything people said. We ended up having to entertain ourselves. IE, sign the guestbook and sit on this guys furniture. The rest of the city I loved though. Nizhni's Kremlin walls are still standing, and command a giant hill that overlooks the city. The Kremlin even has WWII tanks, trucks, artillery, and planes that the city produced during the war on display which, if so inclined, one can climb on. I was so inclined and spent a blissful 10 minutes or so climbing all over T-34 tanks and Katyusha rocket trucks. That evening a few friends and I went to explore the city ourselves. We ended up getting more than a bit lost and ended up in some of the city's seedier areas, but even so I thoroughly enjoyed myself. My highlight was our adventure to find water. Which ended in a basement grocery store which one could only get through by walking down a dilapidated stair case and going through a door which I couldn't really differentiate from the wall around it. Only in Russia I guess...
The evening was spent on the boat. That night we had our first encounters with Vera and Denis, otherwise know as the waitstaff from Hell. Vera, who you will hear much more about in future entries, was a dour, rather unpleasant girl, who was our waitress for the week. Everything and everyone appeared to be a major inconvenience for her, and that included us and getting our food. The first night dinner took over two hours because Vera was so slow, and we simply left when she apparently refused to bring us our after dinner tea (a necessity in Russia) Denis was the barman's assistant upstairs. Denis wouldn't serve anyone a second drink until they had payed for the previous one, a system which he didn't bother to inform anyone of. So after one rather delicious white Russian, we spent a good 45 minutes trying to order drinks that never came. Finally, we threatened to just walk out, it was only then that nasty Denis bothered to inform us of his preposterous system. Needless to say we left in quite a huff. The evening was saved however, and I spent a rather lovely couple of hours drinking wine downstairs in another bar with a couple of friends. I apologize that my photos of Nizhni are rather limited in number, I had various camera fails throughout the day (no batteries, no memory card, etc.) and unfortunately as of this moment only a few other people have posted their pictures of the excursion. I do have a few though, and hopefully those will suffice.

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