After dropping my stuff with the kind staff at Apple Hostel (given I was no longer staying there), I headed off for a coffee while waiting for the consulate to open. Eventually the time came and … actually, I kinda covered this in my post about the visa, so I’ll just quote:
“Monday morning, back from Moscow I was at the consulate at opening time, and not really looking at me the woman took my passport, and 10 minutes later returned with the visa inside. I paused briefly, considering saying something, and decided it wasn’t worth it. I checked the dates, and left, finally, visa achieved!”
Right. It was raining again, and my feet were soaked. The reason being, as is tradition with me – I tend to wait until my shoes are literally falling apart before I buy new ones. It happened in Morocco when I was walking around for days in the wet, and in Ireland when I was there during their flood of ’09. And so I returned to the hostel to ask Irena where the nearest cheap shoe shops would be. Conveniently there were a few nearby, and I eventually found a big mall with mostly designer stuff, but one shop with some cheap-by-Saint-Petersburg-prices shoes. Sneakered up, I exited to find the rain had stopped, of course, but at least I had shoes.
I stopped in at the train station to buy my ticket south to Volgograd, and walked around for a while, got some food, and finally returned to get my stuff and head to the station. It was going to be a long trip, and I’d settled on Kupe class for two reasons – 37 hours in a bed slightly too short would be annoying, and secondly it’d mean I’d have power points – a huge plus given I had no English language books on me and odds were I couldn’t really hold a conversation with my cabin mates.
I found the train and wandered on, ending up in a cabin with a family – two parents and their kid Maxim. I was to hear his name called in anguish many, many times on this trip – he wasn’t the most obedient of kids, and coupled with his over-protective parents made for a repetitive ‘Maxim…Maxim…Maxim’. Again I seemed to have ‘my’ bunk – I somehow always get given the top right bunk in each group, which suits me – I can hide away on the top bunk if I want to, without feeling guilty about keeping someone from using their ‘seat’ on the bottom bunk.
This trip would mean that I’d get two nights on the train, and as such on the second evening I decided it was time to be a tourist — although I’d gotten out regularly and bought snacks in the villages, I decided I was going to use the restaurant car. I wandered down and immediately realised my problem – naturally, the menu was in Cyrillic. The chef, pleased that a tourist was using his services, actually spoke some English and a little Spanish, so between the three languages we managed to translate a few of the items for me, having some delicious soup and some decent chicken, while I watched the villages and fields go by out the big carriage windows.
The countryside is very different again on this route, compared with the forests of Siberia and the lakes of Murmansk – with more small villages, farmland and open countryside – still rather green.
As we came towards Volgograd in the early morning, the provodnik woke us and we started seeing the Volga river, finally pulling in to the station bright and early. I said goodbye to the family, and headed out to see Volgograd after confirming the only train to Astrakhan, where I next wanted to stay, was at 7.30pm that night, giving me a day in the city.
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