Sunday, 15 September 2013

'The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step..'

So I am writing my first post from the Motherland.

Before I get in to telling you all about my first week's experiences, I guess you'll want to know how I ended up here in the first place! Sorry about the lack of pictures (usually I am quite snap happy!) - I guess I was just in travel mode, not blogger mode!!

As Lao Tzu once said 'The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step'. Mine began with a step in to Heathrow T5. Richard (my boyfriend, for those of you that don't know) offered to take me to the airport, which I suppose was a blessing and a curse. Though there were lots of tears, from both sides (though he wouldn't want me to tell you that!), and though it was horrible watching him wait until the last second to walk away, I felt less sick going through security knowing that the worst was over! Shame that I was sad and weighed down by baggage - if I were more cheery, Tiffany's would have been the first stop in duty free.

At gate B44, I was surrounded by steely, solitary looking Russians. I guess Russia isn't anyone's first stop on the tourist track. Having never flown British Airways before (thank you to Mother for sacrificing her air miles!), I was pleasantly surprised to find a complimentary pillow and blanket on my seat and my very own mini TV screen! After reading through some basics in my Lonely Planet phrase book, I soon decided that the Hang Over Part 3 was much more worthy of my attention. Soon food was brought round, and after an interesting take on an English Breakfast (a piece of steak?? really??? you are BRITISH airways - sort it out!), Moscow was only a glass of orange juice and a nap away.

After circling through a storm to land, I can think of only one word appropriate to describe Domodedovo airport - PUDDLE! Passport control seemed to be quite orderly, or at least more so than the scrum that greets you in St Petersburg. Security spent what seemed like hours scrutinising my visa and my passport - I was half wondering whether my passport chip held some kind of criminal conviction of which I was not aware. Nevertheless, I was waved through without a word.

With everything being so seamless thus far, I was half expecting my case not to turn up on the carousel but sure enough there it was. I had made it on to Russian soil without losing any baggage or limbs : Grace 1 Russia NIL.

My lovely comrades from Bath had very kindly waited for me and, after battling my way through a mob of taxi drivers competing for my attention, there they all were (-1 who had forgotten her passport - silly Charlotte!) sat in a huddle in Arrivals. Catherine and Isobel went off to check in for their onward connection whilst the rest of us braced ourselves for an overnight sleeper to our destination.

After a short ride on the Airport Express, we had soon arrived at Paveletski Station. Rather than wander around Moscow for the afternoon, we set up camp in the seating area and waited it out until our train was boarding. Pascal made his way down to 3rd in carriage 15 whilst we negotiated our way on to carriage 2 in 2nd. Kiara, Maria and Tyla struggled massively to get their luggage in to their compartment, causing a tailback in the corridor which had all the old ladies tutting! We weren't sure what all the fuss was about, until we reached our own compartment and could barely get the two of us in!

The compartment was compact but nice. It had a little table with a free newspaper and our packed lunches on it (a sandwich that was 3 days out of date and a box of treats), two beds which acted as the top bunks and two rows of seats on the bottom half. I was fully prepared for sleeping on the seats (as we'd booked the bottom bunk) but the train host soon came round and showed that they folded out in the beds.

Sam and I were lucky that no random Russians turned up to occupy the top bunks, whilst Kiara, Tyla and Maria had an interesting Russian guy occupying their only free bed! After we'd got settled in, eaten our snacks that we bought at the produkti, and pulled out our beds, Kiara decided she would rather join us for a sleep over than wake up face to face with some random Russian. As we hadn't seen each other all summer, we had loads to catch up on! Just as we decided it was time for bed, the train stopped unexpectedly, just on the tracks without a station to be seen! Peering out of the window, we could hear voices shouting outside the train! Just as we began to fear train jacking (or fearing vampire apocalypse if you're Sam), we realised that if the Russians weren't out in the corridors making a fuss then it was probably normal.

Considering it was a moving vehicle, I thought I slept pretty well - the 7am wake up alarm certainly wasn't a welcome one! With the very little we had to work with, we tried to make ourselves look as presentable as we could to meet our land ladies. Though I had complained about the weight of my hand luggage, I was glad to have slept in pjs and to have clean clothes to wear.

Just before we pulled in to the station, the train host came to check on us and realised that Kiara had slept in our compartment, queue one angry, screeching Russian! Whoops!

Looking tired and no doubt dishevelled, we hauled our cases out of our compartment and down on to the platform, where a group of old ladies had been awaiting our arrival. After a solid 24 hours of travelling, we had finally made it.

Добро пожаловать! Welcome to Voronezh!

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