Saturday, September 23, 2006

I Deign To Quatrain: The Night Train To Ukraine

So it was back to Red Square for one more time.

And it still had about as much magic as anything can have on the replay. The square itself was now open to people, and so I walked across the cobblestones for awhile. Then it was back around the front and over to the far side of the Kremlin wall so as to buy the ticket and enter the Kremlin grounds themselves.

Which are a pretty big area, probably at least 30 acres or so. Besides being a giant museum of Russia's past, it also houses the main government offices, and back in Soviet times you could see the Breshnev-faced bureaucrats driving in and out.

That oily, kind of stupid/smug look in the face is long gone, though. And now the grounds felt kind of like a college campus, especially since the weather had gone back to perfect fall. I headed over to the main area open to tourists, the group of four 'cathedrals'.

They are really only church sized, although Russian orthodox through and through. Two of them were under repair, which left one that housed some really interesting old church stuff, and the Coronation Cathedral, where the tsars were crowned.

I went inside that one and, along with the requisite fabulous medieval paintings from floor to ceiling, there was a five piece choir that totally blew me away with their a capella renditions of old Russian church hymns. After they were finished and I was agonizing over which of their CDs to buy, I asked them what the story was on all the 17th century and older stone sarcophigi lying around. The guy said that, among other people, here were buried all the Romanovs before Peter the Great. In fact, right next to me was the Tsarevich Alexis, who had died in 1670, aged 16.

Whoa. For reasons that are too complicated and weird to go into right now, I now had the rather unique experience of standing in an ancient church and staring at my own grave.

Whoa. I walked back into the afternoon light. Which once again was an exquisitie 19th century sort of sky. I snapped away with my camera and wandered around the parklike area in a semi-daze.

Then it was back around to Red Square and one last long dawdle in front of St Basil's. Time was growing short.

Back to Beloruskaya and some dinner. Back to retrieve my belongings. Back on the subway (much faster than a taxi) to Kievskaya train station.

Once again, having bought a ticket at the last minute, I had a top bunk. We took off at about 8:30 and all of us did our best to get to sleep right away. At 12:30, however, we all got woken up for Russian immigration.

Since I wasn't the usual Russian traveler, they had to spend so much time with me that I thoroughly woke up. Several hours later I finally fell asleep again, just in time for Ukrainian immigration to wake me up at 5:30. No more sleep until 9 when we pulled into Kiev.

I got down from my bunk just as we were crossing the river. With trees and churches standing out, Kiev looked impressive indeed.

But once I de-trained I was in a terrible strange land. No English signs at all. No left luggage anywhere. And, although the book said that Window 41 handled foreigners, when I finally found the ticket windows, they only went up to 36.

I found one that said 'Administration' (in Ukrainian) and hopefully asked the lady, 'English?' But we were back in the Soviet Union, because she just curtly said 'nyet' and then totally ignored me. I knew the game, too, however, so I just kept standing there at her window. After 3 or 4 minutes she mumbled some things and made some gestures behind her and up.

Was that where I was supposed to go? I went back out to the main station, noticed that the escalator was broken, and looked at all the steps I would have to climb with my heavy, heavy bags and my weak, weak knees. I made a mental note to bring a porter along with me on my next trip, and started up and out.

Amazingly enough, way on the other side of the station was a window 41 with a nice kind of English speaking lady. AND the left lugagge! Things were looking up.

To show you how cheap I am, when I found out that the kupe only cost $20 for a 15 hour trip, I almost went for it. Especially since the two-bed was 4 times as much for some reason. But then I remembered the heavy schedule I had prepared for my poor, aching, old body. I also remembered those Lady Clairol commercials, and I thought, 'Dang it! I DESERVE First Class.'

So I few minutes later, with a couple of 1st class tickets, some brushed teeth, a clean shirt, and no more extra baggage (and without the humiliation of self analysis, either), I set out to enjoy Kiev.


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