April 20th - May 4th: Still rockin in the USSR, oops I mean Russia:
Roughly one day after we left Ulaan Bataar, we arrived at the boarder of a small country called Russia. We had read and been warned of the Russian beauracracy so we thought nothing of it when our first attempted conversation in Russian ended with a bank window being slammed on our face. Neverless, it eventually opened again, we filled our pockets with rubles and heading north into the Siberian paradise known as Irkutsk.
Now in order to save time of both the author (I am about 10 countries behind) and the reader (Russia is a big country) I shall proceed to give details of Irkutsk in a list form of activities: drinking 12 percent alcohol Baltica beers; arm-wrestling and playing mercy against three shaved headed and bearded Irishmen in a hotel basement while a naked woman crawled across our table on her hands and knees; riding a hovercraft around the (mostly) frozen Pearl of Siberia - Lake Baikal - only to have the ice break and learn that hovercrafts handle well on water too; going to Siberian "clubs" where the bouncers consist of armed soldiers in bullet proof vests in groups of a dozen or more (helping out Russias unemployment problem) where upon entering Joey was frisked, searched, and metal detected more the the cumulative total of crossing of 31 international boarder crossings; going to a Siberian circus where the bears got loose and no one panicked because everyone in the crowd had at one point in their lives gained experience wrestling said animals.
On our fourth try we were finally able to sucessfully purchase a ticket to Moscow on the mighty Trans-Siberian railroad...
In search of a more "genuine" experience we opted to buy 3rd class or platzcart tickets instead of the regular 2nd class. We had been warned against it from travelers and guidebooks alike hearing it described as everything from "modern-day steerage" to a "refuge camp on rails". It sounded perfect. The difference between 2nd class and 3rd class is about 50 beds. Rather than a cabin of 4 people, like my British colleagues Tim and Chris, I shared a cabin with 53 other people.
Within 5 minutes of being assigned a bed in our roving dorm room, an old woman took a bottle of vodka and physically dumped it into Joeys hungover mouth. So its gonna be one of THOSE kind of trips. We took note of the surroundings and realized several things: We were the only non-native Russian speakers in our wagon, no one spoke English, 54 people on a 9 day journey crammed into one cabin without any showers and only one toilet smells really awesome, and finally most of these people were consripted soliders coming from far Eastern Siberia (Chita or Kamchatka) on their way to Chechnya or Tazakstan. Basically a bunch of trained killers leaving the hardest place on the earth, given 7 days to party on a train before they arrive in the most dangerous place on earth.
In no time at all we answered the cries of "Americanitz vodka piva seachus!!!" and then 4 days later we stumbled out of the car and it was Moscow. Ok, I will try to remember more.
By the end of day one we had met our match partying and then some and we had to retreat to hide from the soldiers in our friends Chris and Tim's cabin which shall be referred to from here on as the British Embassy. Tim and Chris were highly refined British gentleman who take their Earl Grey with milk, their biscuits gourmet, and their Liverpool soccer SERIOUSLY. They were a tribute to the queen and they were most hospitable in helping me hide from my aggressors who assumed that an American passport and an iron liver assured them that I could fund the entire Red Army's drinking binge (or at least my own, and for even that I couldnt afford to keep up with them) ....
...so the first night when was taking respite in the British Embassy I hear the accented cries of Joey Johnny Joey (they were never quite sure of the correct name) and 10 men in various types of army issued regalia bust into the embassy. By this point, they had already shown us pictures of them knife fighting in their long-johns in the Siberian snow, posing with bayoneted Kalishnikov's and firing anti-aircraft missles and we were convinced that if we ever had to bet on who could kill a grizzly bear bare-handed our bets would be on one of these perpetually shirtless killing machines with their battalion and unit numbers tattooed on their overly developed pectoral muscles.
Tim and Chris had an open Victornox Swiss Army knife sitting on their table which was used for spreading cheese on bread. The drunkest of the soldiers (and I do not use the phrase lightly) saw the knife and began imitating was he did to Chechnyans. He grabbed the knifed and wilding imitated slashing motions at Chris and Tims throat as I watched in horror and then he turned and lunged and soon the M in Joeys Ramones shirt had a knife it it. ***Now before I explain further, please understand that this was not a deep wound and it barely broke skin***
Immediately we hear an appalled posh British accent saying "You've just been stabbed by a Russian soldier!" In truth, I believe the tone was not so much Tim being upset at any possible injury but more just pure shock that people were behaving with such bad form in such a sanctuary of proper manners and gentlemanly ettiquette. This set the tone for the journey...
...about 2394623406 vodkas later, a truce was reached and soon Joey had earned Russian dog tags, and they begged for poorly played improvised acoustic rock songs in English.
We arrived Moscow early one morning and somehow within the first 20 minutes of being in the city, Joey was already kicked out of his accomodation. Geez, you let yourself into some strange apartment in Moscow at 6 AM, shake someone awake speaking another language and they get all pissy with you. Luckily the British Embassy once again took care of me...and allowed me to stay in a wonderful Moscow apartment while cooking meals worthy of Michelene stars.
Moscow was a beautiful city and we were there for May Day and saw lots of crap like St. Basils cathedral, Red Square, and the Kremlin. For me the coolest thing about Moscow was that kids could skateboard and do 50-50 grinds across statues while policemen and soldiers watched them and no one cared. One day I woke up in a strange place and Joey was no where to be found... Apparently he left me in his jacket pocket and somehow that jacket ended up in the VIP room of some swanky strip bar. I thought for sure this column was going to be continued by some gorgeous 6 ft tall blonde with a hot accent but unfortunately, Joey came back the next day and retrieved me and told me to hurry up we had a stunt to pull....
We hopped on a train headed towards Bucharest with under 50 percent odds of getting there. Up next...the Ukraine incident..