Into Moscow

Monday, August 12th 2002

I don't think I'd been tipping when I ate in the restaurant car. In China, there was no tipping. The first time I tried leaving some change on the table, the waiter came after me with it, thinking I'd left it by mistake. Russia was completely the opposite, and tipping lavishly is vital, especially when there is only one place to eat and you have to go there every day. But I had got used to not tipping, and I kept forgetting. By the final morning they had clearly got fed up of me. I was going to have a final breakfast with a bunch of people I'd been hanging around with, but the woman in the restaurant car wouldn't serve me. Everyone else got their food, but my order was met with a look of extreme disapproval and a sharp "nyet". Then we tried to play cards as we watched western Russia pass by, but the woman came over and shouted at us until we left.

Being hungry just added to the slightly melancholy air of my final morning. I actually didn't really want to arrive in Moscow, and I would have been quite happy to sit on the train for another six days. The kilometre posts were now in triple figures, so we'd travelled more than seven thousand kilometres, and I watched them slowly count down. It seemed odd to feel so close to the end, when were still a few hundred miles away yet.

We got to Moscow's pointy-roofed Yaroslavsky Station fifteen minutes early, after a journey of 132 hours. Just before I'd left Beijing I'd e-mailed a hostel to book a bed and a lift from the station, but they hadn't replied so I wasn't sure if I would be homeless or not, but there was a man outside the station with a battered car and a sign saying 'Roger', so off I went to the Hostel Sherstone.

I headed straight out into Moscow. I got lost on the way to Vladykino metro station, which was a good distance away through grim-looking estates full of box-like apartment buildings, and then got lost at the other end as well. Borovitskaya metro looked quite close to Red Square on the map, but I walked for quite some distance before I suddenly found it. I'll never forget the sight of St. Basil's Cathedral appearing in front of me, more preposterous and impressive in real life than it ever looked in all the photos I'd ever seen of it.

That night, back at the Sherstone, after I'd gone to bed and was laying in the dark, I had the sound of the train in my ears, and I felt like I was still rocking about as we clattered along the longest railway in the world.

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