The helpful lady who sells train tickets from the hotel lobby cannot sell us tickets to Kiev. She tells us to go to the Belorusskaya metro station, so we do. At the ticket window we point to the page in the phrase book asking for train tickets and slide a piece of paper on which “Kiev” has been blindly copied in Cyrillic under the window. The helpful lady who does not speak English gives us this answer: Four. And she points. “I think she means four meters away,” says Mister Chen. “Or four hundred.” We enter the next building over, which may or may not be four meters away. The ticket windows are closed and the waiting room is empty. The bare octagonal room at the center of the building has eight walls covered in glass cases full of nesting dolls. The only other room is narrow and dark with walls coated in the chipping remnant of the most depressing shade of yellow I have ever seen. There is a narrow staircase with an iron railing and so we climb it. One flight up we find ourselves in a brightly lit room with walnut furniture and wall to wall carpeting. To our left is the receptionist’s desk. Across the room is the elevator bank. It is the lobby of a hotel. Outside once again, we walk what is closer to four than four hundred meters. We look up at the next building. It has a number on it. Four.
We wait on line again. “Ticket – Kiev?” asks Mister Chen, sliding our sad scrap of paper through the window. “Do you speak English?” asks the lady behind the counter.
We buy tickets on an overnight trains from Moscow to Kiev. The train leaves from the Kievskaya station. The Kievskaya station is undergoing repair. We walk around the station, past the platforms and the outdoor departure board. Inside people wait on wooden benches in a warm yellow glow. Outside vendors offer gyros that smells like dill. Like all the street food we’ve eaten in Moscow these are prepared upon your order and then microwaved. It’s the only way to keep things warm. It is freezing outside. We never found our way inside the train station.
The train car is set up like a narrow, tightly packed diner. On the left two benches covered in red vinyl face each other across the small table attached to the wall underneath the window. A red vinyl bed folds down above each bench. Across the aisle two single-person bench seats face each other over a table, and a bed parallel to the car’s wall folds down above them. Flimsy walls divide each set of beds and benches, the self-contained cells repeating themselves down the open corridor until they reach the end of the car where the bathroom is. Mister Chen and I have the top bunks of one cell on the left wall. By the time we reach our seats a stout, elderly Ukranian couple is occupying the lower benches like they’re East Berlin. We put our bags in the storage space under the seats. We gingerly occupy a small amount of space on the bench.
When the train begins moving the conductor collects a couple of rubles from everyone. We don’t know why, but we pay up. The conductor passes by again some time after 10pm to hand everyone shrink-wrapped bed linens. The passengers collectively decide that it is time for bed. Across from us the two half-benches fold down and meet with the underside of the table turned 180 degrees to reveal a red vinyl cushion. We crawl up into our top bunks, passing the pillows and blankets stored there to the Ukranians. I don’t take my shoes off until I get to the bunk, and then I place them above my head. Just in case. Because everyone has warned us. The Russians will steal your shoes.
In the morning we are trapped in the top bunks, sitting with our backs in parentheses so our heads don’t bump the ceiling. As long as the Ukrainians and their bedsheets stay on the bottom bunks our language barrier leaves us little choice. The Ukrainians stay in bed.
ONE WAY TICKET 17 RUBLES (ABOUT $0.65USD)
TRAINS FROM BEIJING ARRIVE AT YAROSLAVLSKY STATION (METRO: KOMSOMOLSKAYA)
TRAINS TO KIEV DEPART FROM KIEVSKY STATION (METRO: KIEVSKAYA)
ONE WAY TICKET PLATZKY (THIRD CLASS SLEEPER) 776.20 RUBLES (ABOUT $29.01USD)
DEPARTS MOSCOW DAILY 9:36PM
ARRIVES KIEV NEXT DAY 10:17AM
SUGGESTED ACTIVITY: Lying prone.