Posts Tagged ‘Dinner’

Two Pretty-Good Days

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Sunday dawned (02/08), we tried to find a church and, when we did find one, although Russian speaking, we were turned away. I suppose we didn’t meet the customary dress code and also didn’t speak enough of the language to talk our way into the service. We strolled the city, walked through a few marketplaces where Matt looked for a t-shirt with odd sayings on it, and explored the Western part of the new old city which we hadn’t seen there. It was on a road in that section that we found CafeMax, a real Internet Cafe with free wifi for its customers! The chai was a bit more expensive, but we sat down and hunkered down for the long haul, we had a lot to do having not had internet for any length of time since Riga, a week before.

We updated the blog, got closer to caught up passing the computer between Matt and I, and got caught up with correspondences. Then, at 1500 Matt went to meet up with James and I finished up another post. We spent the rest of the day swapping stories with James. From being present at the recent riots in China which made international news, to driving a motor scooter across India, James had plenty to tell. We talked late into the evening over cups of chai and made our way back North to toward the train station. James was staying in the station hotel and so we were headed in the same direction. We stopped for some shish-kabaps served straight from the grill at the side of the road and hit the hay a bit after 2300 that evening, after being informed that we needed to checkout by 11 the next morning. No problem.

Monday morning, we left the hotel and headed South again, hunted for some cheap electronics and, finding none, hung out in the nice park on the other side of the river where we watched both a wedding and construction project try to take place simultaneously right next to each other. We cooked up some food and headed north, spending the rest of the rather drizzly and overcast day in a nice little restaurant with 80KT chai called Samovar. That evening, we stopped by CafeMax again for an hour or two and then headed back to the train station.

It was late by the time we got back, after midnight, and we were expecting to be able to rent the room for 12 hours, as had been the custom, the lady at the desk, however, had apparently not been having a very nice day and had decided to surprise us by imposing a rule of 0900 checkout, regardless of check-in time, on repeat customers who had been planning on giving them a glowing review. We had no idea why and tried to explain our position, asking if she could give us a discount then, asking if we had somehow offended them or accidentally broken something in our room. Nothing, just a stolid insistence that there was nothing she could do. We finally got to our room after 0100 and an unpleasant discussion.

The next day (04/08) we awoke unhappily and were out of our room by 0900 as requested… It was drizzling outside and looked as though it might rain at any moment. We didn’t really want to be out there and had already seen most of what Astana had to offer, so we hung out in the train-station’s waiting room and enjoyed free wifi which we had not noticed before. The only problem came when Matt tried to plug in the computer and found that the station administration ladies were adamantly against anyone using their electricity. It seemed like it would be another situation like the night before where, for no reason at all, paying customers would be denied what they wished, for no good reason. That’s when I decided to stop being pushed around, grabbed my train ticket—dated for later that day—and approached the lady who had just unceremoniously and with no regard for our pleading questions, yanked our power cord out of an otherwise unused plug.

I approached with a bit of trepidation and politely explained my position. She had no idea what I was saying, but was apparently impressed by my politeness and took me to a phone where she got her friend who spoke English to translate for us. I was informed that the plugs in the waiting area were for “technical use only” but that Irena, the lady, would find a place for me to work. She did! A nice couch in a little, out-of-the-way waiting room apparently reserved for polite people with tickets. Matt and I switched off using the internet for a while and, when I wasn’t working online trying to trouble-shoot a website issue that had developed, I had a nice discussion with Alexey, a man who explained his job by informing me that he answered the radio and kicked drunks out of the station.

We talked for a few hours about politics, international relations, work, money, our families, and life in Kazakhstan. He knew no English, but with my phrasebook and my limited Russian we had a good conversation. That evening, Matt and I went and hung out in a little cafe in the train station and watched a volleyball match between Spain and Russia before boarding our train for the longish drive to Omsk.

The Journey Home and Back

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

My journey home began on Tuesday, May 26 at 6:27 AM in Gothenburg, Sweden. While we were in Bad Pyrmont, Simon Kolle gave a lot of his time to helping me get a train ticket from Copenhagen to Frankfurt. The plan was that we would explore south Sweden after which the guys would drop me off in Copenhagen, and then head back into Sweden to see Stockholm and catch their ferry to Estonia. Unfortunately, the only bridge from Denmark to Sweden costs € 30 to cross each time, meaning they would pay € 60 to drive from Sweden to Copenhagen and back to Sweden. We found a train that made the crossing for less than half that price.

From Gothenburg to Copenhagen took 3 1/2 hours. The trip from Copenhagen to Frankfurt was a little over 9 hours, leaving me at Frankfurt-Am-Maine a little after 9:00 PM. My flight went out at 12:05 PM the next day. During the next 15 hours I read, ate lots of McDonald’s, slept fitfully for 2 1/2 hours, read some more and had a pleasant conversation with 2 other Americans returning to the U.S.. My Canadian passport gave me no problems abroad until I tried to re-enter my home country. I had several moments where I was genuinely worried that I wouldn’t be allowed back in, at least not in time for the wedding. Happily everything was resolved and my flight touched down in Pittsburgh at 9:16 PM. By the time I arrived home it was past midnight, making the entire journey around 48 hours long, once Europe’s 6 hour time difference is taken into account.

It was amazing to be back in the good ol’ U.S.A.. Though reconnecting with loved ones was the best part of coming home, I spent a great deal of time pursuing less noble pleasures that are in-feasable or impossible on a trip bound by a limited budget. I slept on a comfortable couch (My bed being taken by guests visiting for the wedding), took showers as often as I wished, ate piles of food when ever I wanted, and drank gallons of Mt. Dew (Which is not sold in Europe). Yet the time with friends and family was the highlight of my brief stay. I spent most of my time with my wonderful fiance, Emily, though other highlights include watching and playing basketball with my friends. My sister Marina’s wedding, the entire reason for my return, was worth the effort and expense involved in attending. It was also good to see one of my best friends, Andrew, and a close cousin, Darren, just before they left on long journeys of their own.

The week passed in the blink of an eye and before I knew it I was on my way back to Pittsburgh, flying to catch the plane before it left at 3:15 PM. The flight to Frankfurt was almost disappointingly non-eventful, landing an hour early at 8:35 AM. A bit after 10:00 I started catching local trains (Instead of the far more expensive ICE) from Frankfurt to Berlin where I would rendezvous with Dan, Matt and David. As I sat alone on the trains I found myself missing home quite severely. My train came into Berlin Hbf at 7:46 PM. The return trip lasted a merciful 33 hours. My home sickness faded somewhat when I was reunited with the guys and we explored the streets of Berlin, passing the Reichstag, Brandonburg Gate, and walking along the path where the Berlin Wall once stood guard over Communist east Berlin. I had so much to see and home would be waiting for me at the end.

My brief interlude in the U.S. taught me several important things; even McDonalds is delicious if its the first American food you have had in a month; contrary to what I have staunchly believed my entire life, I actually enjoy Coke; I need more than my driver’s license to re-enter the U.S. with a Canadian passport; no matter how amazing your journey is and how memorable your experiences are abroad, returning, in the end, to the comfort, love and security of home trumps all. But that will come in due time! For the moment, keep us all in your prayers as we continue to see the world!

Daniel Shenk