Monday, November 9, 2009

Feverish Rantings from Tatarstan!!!!

[Warning: The following post may at times lapse into mild profanity and/or excessively graphic details regarding the effects of Russian cuisine on Brian's digestive tract. Those of you with weak constitutions may wish to cease reading at this point. You have been warned.]

I am going to discuss the three days that I've just spent in Moscow in a later post, when I am in a less-hostile state of mind. Right now, I'll stick to a brief account of my journey to Kazan.

The train I took from Moscow to Kazan (the capital of the semi-autonomous Republic of Tatarstan) was a third-class cabin, meaning that I got to spend a lot of time in close proximity to a lot of my fellow passengers. Fourteen-hours' worth, to be exact. The train was reasonably comfortable...for the first half-hour, at least. After that, my memory kind of fades into one long, horrific blur of stomach-retching agony.

That's right, I spent my first journey along the Trans-Siberian Railroad in my own private gastrointestinal hell. From 8:30 until roughly 11:00, I was either puking up my guts, shitting out my own intestines or some combination thereof. It didn't help that there was only one bathroom on the car for some 40 people, nor that my command of the Russian language grows significantly worse when I'm doubled over in torment on a toilet seat in a wildly-lurching train car.

Oh yeah, and the bathroom "facilities" on this car? 'Primitive' is about the politest adjective I can bestow upon them. The bathroom itself was about the size of my bedroom closet, complete with a stunted dwarf of a toilet and a metal sink that took me almost twenty minutes to figure out. All this took place with an irate babushka hammering her fist on the door and demanding that I finish up and get out (or something to that effect).

That was probably the worst of it, but I spent a decent chunk of the rest of the night hopping out of my bunk and dashing for the toilet as well...when I actually managed to sleep, I kept having weird dreams where I was in the middle of the Odessa Stairs sequence from Eisenstein's movie Battleship Potemkin, with a deuce of a lot of Cossacks trying to kill me. Goddamnit, Russia.

[By the way, I'd like to express my thanks here to the middle-aged Russian woman on the train who was so kind as to let me switch bunks with her...originally, I was to have a top bunk, but she decided to save me the trouble of having to constantly clamber in and out all night long...seriously, words cannot adequately express my gratitude to her for that.]

When we finally arrived in Kazan this morning, I was feeling better...until I stepped off the train, whereupon I had to sprint to the station's toilets (which cost money)....God, that was the saddest excuse for a toilet I've ever seen in my life. It was basically a porcelain hole in the floor that one had to carefully squat over and pray that they don't fall in. Naturally, I ended up doing exactly that.

We finally got to the hotel, where the staff was extremely friendly and accomodating, and I have proceeded to spend my entire first day in Tatarstan crapping like there was no tomorrow.

Aside from that, our hotel is quite pleasant (if on the cheap side), and is actually located directly across the street from the Kazan Kremlin, a gorgeous medieval fortress overlooking the Volga River. Maybe tomorrow, I will actually be able to leave the building for a little and get to see something....so I hope, anyway.

The moral of this story? Don't eat shashlik (kebabs) from a late-night kiosk in Moscow, no matter how hungry you are or how good the might smell.

I swear, this country is trying to kill me....

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