Yesterday, I had tried to get a ticket for a boat to the next destination on my list, Nizhny Novgorod. According to the planet, boats go in both directions every day and some times even more often at very affordable prices. However, after half a day of going from one place to the next in Moscow, it turned out that, because of the market crash the year before, almost no one had enough money left to go on one of the cruises. Now, boats where still going, but only once or, very occasionaly, sometimes twice a week. Most of the booking offices had closed as well, making it even more difficult to find a place to get tickets. A train seemed to be a better option. Then, maybe, I could take a boat from Nizhny Novgorod to Kazan.
Meanwhile, I figured that registering my visa and getting the required stamps, might be a wise thing to do. Nevertheless, all forces seemed to be against me. I had arranged an invitation letter via Procter & Gamble, where I had worked until I left on holiday. I had been in close contact with someone in Moscow to get everything arranged. So the most obvious thing was to start with her. She told me that registering was in no way necessary and that recently the Russian government had increased the maximum stay without registration from 5 days to two weeks. In addition, I needed her, or her office at P&G HQ in Moscow, to get my visa registered.
After visits to the police station, OVIR (the visa registration bureau) which turned out to be closed, and a palm reader, I gave up my quest and decided to take my contact's word for it. Registration would take an other three days anyhow.
In the past, it had also been necessary to have all the cities you wanted to visit in Russia marked in your visa. According to my contact, even that hadn't been necessary anymore. Well, if she said so, what else could I do? I decided to get my train ticket out of Moscow.
Russia has a remarkable left-over from communist regime. Because traveling wasn't really encouraged then, it was made very difficult to obtain long distance train tickets. One way of doing this, was to put ticket offices all over the city and sometimes miles away from the nearest train station. Since Moscow has about 5 major train stations, just like Paris, each catering for its own region in Russia, there are some 5 different ticket offices scattered over town.
Its not obvious which ticket office you need for what destination and even Russians, when having to buy a ticket, move from one office to the next until they find the right one. Lucky for me, for once, the Lonely Planet had been right and I ended up at the right office right away. For some reason, I had to pay much more than I expected, but taking the upper bunk in stead of the lower bunk saved me some money. Not really understandable, since the lower bunks double as couches during the day, making it near impossible to take a nap when you want, if you're stuck with a lower bunk.
When walking to the ticket office, I had to cross a rather large marketplace. Police stopped me and asked for my papers. Flashbacks already went through my mind but with a smile I handed over my documents. Just like the night before, the officers expected my visa to be on one of the pages of my passport. The extra paper surprised them. After looking through my passport and visa several times and almost turning my camera bag inside out, they friendly told me everything was all right and remarked that they where happily surprised by bumping in to a Dutch guy, in stead of again another person from the Caucasus with no papers. I smiled and, stress falling off of me, walked on.
Coming back home, Chris and Anya where talking. Some time later, Mark came home too. Obviously drunk, he drank some more beers and then started on coffee. Apparently because he still had some work to do. We talked a bit about nothing in particular and some time later in the evening, it became clear that ten years of Russia had taken its toll on Mark. He said that after a heavy night of arguing with his wife and mother-in-law and even throwing his wife out at some point, they had forced him to ask money from me for staying at their place. It was a classic case of Russian behavior. First being friendly, and then expecting something for it in return. And if not receiving, making a very big fuss over it. Mark claimed it wasn't what he wanted, but that 'they' kept on nagging him about it (although the main reason for that, was that he had forgotten to mention to either his wife or his mother in law that I would be coming over at the end of June). I felt like the stupid tourist, taken in by a local. Deciding that there wasn't a real option here and wanting to get rid of the issue, I paid up $80 on top of an earlier $20 I had paid to cover costs. Indeed, as Mark commented, 5 nights (although I only had staid four), for $100, that close to the city center, is a real bargain. How much that sounds like a true thing, I didn't really feel right about it. Oh well, the next day my train would leave for Nizhni Novgorod anyway.
Remarkably, that same evening but a bit earlier, grandma had come in while Mark and I where talking, and she had to draw my portrait and also gave me a brochure with an overview of her work. She had been a rather well known sculptor during the communist regime, and indeed her creations seemed pretty good. In hindsight, you could argue I paid 80 bucks for a picture of myself. Still, a rather expensive souvenir!
The evening had me thinking of my next steps and slowly the rest of my trip was taking shape. I was thinking of traveling overland to the North side of lake Baikal and then, crossing the lake, venture on to Ulan Ude what would be the most Eastern leg of my journey, before I would start moving back again.