Our stay in Saint Petersburg finally reached its end: three days of exploration between channels and bridges, monuments and ancient estates, plus the unbroken chain of short storms five minutes after each other were about to leave the stage to the first part of our journey on a train.
Even though the „Kilometer 0” of the Transsiberian railway is actually located in Moscow, my group and I were about to get our baptism of fire and spend the first of many nights to come in one of the train’s wagons.
It was a scorching summer day like any other, the perfect time to travel from one point of the city to the other with full travel gear, and waiting (im)patiently to get aboard and get the show on tracks. We were warned already that the air conditioning is turned on when the train starts its ride, and after that only when the provodnitsa (a sort of omnipotent controller/Russian killing machine) would feel like.
The same Soviet Terminator showed off her attachment to duty right away: every single passport and ticket were checked, weighed, measured, checked again, sniffled, offered a shot of vodka, checked one more time, then usually people were allowed on board.
Like a bunch of ants we rushed in, searching for our seat and hoping for the best. Despite the known size and measures of people from Siberia and other men-forging unforgiving lands, the hallway was barely wide enough to allow passage, especially while being burdened by XXL adventure backpacks.
The seats got slowly filled one by one, as the level of oxygen started to drop underground: we were told it was a journey toward Siberia, not that we would find ourselves in a Banja with lots of half-naked strangers. A must-do for sauna lovers, undoubtedly.
As we started to consider using the bodies of the first victims of the heat to smash the windows, everything started to shake and a loud whistle could be heard in the distance: after making sure we did not reach yet a hallucinatory state, celebration started to abrupt: we were moving! The journey finally started! That controller-grizzly thing will finally start the air conditioning!
It was at that moment that we started to pay a bit more of attention to the surroundings.
Just like in the “drill workshop” we had the day before, inside every block of beds we could find a small table with a bottle opener underneath. It is meant to open bottles of soda, of course (or that weird bread-tasting cola the Russian people seem to like so much): everybody in Russia knows that it is VERY forbidden to drink alcohol on the train, with the boring exception of the not too cheap beer bought (and consumed) within the restaurant wagon of the train.
So taking this into consideration, plus the almost unbearable heat added with uncontainable enthusiasm for the trip ahead, I used that soda-artifact to open a bottle of beer.
The Russian sauna transformed immediately into some kind of international day-trip to the aquapark: the bottle exploded into a ridiculously powerful stream of foam and fear, hitting the ceiling, dumping backpacks and comrades, flooding the floor for a couple of blocks, while around me 30 people coming from the whole Europe started to scream in their beautiful languages words which might not have been very flattering, at that moment.
While I was about to finish blabbering „it’s not possible” and calculating how many years I would have spent in a Gulag, a guy popped out of the crowd and said the three magic words:
„Police is coming ?”.
This had to be a joke, so I took a quick, terrified look to the hallway and there they were: two officers were already heading on our way, the beautiful and charming Russian smile printed on their happy faces, promising an eternity of fines and forced labor.
The screams shut down for an instant and then resumed into some kind of multilinguistic howl (for sure more compliments about the brilliance of my idea) while my mind started to spin like crazy: what would Bear Grylls do? Which forgotten god should I recommend my soul to? How were those guys in the movie „The Way Back” managed to escape to India?
Thirty minutes would not have been enough to clean the mess, and I didn’t even have thirty seconds…plus, the warm air for already filled with the smell of beer, and my dearly beloved companions would not stop yelling. There was no way I could fix that problem: the only solution was doubling down. My soul went to Marduk, Sumerian god of war and puppies (but mostly war).
I grabbed the first thing containing liquids: a bottle of energy drink, the super violet and smelling like chewing gum. Completely alcohol-free. Perfect.
I opened the bottle and started to rotate it, lasso-style:
“Oh no! I accidentally spilled my energy drink!!!”, I shouted, “Absolutely without alcohol! Stop yelling at meeeeeee”. I believe they could hear the mad howls (and insults) directly from outer space by then.
And then, the officers arrived.
Silence suddenly reigned all over the place. Their stone-cold stares were looking for a good reason to all of this madness. And yet they saw a very, very sorry looking guy pointing at an empty energy drink bottle, muttering “sorry police…no alcohol eh, no alcohol…”. At that point, the entire wagon was smelling like a candy store already.
I am not sure what the officers muttered, and whether that was involving my parents or not.
But it did not matter: one second later I was performing the Victory Dance ™, and only one guy detached from the now again screaming crowd to shyly ask me if changing the color of the entire wagon was really a ruse to avoid getting busted, and not a fit of heat-induced dementia.
“Of course it was, my friend!” I answered, “now let’s have a beer to celebrate! What do we say to the God of Death?”.
Many people traveled across the Transsiberian Railway, may it be in a group or in family or alone, during winter or during summer, for leisure or necessity. Yet I am pretty sure nobody of them has spent their first hour on board cleaning everything like Cinderella.