Monday, September 3, 2007

Smolensk, Part II

So I wasted a ton of time at the internet cafe (I would have taken care of the travel stuff later). I returned to the hotel and called the travel agency, giving them the new credit card details. They called right back; AMEX isn't accepted by the hotel in Kiev. Faaan-tastic. I had them cancel the reservation, and then went back to the internet cafe to reserve a new hotel in Kiev. This met with much failure, what with it being a day away, plus, many other hotels also apparently didn't accept AMEX. After a long while I ended up with my last-ditch effort at Expedia: a crappier hotel quite far from the center, which really pissed me off as the original one was right in the center. The new one was cheaper, but that was a small consolation. I was quite angry that I'd wasted most of my one day in Smolensk dealing with this crap. Once I did finally have everything settled it was about 6:30 and evening. It rained lightly, on and off, and I walked to the edge of the city center towards the Dnepr river, where the wall marked the boundary, and crossed the bridge just outside over the river. The sun behind me, there was a fantastically bright rainbow in the dark clouds ahead. In fact it was a double rainbow, as I'd seen last year at Площадь Александра Невского (Alexander Nevsky Square), when the others had gone to see Swan Lake.

As I stood at the bridge taking pictures, a young man asked me whether I was taking them as a художник (artist) or лично (individual). I said just for myself, not wanting to go into nuance, and then he asked if I was a tourist. I said yes (sorry, Joe, not "unfortunately." - One time, my suitemates and I were in Costco buying food for a feast (мало ли почему / don't ask why), and I took a picture of our massive purchase (lots of it candy and such), and the attendant asked whether we were tourists. Joe, being, well, Joe, answered "unfortunately." Having made sense grammatically, it took us a second to realize that it actually made no sense whatsoever. Anyway, the attendant then informed me that they'd have to confiscate my camera if I took anymore pictures. Well ok then.) He asked whether I was going to see (a few things which I don't remember) and I said I was only there until tomorrow. We talked, and he asked whether I'd been to Petersburg and Moscow, and I said yes; he said it was good to have come here as well, as Petersburg was "Europe" and Moscow was "America" and that everyone tended to forget Russia was a big place with many more places besides the capital. That's the gist of it anyway. I agreed and said that was why I was here, in part to see other parts of Russia that weren't so heavily visited by tourists. We talked - well, mostly he - for a long while, maybe an hour or so, with his train of thought stopping at many places, so I can't remember it all in detail - that and I was concentrating on understanding him. He spoke slowly and clearly - not out of deference to my limited skills, as the issue of my origin and study of Russian came up only in the middle of the converstation - but it seemed they just talked slower in general there. Even so, I had a difficult time for vocabulary reasons, but most of the time I got enough of the gist. We exchanged emails - yet another new Russian contact - and he apologized for taking up my time, which I assured him was not a problem at all. I walked around some more and then returned to the hotel for the night after getting some dinner.

The next morning I checked out and got some breakfast; as I was checking out, the receptionist asked if I spoke Russian. I said yes, and she asked if I could explain to them what the guy next to me wanted. He explained to me (in English) that he had a bus to Moscow, and had taken a taxi to the bus station, but that it had taken him to the railway station instead and so he missed the bus, and had to take another the next day, and so he needed to stay another night. I clumsily conveyed this to them; put on the spot, I didn't remember the more precise ways to say these things, which came to mind after the fact, but c'est la vie. I had breakfast and left to the railway station to take the train back to Moscow, and worried a bit as I had a few minutes of unsuccessful attempts to hail a cab, but eventually succeeded. This one was 70 rubles. Wow! The Russians sure seem to have gotten supply and demand down pat. That was even better than what I'd thought the previous night should have been (I figured about 100 rubles). I gave the guy 100 rubles and told him to keep the change. Back to Moscow!

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