You were wrong

It turns out hitchhiking in Russia is a blast. I started today, on my first real day of hitchhiking ever. I got a really late start, but I still managed to get about 400 km in two different cars. The first guy was a rambling, big-nosed guy in a beat-up Lada, and I could hardly understand a word he said, but I did grasp that he didn’t want to charge me anything like so many other cars on the road would. And I suppose it’s true, because I got a few other very short rides at the very beginning, and two of them asked how much I was willing to give them. Luckily, they both turned out not to be going where I wanted to go, anyhow. There was also the guy who, when I told him I’m American, said, “I have to go to hospital. You unstand?” I’m not sure if that was a lie or if he really was going to a hospital in Krasnogorsk, the next town up.

The guy in the Lada dropped me off at a turnoff in the middle of nowhere, with forest all around and no town within visible distance. I stood by the road something like half an hour, slowly coming to the conclusion that I’d really blown it now, and I would probably have to sleep in my camp by this turnout and figure out a way tomorrow to get back to Moscow and find a train to Riga. I didn’t actually make it all the way to that level of fatalism, though, before a black pickup truck pulled over and a balding guy told me to get on in, and that he was going to Toropets, 300 km down the road toward the border. I could understand his Russian way better, almost as though I could really speak the language, which of course I can’t. We spent a little while getting to know each other – his name is Arkady, for instance – and then he put on the radio and later a CD full of songs he listened to back in the day at the Soviet diskoteka. Stuff like Abba, Dschingis Khan’s “Moscow”, and lots of Russian singers that no one’s ever heard of outside of Rus He gave me some fruit juice he had, and at a gas station we stopped at, he bought me a piroshki. He was turning out to be a heck of a guy.

When we reached the turnoff to Toropets, he stopped and told me to nod if I understood him, so he could be sure I was getting this, and then said that instead of sleeping in my tent, I could go 20 km down the road with him to his house and sleep there, and he’d take me back to the highway in the morning. I kind of wanted to try to make more progress, but I decided this was far too good an offer to pass up.

Toropets is a town of 18,000 people and it’s a century older than Moscow, I learned from Arkady as we drove through. His building was an unpromising Soviet-style block of apartment/condos. But when we walked in, it was full of warmth and light and the smells of a happy family. His wife, Iyulia, and his ferret, Prushcha, came to greet us, and he urged me to sit down in a comfortable chair in the living room. We all talked, and soon his ten-year-old son Roman came in and exhausted his English class learnings by saying, “My name is Roman.” Meanwhile, Iyulia was making me and Arkady some food, and while I was looking through Roma’s English textbook with him, Arkady came in and said it was time to eat. A big bowl of borshch with sour cream, and then a heaping plate of mashed potatoes with chicken, and pickles and bread on the side. In Moscow I went out to a restaurant that billed itself as highly traditional Russian cuisine, but the hell with that, right here in Toropets is where I’ve gotten the definitive Russian dinner. Including shots of homemade moonshine from either Arkady’s or Iyulia’s mother.

They’ve ousted Roman from his room for me, and given me his computer. They’re just in the next room, watching TV, but the light from this room is probably keeping them awake, so for now I’m going to refrain from writing the big blog I have planned about the Trans-Siberian experience. You’ll just have to be satisfied with this. But I know I sure am, so I suspect you might be too.

File under: Year of Adventure, hitchhiking, interesting people · Places: Russia


Anonymous

History

You make me hungry, I like borsch and everything else you mentioned. I can wait for the big blog. Maybe in book form Let's it's title may be "One Young Man's Trip Around the World". Anyway it is really good to hear from you. I find it interesting that they had a computer and internet service. Not nearly as far out in the boonies as I figured. Have wonderful trip and see you in about three weeks. Grandpa

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Anonymous

History

Hooray and happiness, you've gotten so far! I am thrilled you found real Russian hospitality, and also thrilled that at some level you are using your Russian to good advantage. I just don't have enough good adjectives to describe how I feel about what you are doing. Love you, and will really love hearing about the Trans Siberian journey. And Moscow, too. Grandma

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Anonymous

History

Oh Yeah! About being wrong. Hmmm! You traveled in different circles than I did, so your right , I was wrong. However it is always right to be cautious when in doubt.
You have a "street knowledge" that I will never have (that's what we called it back in the day), that is knowledge from personal experience. Anyway, enjoy Poland when you get there, it is one of my favorite countries. See you soon.

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Anonymous

History

That was Grandpa, not Grandma on the last post. I agree we travel in different circles, and I also believe that it would be much harder for a 72 year old lady to stay safe if she were traveling alone and doing it the way you are doing your trip. And, of course, that's my only perspective on the matter. I am much in awe of how you do things. You've heard the old expression that youth is wasted on the young. Well, you are proving that to be wrong. Ha. Grandma

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Anonymous

History

I found you on google Maps. Just north of Belarus and just east of Estonia. When I zoomed in I could not quite make you out. Oh well, maybe when you get to Riga. G.Pa.

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Chuck

History

I never made it to Riga. In fact, I think I did Latvia and Lithuania a great disservice by going through both of them in one evening in a semi truck. But I'm in Krakow now and having an amazing time, and strangely enough I'm going to be meeting up with a fellow minimalist-freegan-hobo and hopefully learning from him while I'm at such a commercial event as Oktoberfest. Catch you all soon!

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Anonymous

History

If you get to Denmark, check out an IC called Christiania. (It actually is named that but it doesn't have any church affiliation.) It's about 800 people, in Copenhagen, and it's been around since 1971. I saw it on Rick Steve and I was intrigued.
Mom

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Anonymous

History

Wow, you move fast! I certainly hope that you will get to see Auschwitz while you are in Krakow. it is something that you will never forget. And also, I hope you go outside that church where the trumpet player plays from the steeple to commemorate the person who was shot up there while he was playing his music. That was really neat, too. Looking forward to Lisbon and I'm also happy you've made it into Europe. Happy travels. Grandma

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Anonymous

History

Don't believe everything you hear about Bobby Fischer. Have you read Bobby Fischer's biography? (There are several, but a recent one was published in 2011, of which I have a copy you can borrow someday if you'd like.)

Aunt E.

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Chuck

History

Glad you got the boxes, Dad. There should be one or two more coming soonish.

Aunt Ellen, I've built up such a tremendous reading list that after Christmas I'll probably have to carry an extra trunk with me on my next journeys, but what the hey, next time I see you, if you have it I'll borrow it awhile.

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