At 4:13 am, the train chugged into Vladimir. After a long time queueing for train tickets in St Petersburg and encountering a stiff and brute language barrier with both the ticketing agents and the huffing and puffing impatient Russians behind us, this was the only option we had.
The provodnitsa had gently touched my leg as I slept rigidly on one of the upper berths of the third class wagon. I was jerked roughly from a light sleep and gathered my belongings. When I stepped off the train, travel partner in tow, we watched as family members met loved ones who had arrived with us, and I thought how nice it must be to have someone there to greet you at 4 in the morning, to then get in their car and be ferried to a cozy home with a warm meal and a clean bed. These people all left, and I stood on the platform, dazed. I looked down at my camera, at the tiny photo I’d taken of the city map online and the directions to our hostel. I couldn’t tell if we could walk or not.
We took a wrong turn, having misunderstood the scale of the map. Ten minutes later, we turned around, and with heavy bags on our backs, made our way to the correct street. After another 20 minutes of walking and getting chewed up by mosquitoes, we agreed we couldn’t walk to the hostel. We waved over a cab and he took us the remainder of the way, telling us the fare by writing it with a finger in the dust on his car.
The lady working the night shift at the hostel let us in. She was kind in letting us leave our bags there but encouraged us not to stay since we hadn’t booked for that night. It was close to 5:00 am. I felt crusty from having slept on an overcrowded train, so I washed my face. We connected to the internet, did a little research for that day, sent a couple of “I’m still alive” emails, and then with more prodding from the hostel lady, we left.
By then, city buses were running. We noted the Lenin statue near our bus stop for our return trip that evening and boarded the bus. Not knowing how much the fare was, when the fare collector came around, I held out a handful of change and she picked out what she needed. I saw that I had paid 13 rubles. She ripped off a little ticket stub for me, and I tucked it away in my pocket.
We arrived at the central bus station where we would buy our tickets to Suzdal – the reason we had come to Vladimir at all.
It was around 7:00 am by that point, and we were on one of the first buses out of Vladimir that morning. I could feel the heat setting in, and I knew we were in for a hot day. I don’t fare well in heat; truly, I was made for the climate of Ireland – places with lots of clouds and rain. Knowing this, I felt a sense of dread set it, a feeling I get in extreme heat. It’s as if my body is bearing down, going into survival mode: Just get through the day, a voice tells me. We boarded the old soviet bus, desperate for repairs, its parts wheezing and sputtering as it pulled into the station, and I felt the absence of air conditioning. Just get through the day, the voice repeated.
The bus ride was over an hour. I dozed, I watched the countryside roll by, I nibbled on an apple. When we arrived at the bus terminal in Suzdal, a new ticket collector came onto the bus and began talking at us in Russian. We didn’t understand him, and there was no one around to translate. He kept talking at us and pointing at our tickets. We showed him our tickets repeatedly, but there was only disconnect. We got off the bus and looked around us as the bus took off, driving down the street. We looked at our map and realised the bus was going where we wanted, to the centre of the town, and we concluded that the ticket collector had only wanted additional fare from us.
So we walked.
And the rest, I think, is a story for another day.
When people tell me how jealous they are of my travels, sometimes I have no reply. Sometimes I just smile. The truth is that I don’t do the kind of travel most people enjoy. I’m not an easy traveler, and I often find myself in difficult situations like this either by chance or to challenge myself just because I want to prove that I can. The form of travel I find satisfying and rewarding is this kind, with little to no sleep often in a strange place, getting lost and then found, being unfathomably sweaty and then basking in the most glorious shower, eating a bit of weird food, being uncomfortable and uncertain. When I travel, it’s not for a vacation. That said, I began to feel a shift in my travel style this summer. I’m entirely unsure how much more hard travel like this my body can take. That fact doesn’t change the core of what drives me to travel though. That will never change. For when I travel, no matter where, and no matter how, I travel to live. I travel to see. I travel to feel. I travel for the adventure.