I arrived for the first time in the former Soviet Union rather young and extremely late. I was officially an adult what with being eighteen and seven months but being Australian I retained a certain amount of naivety which could kindly in hindsight be described as belonging to the antipodean character. These days eighteen seems early to be travelling alone accross the Finnish border by train without a word of Russian (or Finnish for that matter) during the winter and without boots with only seven months qualification. Travelling today no doubt I would be clutching an iPhone with gps tracking and parents checking on my general whereabouts.
The times have changed, and the Russian woods are tuned to the high speed European connections, which no doubt are smoother, quieter and punctual. The purpose of stepping outside ones door becomes the timely arrival at ones destination as opposed to the haphazard and completely unscripted nature of the journey itself.
My arrival into Leningrad (two weeks later Saint Petersburg) was late by approximately five hours. Yet the overnight train hadn’t stopped for more than fifteen minutes as far as I could make out, at the border. Several still soviet looking soldiers with large guns boarded, brusquely asking for my papers and lifting the bunk to reveal a thankfully empty person sized space below.
These spy novel plot points triggered my excitement. To be heading into a vast country that had maintained such a impenetrable iron curtain, a country that had only days ago fired cannon at its own Whitehouse and announced a coup and to have the very rare opportunity to explore a secretive major city in a world that had almost completely been mapped, dissected and tenderly McDonalderised was enough to send my still adolescent brain into overdrive.
It turned out my train HAD stopped during the night somewhere in the almost ex soviet woods while passengers slept. For five hours….
-Excerpt from “Meeting Behemoth – My Russian Adventure”
R A Haupt 2018