Lost In Russia
My Volga Spartan son (see last blog) has arrived safely in Volgograd where he will be taking classes at Volgograd Technical University for the next six weeks. He's settled in with his host family, said that drinking the local water is unhealthy, and that he has yet to sample their vodka. He says something called "bread juice" is the popular local drink, whatever that is (he doesn't know either). Wayfinding in Volgrograd can be tricky, he also learned. Here is his latest e-mail to us:
I just got done with class and decide to take the taxi to my home. (Taxis are really marshutkas, vans that hold like 15 people. See picture). Thursday I rode the tram home with my Russia sister so I hadn't done taxis before. I see the #10 taxi that I'm supposed to take and hop in.
After a little while I'm wondering how close I am to home. Seems like this taxi isn't taking me anywhere near my neighborhood. It keeps heading north rather than east. Then he makes a left turn (eastward) and heads down a few blocks.
I see a store with a picture of the New York skyline on its outside wall that I remembered from the day before so I hopped out. I walked around a block or two but this residential neighborhood suddenly didn't look so familiar now. After a couple more blocks I stopped and asked someone for directions. I understood her hand gestures--south and east.
Walked that way for a long time until I came across an outside market. I saw a cute girl so I decided to ask her for directions. She was really polite but said my address was not close, in fact, very far. Wonderful.
So as I'm looking at the hundreds of taxis fly by I see a #10. I flag it down. As I closed the door behind me, the driver started yelling at me. I had no idea what he was saying and I didn't even bother to reply. I just took it. Then the door open and closed again...by itself. I guess he doesn't like people closing his automatic door.
After riding this taxi out I still get the feeling I'm really far away from home. We start heading out to the sticks. I see a gas station and get out of the taxi. Asked the cute girl behind the counter where were we and where my home was. A good 5 miles away.
So now I had to come up with a final solution, I figure these taxis run a circuit and that I should just ride it out till it returns to town. I head out of the gas station, flag down the next #10 taxi and hop in. We immediately head through a poor Russian village. Five minutes later we hit dirt road, then to a roundabout with three taxis parked and their drivers out smoking.
The driver pulls up then immediately turns back and looks at me. The other two passengers do also. I just show him my address and say I need this but the driver is of no help.
Then the two passengers say that I should take this number #10 about to leave and transfer to the #33. So I hop in and take off in another new #10.
We drive for a long time, somewhat tracing that last few miles I had just ridden. I wasn't completely sure I'd seen these streets. Then the driver starts to talk to us and I understand #33...#33. So I get out with another lady, but as I'm standing on the street the driver is still trying to talk to me. All the passengers are staring at me as the driver keeps going on and
on, like he has something really important to tell me. I wave my arms (universal signal for getouttahere) and turn around. Frustrated I walk into a nice convenience store to gather my thoughts and formulate a new plan.
I walk outside and ask the people what street I was on. I find out what corner I'm at and go back inside the convenience store. I see a cute girl behind a desk and tell her I'm an American student lost and need to call my professor. I thought Russian stores wouldn't have phones but it was worth a try. She ended up giving me her cell phone instead.
So I call Professor Merrill and tell him I'm lost. He asks me where and I give him the streets.
He tells me to call back in a few so that he can find someone who knows the area better--he'd never heard of the two streets. I call him a second and third time and the girl he finds says that if I take the trolleybus right out front it will take me downtown. I hang up, hand the phone to the girl and tell her I love her. She and her friends got a big kick outta that.
As I'm waiting for the bus I ask an old lady "Excuse me please, but I have a question" she replies, "What do you need!". I ask her how much it is for the bus but she refuses so I just reply, "Thanks."
Six rubles. And I take the trolley down to Main Street where it takes me right to the hotel where all the Engineering students live. I hop off, and wait for a taxi. I see the #10 and wonder if I take this I will be restarting the entire process. I say, whatever, take the #10 taxi. Finally, it starts
retracing the roads I took in the morning on Thursday. Takes me right out front of the apartment complex of my Russian hosts.
7pm. Seven hours after I started home, I walk in the door. My Russian mom asks me "Scott, where you been". The only phrase I knew to describe it was "walking around town."
She said, "Oh, nice. Come, eat."