I was a self-absorbed seventeen-year-old American girl when I stepped onto a passenger train in Moscow the sumer of 1994. My travel companions and I were disgruntled that the 10-hour train ride our itinerary had boasted from Moscow to Samara was, according to our guide, actually going to be 18-hours. What were we supposed to do on a train for 18 hours? We could only play so many card games, and even teenagers can only sleep for so long. We were fast-paced Americans used to getting our food in under five minutes and zipping about the countryside in our parents’ cars without noticing the scenery. We were about getting places and doing things, and fast – not necessarily about enjoying the journey.
I slept off the travel exhaustion and itinerary frustration to the gentle rocking of the train. Rested and refreshed, I found myself standing in the hallway of my sleeper car staring out the window at the scenic countryside as we lumbered our way to Samara. I was mesmerized. Farmlands rich with dark soil, forests thick with green, and the blue, flowing Volga River wrapped their fingers around my heart. Having grown up in suburbia, I had never seen so much open land – pristine, uncultivated, uninhabited, and most likely as beautiful as the day it was born.
It didn’t take long to realize the 8-hour discrepancy in the trip had little to do with the slower pace of the train or the distance, but that we stopped at every little town along the route. Every couple hours, we felt the rocking train slow. Word traveled faster than we did, and by the time the wheels stopped, it seemed half the town had gathered at our doors to see the two cars full of young Americans onboard. They came not just in hopes of selling us their hand-made dolls and clothing, but to get a glimpse of so many Americans. We, the tourists, became the attraction.
By the time we reached our final destination, we were a different group than had boarded the train the previous day. The journey had transformed us as we took in the beauty of the countryside and the faces of each town. Our disgruntled dispositions had been replaced with grateful appreciation for those 18-hours – for the chance to slow down and view a chunk of countryside we never would have experienced at 30,000 feet in an airplane. We had fallen irreversibly in love with Russia’s exquisite land and friendly faces that greeted us at each stop.
Sixteen years later, I carry the lessons I learned during those 18 hours with me in every journey: Most often the best moments happen unscripted and off the itinerary. Relax, let the moments happen, and savor each one, for you may never get to experience anything like them again.
This post has been entered into the Grantourismo–HomeAway travel writing competition.
Jen Griffin says
mmm….this brings back so many great memories. Thank you for sharing. A piece of my heart will always be in Russia.
I know. Me too. Ked and I were just talking about the orphanage tonight. I hadn’t looked at my pictures in quite awhile. What a trip!
Thanks for posting this beautiful description. There are so many memories from that trip that could be written about…. Do you remember when PT was coerced into dancing with a couple of ladies outside their apartment complex? He was just innocently walking past when they roped him in. 🙂
lara dunston says
What a beautiful post! I’m half-Russian and have done the Moscow-St Petersburg train which was wonderful and always wanted to do the Trans-Siberian.
Spasiba for entering this into our Grantourismo travel blogging competition! Good luck!
beautiful post this! especially liked – word traveled faster than we did …
Shelley – I have PICTURE of the PT dancing incident! I’ve been debating posting some pics from the trip on Facebook. I saw those and laughed. Ah, such memories a lifetime ago.
Lara, thank you so much. It was a beautiful, beautiful trip and I fell in love with Russia and the people I met. I’d love to go back some day!
Thank you Neha! It was an interesting phenomenon how they seemed to know exactly where we were!
what a joyful post – i love how you learned to slow down. that’s one of the most important lessons we can learn in life. good luck!
Sometimes enforced slowness can have the most fabulous side-effects. I was dreading 10 hours on a train down through Italy, but seeing the Adriatic coast at sunset was unbelievably beautiful, and there’s *always* people-watching to do …!
Lovely piece – good luck.
Anca Popa says
Just thought I should let you know that this month Grantourismo is running a new competition with the theme ‘Food and Travel’, so if you have a memorable food experience from your travels please feel free to share it with us. We’d love to hear from you again!