Behind the Iron Curtain - My Trip to the Soviet Union, the Kiev Night Train

The night we spent on the Kiev night train was one that I shall never forget until the day I die. It’s kind of hard not to, I was awake for pretty well the whole night. And so was virtually everyone in our car, except the porters.

When our guides finally returned, we had already seen the porters come and take our bags to the train. Then we all piled out with the rest of our junk and headed for our awaiting train. We were headed for the front of the train, cars five, six and seven to be precise. Of course, you’re wondering why I called that the front of the train. The train was twenty three cars long. Being used to GO trains which are never longer than thirteen cars, including two engines and a booster car, this was an experience.

We had already received our bunking arrangements before we arrived. There were four to a room, ten rooms to each car. One person from each room was designated to go in first and make sure everything was okay. Konrad went for Pete, Derek and myself. Then the rest of us charged in. The first step up wasn’t easy, especially with heavy bags. The only thing worse was moving in the narrow halls, and our cabin was right in the middle of the car to boot. There were, as I mentioned, ten cabins, eleven if you counted the crew’s cabin. There were also two bathrooms in all the cars, one at each end. We had only one bathroom in our car for most of the trip, the other was taken out of commission somewhere around two in the morning thanks to a most generous vomit from Jeremy.

As we were boarding, I couldn’t help think of a song that had been doing very well on the charts just before we left, End of the Line, by the Traveling Wilburys. Greg made a point that he had another song in mind for that night, Night Train by Guns ‘n’ Roses. “Chaçun son goût”, I always say.

The rooms were somewhat cramped, measuring four metres by three metres by about three and a half metres (length / width / height), designed mainly to carry a lot of people. If you’re in there for only a little while, it’s not too bad. I personally would not want to be in there very long at all. The rooms were also sparsely decorated, if at all. There was a single table at the window (which folded down for more room) that had a vase of flowers. That was it. The walls, like those on the boat, were made of imitation wood paneling made of plastic. I thought the Big Three car companies were good. You ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen fake Soviet wood paneling. I mean, they’re the masters of the stuff!

Konrad had already commandeered one of the top bunks and Pete got dibs on the other. That left Derek and I with the lower bunks. Beyond bunks, there wasn’t much space to use. Above the door, there was a shelf that set into the wall. That was quickly filled up. The spaces under the lower bunks also went quickly leaving us no choice but to use the aisle for storage. But there wasn’t too much to take up room, fortunately.

Then we went out into the hallway, where it was much cooler. As I recall, the rooms did have a very primitive form of air conditioning but it didn’t work too well. And none of the windows in the rooms opened, they were bolted shut. As a result, the doors to our rooms were kept open to cool them off.

In the Hallways of the Kiev Night Train

Roughly fifteen minutes later, we were on our way to Kiev. It was a slow start, but soon, we were eating up the rails. The windows were still kept wide open, it was still quite warm. And besides, everyone liked the breeze (I was surprised no-one lost anything through those windows).

Little over an hour later, the porters began serving tea. We were told to expect this as the only form of grub we would get on the trains (that is, edibles we didn’t bring with us). Anything else we had to supply. I thought I would try it, as I had never drank tea before. As far as I could figure it, the tea tasted like wet leaves. Thanks, but no thanks.

Observer’s Log: Supplemental
We are now on the train to Kiev. Everyone is going nuts (beer nuts, the result of drinking or the food by that name, to be exact). Nothing much else about the train however. GUM was HUGE! Greg and Lisa tried “Power Shopping” while the rest of us did some heavy trading. We then had fish (again!) for dinner and promptly moved out for the train all the while Toni was on the verge of puking. Before I forget, in Zagorsk, there was a Cathedral of the Assumption and the monastery (founded in the 1400’s).

Derek had packed a large sack of beer nuts and another full of chocolate wafer cookies. The latter is a deadly with me, especially if it’s warm. A chemical reaction takes place and I get hyper, really wired. I’m talkin’ bouncing-off-the-wall psychotic. And it took me quite a while to calm down. By the time I had calmed down, it was dark out, nearing the time we had been told to go to bed. Yeah, right. Eight of us had become rather bored, so we had all grouped in my cabin, Number Five, to have a bull session.

Finally, Mr. Phillips came around to announce that it was bedtime. Somehow, I think he had been getting at the vodka, he seemed a bit tipsy. But then again, my sugar level was still too high. The only one who left the room was Toni. But ours wasn’t the only unusual cabin. All the others had mutated as well. For example, everyone in Jason’s cabin was already … pissed. Everyone in Jeremy’s cabin was pissed. That was one of the supervisors’s first mistakes, having an entire car full of kids, and no chaperones. The stewards did nothing to stop us either.

Just before Mr. Phillips had come, we had found that our discussions had become rather personal. Because of this, we closed the door. After Toni had left, the lights went out. The discussions continued in the dark. Fifteen minutes later, we got a knock at the door. We didn’t want to open if we didn’t have to, but it was Toni returning to the coop. We slid the door open and blinked steadily until it was closed. The lights were very bright in the hallway.

After the door had closed, I found my eyes quickly adjusted and immediately focused on Toni’s attire. Ever watch those Loony Tunes cartoons with Wile E. Coyote, when the Road Runner shoots off and his jaw drops, his eyes bug out and his tongue unrolls? Any male would have done the same if you had seen Toni.

But you couldn’t have. So let me explain. Toni stood about six feet tall with curly brown, shoulder length hair. Her skin was a light brown, almost an eternal tan, without a freckle or blemish anywhere. And to finish the icing on the cake, she bore the body of a model. That night, she was wearing a pair of very tight longjohns and a cutoff t-shirt that read “Lifeguard”. Be still my beating heart. Now I don’t wish to pick out Toni specifically, but she was the only one who wore anything provocative. Kelly and the Lisas were all beautiful in their own special way. But I think they were a hell of a lot more conservative in their wardrobe than Toni. For better or for worse, that was the way they were.

Toni then crawled to the upper bunk with Pete and yelled “PSYCHE!” at which point all the guys groaned. Why? Beats me. She then began to complain that a bunch of people had criticized her on what she wore. For some reason, she then looked right at me. First thing that came to my mind was: “I didn’t say anything!” Heck, I didn’t have any problems with it.

All but two members of the “Inner Circle” were there. Toni was with Pete on the top bunk across from me, Derek was on the lower bunk across from me, Shaun, Kelly and Lisa V were above me and Lisa P was sprawled out in the aisle. At one point in the night Toni went down to Derek and fell asleep there for a while (hint, hint nudge, nudge, say no more!). Once again, Toni was snapped on celluloid for putting herself in interesting positions with members of the opposite sex (the first of many photos that got me in a heap of trouble).

During the course of the next few hours, gossip that would make the National Inquirer blush was shared (it wouldn’t have done me any benefit in the way of blackmail though, I didn’t know any of the people involved). Then we started a game that teenagers always seem to end up playing when left alone for any given length of time, Truth or Consequences (but we didn’t have any consequences). There’s also the famous Truth or Dare, but for some reason, I’m glad that no-one suggested it.

As you can pretty well guess, we quickly got to the most common popular subject of teens, SEX! It first started out with the question of what your girlfriend/boyfriend was like. Then it was how far you got with them and then if you had broken up, why you did it. I was excluded from these questions though. I hadn’t had a girlfriend before then. I still haven’t. I think I’m going to be a monk.

Then the biggie came: “What is the most sexual fantasy you’ve ever had?” I couldn’t get out of this one. That is a virtual fact of life for any male. I had no choice but to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me Doctor Ruth. But I didn’t give all the details. I just told them “It has to do with really thick, slimy clay.” That got a couple of oohs (and a couple confused looks) from a few people.

I was so curious, I nailed Toni with the same question. She must’ve been expecting it because she had her answer already planned. She said that it took place in an open field during a thunderstorm. A little unusual, but not really sick. Then she mentioned the tinfoil. I didn’t want to know any more. To this day however, I can’t hear a crash of thunder without thinking of Toni doing something bizarre with a roll of Reynolds Wrap.For some unknown reason, somebody brought up the question of how to stop getting sexually aroused to the point of embarrassment when you see someone who is really good looking. Shaun said “Dead puppies.” Someone else (might have been me) replied that what he had said was sick and disgusting. But then he made his point:

“If you see someone that you really what to … you know, you think of dead puppies! The idea is so sickening, it’ll turn you right off.” It would turn off the other person too when you puke all over their shoes.

I would love to go into further detail on the matters that we talked about, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy. When I take a vow with my friends for my friends, I make sure I don’t break it. The last thing I need is ten years down the road, hear a knock on the door and find one of them holding a shotgun to my head saying “Remember me?” To me, it was that vow of secrecy that formed the Inner Circle. It may also have been because Lisa V wanted everyone’s address and phone number before the trip was over.

We had only two interruptions during the night, and both of them were from Konrad. The first time, he wanted to make sure no-one was “killing” anything of his. The second time, Konrad was, well, slightly inebriated. I still wonder if he had really planned to do what he did. He burst into the room claiming, and I quote:

“I have the biggest penis on this trip!” said Konrad. You will never know how much I was tempted to make him prove that! (The embarrassment potential was enormous.)

He then began to mention in what ways he would remember us. He looked at Toni and said “I will remember you by what you are wearing.” That wasn’t too surprising. Then looked at Derek and said “I will remember you because your dick is as big as mine.” He mentioned everyone else, but I don’t remember all that he said. Then he got to me. He said “And I will remember you for showing me your balls.” Everyone laughed. It wasn’t really true. I was wearing shorts, but at the time I was spread-eagled, it was the only way I could get comfortable (those bunks didn’t leave a lot of room to stretch out on).We kept on talking into the wee hours of the morning. At least they did. I was quite tired and fell partially asleep for about an hour and a half. During this time, I do remember a partly filled bottle of vodka being passed around and an unusual game of war being acted out. The rest is still too fuzzy to make out.

Outside in the hall, all hell was breaking loose. But so what else was new? Greg actually managed to keep a little control, not much, but a little. He was the one who saved us from a real burn when Mr. Findlay came into our car to use the bathroom. Greg told him that someone had hurled in there and it was not a pretty sight (or smell for that matter). Little did Greg know that he was right.

The next morning began rather early, about 5:00. It was already fairly bright out, enough to get me out of bed. The others were asleep where they had been during the night. Toni was with Derek, Pete was sprawled out on his bunk, Kelly, Lisa V and Shaun were above me and Lisa P was sound asleep in the aisle.

Suddenly, there was a noise that sounded like sheets slipping off each other. The next thing I heard was a loud WHUMP! and a groaning OOF! Kelly had fallen off the top bunk. The Circle was beginning to wake up. Lisa P woke up and began to chant “Toooooniiiiii!” over and over and over. She wouldn’t shut up either.

I went out into the very cool hall to look at the damage. I had seen worse. I took my toothbrush, toothpaste and brushed the taste of dead things out of my mouth. I went to the bathroom and relieved the pressure in my bladder. By now, several others were doing the same to get the taste out of their mouths too. It was then I noticed that the outflow of the toilet flowed right out onto the railway tracks. I then broke open my box of granola bars and those of us who wanted one munched down until we got into Kiev.