Behind the Iron Curtain: My Trip to the Soviet Union, Shopping in Kiev and the Odessa Night Train

As Jason had told me when he came in after being out on the town, Igor showed up that morning to finish trading. But he had also brought his friend Sergei to get in on the action. There were only three of us in total, the two Soviets and myself who could trade. Jason had traded himself out. Half of the clothes I brought went, but I held onto both my camera and my Walkman with an iron grip. I couldn’t have finished the trip without them. But I did manage to pick up a flag and some Soviet clothes.

At 8:25, we had to take them back down and then race to breakfast. That morning was going to be very hectic because we were on a very tight schedule. KB had told us that if we didn’t make the bus, that was our problem, it was leaving with or without us. We ate breakfast as fast as we could and then sprinted back up to our room so we could make the 9:00 bus. But just as we were about to go back downstairs, Mr. McClelland informed us that we were to have our bags packed and brought downstairs. We whipped back in, threw everything in our suitcases and began to move things over to the elevator.

But then Mr. McClelland said that he had made a mistake, all we had to do was make sure our stuff was ready to go and we could leave it in our rooms. We threw our suitcases back in the room and sprinted down the stairs, almost taking whole flights at a time. But it was too little too late. The bus had left, leaving seven of us behind.

Our first impression was one of death, namely ours. KB was sure to have us skinned alive, or so we thought. We were not dead in the water yet. Mr. Howard mentioned that Marina was still in the hotel. At least she knew where we were supposed to go. In a flash, someone took off to ask her for help.

When she came down, we asked what we could do. I pointed to a small Intourist bus and asked if we could commandeer it. Five minutes later Greg, Mr. Hanson, Mr. McClelland, Paul, John, Laila, Jason and myself were on our way to the Cathedral of the Caves. We were all wondering what KB was going to do to us. When we arrived, we pulled our pants on as fast as we could and sprinted into the museum, where we found everyone else. A few of them were a bit surprised that we even showed up, but others had their minds on something a bit more troubling.

During the night, a group had gotten together in Chris’ room for a small party. Also present was the standard drink in the Soviet Union … vodka. However, in the middle of this party, KB did a room check. All he heard was a clinking of bottles and some muffled whispers. Then the door opened. When Chris saw KB, he slammed the door in his face.

Until such time as we got burned, I turned my camera lens on other things. The museum had a no flash rule in effect so taking pictures was rather difficult. In areas that light shone in brightly, it wasn’t so bad, but a tapestry that hung in the middle of the far wall didn’t turn out too well.

Then we went back outside and down towards the river side of the monastery. We went into a small church, where a flash was allowed. But all I got was a chandelier. Outside, I got a better picture of the bell tower through a bombed out building that formed a good frame for the shot (something we picked up from some egoistical bitch of a photographer who gave us “tips” before we left).

We went still further to yet another building around which was a large walkway that gave us a very good view of what I like to call “Cathedral Valley”, mainly for the dozen plus churches that are visible. We went down a path until we reached a kind of dead end road. Only pedestrians could walk any further. There we had to wait for our guides to give us the okay to continue to the caves further down. Meanwhile, Greg took Polaroid shots of his foot.

Soon we were going down the covered stairway to the foot of the hill, where the caves were. The guide for Kiev asked me a few questions on the way down, explaining to me at the same time that the stairway had to be covered, as it often got buried during the winter months. We entered a doorway not far from the bottom of the stairway that would take us into the caves. Big deal, they’re just caves right?

WRONG! To be specific, the caves are catacombs where they buried the past priests from the monastery. The catacombs are Russian Orthodox, not Christian, as I had been told. This meant that the bodies weren’t just loosely wrapped up in linen and placed in the walls to decay. These bodies were clothed in robes with their heads covered up. The only thing you could see were the hands, which were all shriveled up.

Most of the bodies were of priests and monks who had lived there but there was one area that got to everyone who was down there. It was a small chamber set into the wall. Inside was a velvet cloth with a deep purple colour. There were seven bumps (if I remember correctly) but they were only about four feet long at the most. At the far wall were golden crowns, seven of them, at the head of each of the bodies. They were children, not of the monks, but of the people who lived around the monastery. They were killed when part of the monastery collapsed onto them. But I could not take a picture due to lack of light.

When we got outside, we all took a deep breath to clean the fumes of decay from our lungs. Then it was time for us to go. We climbed our way back up the stairs to the dead end street and walked out way up that to another road.

Our bus was parked in the lot of the Kiev War Memorial, were the Mother of the Ukraine had been erected. When we got to the memorial, KB informed us that we had only a few minutes before we left. With that news, Greg took off for the statue so he could get a couple of pictures.

When we did get back on the bus, KB finally gave us the speech that we had been expecting. He bawled us out for the incident with the alcohol, but mentioned no names. While he stood and spoke, we said nothing. The second he sat back down, a few of us in the end virtually laughed at him, we just couldn’t help it. It was like being yelled at for doing something that you were allowed to do. We weren’t supposed to drink on the trip, but I couldn’t believe KB never noticed all the bottles before.

Lunch was rather uninteresting, aside from the fact that we had borscht, which although I tried, I could not eat. I hate beets with a passion, and I couldn’t help but pick the taste out. I mean, it was really disgusting.

After lunch, we a very short tour. Our bus let us off at one of the most famous cathedrals in the Soviet Union, the Church of St. Sophia. It wasn’t far from the road to the lower city that those of us in the Circle had gone down the day before. The inside was quite impressive, but like many of the religious institutions in Europe, operational or otherwise, pictures were not allowed. But this didn’t stop someone behind us snapping a shot off.

It’s an impressive place, a three foot thick floor, several layers of paint and a history that no-one can nail down exactly. One of the Ukraine’s most famous people is buried there, Yaroslav the Wise. He took control of the Ukraine near the turn of the millennia. While his brothers fought, he stepped right around them to become king.

That was it for touring that day. We returned to the hotel and some free time. A large group of people took the subway to the far side of the Dneiper river, where the beach was. I was going to go, except I remembered where the water in that river must flow by at one point. One hundred and thirty kilometres to the north lies Chernobyl. I know it boarders on paranoia, but I wanted to live long enough to be able to tour that city.

A smaller group consisting of Greg, Lisa V, Kelly B, Mr. Hanson and myself decided that we would check out the department store next door. You would not believe what it’s like in a Soviet department store. Instead of wall-to-wall carpet you get wall-to-wall people.

But we all had missions in mind. First, both Greg and I wanted watch bands for our watches (he had gotten a watch also) and then Greg had to buy a whole stack of GreenPeace albums. The Soviets have an interesting selling system. You tell the cashier what it is you want (or you point at it if you don’t speak the same language), you pay whatever the price is and the cashier gives you a receipt. Then you go over to the goods counter and present the receipt and you get what you paid for. That’s a good idea if I’ve ever heard one.

While Greg was picking up his records, Mr. Hanson and I looked around in the electronics department. I saw stuff that could have been left over from the 50’s! All the TV sets were huge and the colour was kind of dull, if the set was even a colour one.

When we finally managed to squeeze our way out back into the fresh air. As soon as we got out, we ran into Igor and Sergei out in front of the store. Greg almost immediately wanted to do some trading. Igor suggested that we go to his place. This time, I went. Six of us, all except Mr. Hanson who mysteriously disappeared, hopped on the street cars for a short trip downtown. Most street cars are made of two cars, end to end. They work on the honour system, the transit people assume you have already purchased a ticket. Most people don’t.

We traveled for about five minutes and then got off at what we thought was Igor’s apartment. It was his sister’s. We waited while he went in for something, which I think was his key. But she wasn’t home at time so we ran out of luck there. Sergei suggested his place. But to get there, we were going to need a taxi.

In the Soviet Union, there are only a handful of real taxis. But you can get almost any driver to be one, they’ll all do it for the money, the best way, so we were told, was to hold up a pack of cigarettes. It took us only a few minutes to get us all on the road to Sergei’s place.

Sergei, Kelly and myself took the first car and Igor, Greg and Lisa took another car, which was a privately owned Lada. Those have got to be the most uncomfortable cars in the world. Shocks must be nonexistent in those things. And as if the cars are bad enough, the drivers are psychopaths!

We finally arrived at his place, an apartment complex somewhere in the north end of Kiev. We all filed out and waited for the others to arrive. During that time, Sergei went into his apartment to retrieve the things he needed to trade with. His aunt was living with him and didn’t like visitors.

Just before he returned, the others arrived. I didn’t want to trade anything, I had nothing to trade but Greg was definitely intent on doing so. However, he had nothing either. Greg made arrangements with Igor and Sergei to meet us at the train station that night before we left for Odessa.

The next thing we knew we were vying for taxis to take us back. Greg and Lisa snatched the first taxi, Kelly and I caught the second. During this time, I was a bit worried, hoping we got back in time for dinner, still remembering what had happened that morning. When we finally arrived, we paid the three rubles for the ride, plus another three for the quick ride. Greg had done us one better and paid his driver ten rubles, something which, according to Greg, made the driver almost cry.

Dinner was, as usual, with fish. But few of us tried not to eat. We wouldn’t be getting off the train for some time so we wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t get hungry. And besides, I had no more granola bars.

We arrived at the train station at about 8:15 that night, none of us could see Igor anywhere. We knew that he was there, but we weren’t sure where. And what was worse, we couldn’t get off the bus to look either. Once again we were stuck on the bus until Suzanna and Marina returned with our tickets.

Once again, the porters came and took our bags, which we would find later at our train. Then we finally got off the bus and headed for the station. This time we went into the station rather than go around the side of it. But we did not wait inside. We zipped through the main lobby, went upstairs, crossed two tracks and went down to our landing, where we would have to wait for the train as it had not yet arrived.

However, we didn’t all arrive at the same time. Some of us got divided in the station and had no idea where the hell we were. Greg became a bloodhound and went out to track them down. He was gone quite some time and a few of us thought that those who got lost did so individually.

It turned out that Greg found Igor. I suppose that Greg did the trading that he wanted to do earlier that afternoon. I really don’t know though, all I heard was that he found Igor.

Our train soon showed up and we boarded for our second, and last, night train. This time however, Derek and I got dibs on the top bunk. Pete and Shaun were on the bottom. We were hoping for a repeat of the Kiev night train. When we boarded the train, the Russian music was on again. It was on the first train too, but at least the volume switch worked. On this train, there were two settings: high and still high.

We already knew that none of the stewards spoke any English at all. This meant that we had to find Marina or Suzanna to ask them to shut it off. But we couldn’t find either of them. It was beginning to look like we were going to have one hell of a time sleeping that night.

Radar came to our rescue. Using a One Kopeck coin, he unscrewed a panel over the volume knob. Before he had completely unscrewed the panel, he sent me out in the hall to run interference. This meant I had to go around, collecting all the tea cups so the stewards didn’t find out what was going on.

After about five minutes, I had run out of cups. I was getting worried, wondering how much longer it was going to take. I peeked in the room to find Radar with his arm hooked up inside the panel with a pair of nail clippers. A quick snap, and the sound was gone. Then he quickly replaced the panel before we got in trouble. We thanked him heartily, we knew that we were going to be able to sleep. Then we opened the door as far as it could go. The temperature in that room was stifling and we had to cool it off.

Not long after Radar left, Toni and Lisa V came in to talk again. But they weren’t in there for very long. The Mr. Phillips and Radar took them out and put them in the own rooms. Then they told us to close and lock our doors until further notice. We thought the train was begin searched for whatever reason. It was a little unnerving.

Since we had been in Moscow, we had attracted the attention of some Soviet men. It wasn’t actually us as a whole, but the girls to be specific. Those guys were big and creepy in all sense of that term. They were kicked off at the next station, and we were free roam the halls once again.

That let us all back out again for some fun. We grouped again back in our cabin again for yet more talking. We yapped right up until about 10:30, when Mr. Phillips informed us that it was time for bed. Toni, who was very good at using her “puppy dog” look to get what she wanted, managed to get us some leeway with him.

Five minutes later, it was revoked by Radar. We couldn’t argue with him. Besides, the elders had learned their lesson with the Kiev train. This time, there were adults in the car, so all night partying was out of the question. It could have been worse though, Jason had to sleep in KB’s cabin. We were by ourselves.

So we said good night to Toni and Lisa and prepared for sleep. We talked amongst ourselves for a little while longer before we finally hit the sack. Shaun more or less set the mood in doing so. We all brought our Walkmans out, grabbed our favorite tunes and Shaun all got us going at the same time.

There were going to be no parties that night. It was going to be a short one for us, we wouldn’t be up for longer than an hour. Beyond that, it was slumberville for us.

Observer’s Log: Traveldate 890705.23

Day 6

Today was rather hectic. To start off with, we went through some heavy trading this morning. Due to a small discrepancy, 7 of us missed the bus and ended up commandeering an Intourist van. We went to the Cathedral of the Caves (which incidentally is not the real name, but the Ukrainian version is very complicated). There, we visited the museum, which had several beautiful tapestries, including one that had a picture of Lenin, but no flashes were allowed. We then visited the catacombs (which were Russian Orthodox, not Christian), where I managed to snap off a few photos but due to a pair of weak batteries, they were very few.

After lunch, we went to the St. Sophia Cathedral, which was founded in the 1030’s (at least that was when it was first mentioned in the chronicles). There, we found out that the church had gone through several floors (about 3 ft. of them). Yaroslav the Wise was buried there along with his second wife.

We also got some pictures of the statue of “The Mother of the Ukraine”, which was made out of stainless steel and stood over 300 ft. high.

Behind the Iron Curtain: My Trip to the Soviet Union, Touring Kiev

Observer’s Log: Traveldate 890704.08

Day 5

We didn’t sleep much last night, in fact, we barely slept at all. Some of us were getting pissed out of their minds while the rest of us were yapping about life and sex (in general).

The Moscow area has completed my geography essay and a good chunk of my history essay. No Problem.

Presently, we are still on the train heading for Kiev. It’s a good ride, but a little bumpy.

We knew that we were getting into Kiev, but we weren’t sure exactly when. We were all back out in the hall, the coolest place in the car (the rooms were getting warmer with every passing moment), looking out the windows at the passing scenery. Then someone spotted a rather large metal object through a break in the trees. When the trees cleared again just before we went over a bridge, we all saw it. The statue was huge, over two hundred feet tall. If it weren’t for the fact that it was a dull silver, I think we would have mistaken it for the Statue of Liberty. But in lieu of a book, it held a shield and instead of a torch, it wielded a sword. There wasn’t a crown of any sort. Almost instantly, a dozen of us whipped back to our cabins, grabbed our cameras and whipped back into the halls to take a picture. But by then the trees had returned and the Statue was lost behind the foliage.

Soon, we found ourselves in Kiev. I already liked it better than Moscow, there were more trees. The fun began when the train stopped, mainly moving everything out of the cabins. This was just about as bad as when we first boarded, except that the platform outside was level with the car’s floor. Once outside, we grouped everything together and a whole troop of porters arrived to pick it all up and haul it over to our new bus. While we were waiting, Toni happened to spot a rather large group of soldiers and began to wilt. This should be explained..

While we were in Moscow, we saw several military vehicles pass us everyday. And in those vehicles were, of course, soldiers in full uniform. Every time one passed us, Toni became highly excited. She loved men in uniform. So obviously, we all went on soldier watch so we could point them out. So when Toni spotted all those young men in uniforms, in close proximity too I might add, she got a little hyper. Not nearly as bad as me during the night, but yes, a little ecstatic.

We boarded our bus which then took us to our new hotel, which was about five minutes away. This was our first real hotel, not some defunct cruise ship. It was kind of downtown, maybe a bit to the … oh let’s call it the north. Kiev was the only city that I didn’t know which way was north, without having known the orientation before I left Canada. The other cities we visited all had large bodies of water from which I could get a bearing. Kiev however, was a mystery to me. I had my suspicions, and I was usually right (and no compass either).

We arrived at our hotel and found out it was two to a room again. So Jason and I once again turned in our passports, grabbed our keys and hauled our crap to the eleventh floor. This is when we learned just how slow Soviet elevators are. If it weren’t for our luggage, I would have used the stairs. Due to the weight of the luggage, we waited the ten minutes. When we were going on day excursions though, we always used the stairs.

We were told to go to the restaurant for breakfast when we had stowed our gear in our rooms (which for Jason and I simply meant throwing the stuff in the door and leaving). When we finally found the restaurant, we nearly went into shock. Eggs, real eggs. They were served in a steel dish, fried sunny side up, two of them. They didn’t last for more than a minute at anyone’s table. If there was anything else I don’t remember. The fact that eggs showed up was enough to make me forget everything else.

KB then informed us that our tour would begin in about an hour. Jason and I went back up to our room to sort all our stuff out and take a shower, which we both needed. Our room was substantially larger than the one we had on the boat. It even had desks with drawers! But we weren’t going to be staying there that long.

Our room had quite a good view of the square that lay next to our hotel and the department store that was right in front of us. At the north end of the square stood buildings that bore signs that read 1941 and 1945. From other various windows around our floor, we could also see the train station that we had arrived at, numerous churches, etc, etc, etc.

The time for our tour came and we raced down the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. It turned out that several others were doing the same thing. We raced through the lobby and outside, where we were almost instantly nailed by locals who wanted to trade with us. We didn’t look too much like tourists, but we didn’t look enough like the Soviets (of course, being in a Soviet Hotel designated for foreigners was a bit of a giveaway).

Back on the bus, we took our seats near the back, as we always did. Then we moved out. Like I said before, Kiev has a lot of trees. For such a large city, you’d almost think you wouldn’t be able to see any. If Kiev hadn’t been in the Soviet Union, I’d move there without a second thought.

Kiev itself was a bit of a catch22. Although it was the best city that we saw in my opinion, it was so old that it was also filled full of things to remember. I kept kicking myself for not bringing my notepad to scribble a few of these things down on. Mr. Phillips brought a tape recorder to record everything our guides said. Now that was a good idea!

Our first stop was at the Kiev Summer Palace. We didn’t go in, but we got a lot of good pictures from it. We also took a quick stroll through the adjoining park, which had no less than a thousand different species of trees. If you’re already bored, it’s because you weren’t there! Before we boarded the bus again, a few of us got a drink from a vendor who sold beer and mineral water by the glass or by the bottle. A glass of mineral water was all I needed, even if it was a bit expensive.

Then we set back out in our tour of Kiev. We stopped a couple of times in the upper city to look at cathedrals and such. Almost all the students looked a little on the downtrodden side (I think Toni and Lisa P were on the verge of falling asleep on their feet a couple times). Some of us (pretty well all of those who were in cabin number five) took a quick romp down a road to the lower city to see what was there and to take a picture, courtesy of Lisa V. Then we went back for the bus.

We then had a brief bus tour that more or less forced us to stay on the bus so we would get back to the hotel in time for lunch. That was when we found the Mother of the Ukraine, the 300 foot tall stainless steel statue that we had seen earlier from the train. We toured the lower city for a while but then headed back to the hotel for further nourishment. Along the way we saw a funicular railway that ran between the upper and lower cities. We also spotted the subway that as in most large Soviet cities. Lunch followed the same pattern as it always did. Soup, beef and ice cream. But we didn’t tired of it, the cooks always did a good job at varying what we ate.

That afternoon will always remain a mystery to me. To this day I have no idea what happened. It’s a five hour blank in my memory. As far as I know, our group either toured the city or we had free time, in which we all got some sleep. Somehow, I think the latter is what did happen. I know this much from the chaperone’s looks. You know, the ones that say “I told you so!”

My memory picks up again around dinner. Yes, fish was there again. What can I say? It was expected by now. The vegetables were a bit unusual though. I don’t know if they can them over there or not, but Greg managed to find a perfect description for them … monkey’s balls.

After our rather uneventful dinner, we had a very interesting question period with some Soviet students. When we were first told about the meeting, we thought that our Soviet counterparts would be our age. Little did we realize that they were graduating university students! Our table consisted of Jason, Helen and Mina Suh, Mr. Phillips, myself and 24 year old Igor Shevtsov. This was an awesome opportunity. We asked every question that came to mind. We didn’t have to worry about some Soviet official hanging over our heads making sure we didn’t ask anything that would considered taboo. But there were a few things that we did forget about, such as Chernobyl.

We learned that despite all the promises of Communism, there were still some serious problems with the Soviet Union. For example, poverty was still quite a problem, and will probably get worse as Gorby’s reforms take effect. And despite the promise for jobs for everyone, unemployment was a little on the high side. Some people don’t even have homes.

We talked for almost two hours before the talks were ended with Toni and Pete making a presentation of a Canadian flag to the professor who had arranged for the talks. But instead of leaving, Jason and I brought Igor up to our room. Igor had told us that he had brought things to trade with us and we gladly accepted him on the offer. Our room quickly became a central trading room. It didn’t take us long to get going.

Helen and Mina traded for a couple of stacking dolls (if my memory serves me correctly), Mr. Phillips got a hold of a Raketa (the Soviet version of Timex) watch, I got my military watch not to mention an acid rain proof hat. Radar picked up the jacket that matched the hat. And just to show how much wear one of their watches can take, I had mine working for over three years, three dunkings and six drops from about six feet (accidental) before it gave out.

Jason on the other had, went crazy. I had a funny feeling that most of the stuff he brought he wanted to trade away. And he did so too. In under an hour, Jason had pretty well put everything of his up for grabs. But Igor only brought so much. Igor then suggested that we go to his apartment to continue with e trading. I was a bit apprehensive on that though. We were in a country that we honestly did not know a lot about. We were about to go to an apartment somewhere in the third largest city in the Soviet Union with a guy we barely knew. I didn’t voice this directly, but I did tell them that I wasn’t going.

That didn’t stop Jason, he was intent on trading everything he owned. So they left me to stare out the window as they vanished into the heart of Kiev. My excuse was fairly simple … I wanted to get some sleep as I was quite tired. I had made it up for an excuse, but about a half hour after they left, I was snoozing away.

The next thing I knew, I was being smacked on the head with a paper roll. I awoke to look right a Jason, whose arms were full of junk. I was on the verge of screaming at him, but before I could even open my mouth he was blabbing away.

They had gone to Igor’s place, where Jason met Igor’s sister and her kids. According to Jason, they had quite a time there. Jason had lived up to my prediction and traded away virtually everything he brought that was of some significant value. However, he also traded away his Walkman (which are as good as gold over there), an event that would later cause some problems.

To celebrate the historic event (yeah, right), Igor brought out to large bottles of Russian Champagne. While Igor and Jason shared a bottle, Igor’s sister drank the other by herself. Jason put as “she drank it as if it was water!” Even though Jason only got half, he was still a bit wasted. Call it a hunch, but Russian liquor is a bit stronger than most North Americans are used to.

Observer’s Log: Supplemental

It turns out that Kiev is actually older, much older, than I had originally thought, about 1500 years old, which is rather impressive for a city that has a lot of technology and (the rest is illegible).Tonight, we had a meeting with the Kiev University students. I met with one student, Igor, who had just graduated from university. It was amazing just how much I learned from him. After a rather lengthy chat, we went back to our room where some intensive trading was done.

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.

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.