As I walk out into the Arrivals area, I spot my driver holding up my name, and bound up to him with a hearty Hola. Spanish seems to be my foreign language reflex, even when arriving in Moscow.
The driver holds out his hand and says, Vaggash. I’m surprised by the handshake but I obediently seize his hand, pump it, and respond, Mary!
He blinks, spreads both hands to mimic how big my luggage might be if I had any and tries again. Vaggash?
Oh. I turn to show him my backpack. His eyebrows lift in what I take as grudging approval but I’m still down points with the whole Spanish greeting, unsolicited physical contact and puppy-like enthusiastism, plus thinking his name is Baggage. I do win an involuntary laugh out of him on the long walk to the car when he asks OK? for the third time and I finally remember to say Da, instead of Si.
I’m in Moscow for the start of a Trans-Siberian Railway journey because what else do you do after a cold, snowy winter than vacation in Siberia?
I joined a tour this time, remembering how challenging it was in Russia 7 years ago trying to buy a train ticket to Catherine the Great’s Palace. Choo-choo got us directions to the train station but once there we were defeated by our inability to act out Catherine the Great and slunk away ticketless.
There are some changes since 2010. The pedestrian underpasses are still the only way to cross busy roads but the subterranean kiosks no longer predominantly sell bras. The metro signs are still all Cyrillic on the platforms but on the train a British recorded voice now helpfully tells you are going the wrong way.
What hasn’t changed is the fun of asking for directions on the street. I learned that “Kremlin” even in my best Russian accent gets me about as far as asking for a glass of wadder (instead of warter) in England. The Kremlin equivalent is apparently Kreemel. I tried to learn Russian for I’m sorry but Google Translate wants me to say what sounds like prostitute and that seems like a bad idea. I’ll stick to Eezveeneetyeh (apology).
So tour it is. It starts tomorrow and after another day in Moscow, we hop the first of many trains to make our way east across six of Russia’s 11 time zones through Mongolia to Beijing. And I already know the Chinese word for baggage — Sing-lee.