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A Road to Nowhere in the Russian Countryside


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Ruin of a church in the Russian countryside
Our contact in Moscow suggests a road to nowhere, the Russian countryside. But to visit rural Russia, we have to go off the beaten track. Public transport leads us via Tver to Staritsa. But there, the road to nowhere becomes reality.

In the early morning, at night actually, our train leaves St Petersburg, heading for Tver. From that city we need to travel to the little village of Dubrovki, where our contact Uncle Pasha has a dacha from where he shows tourists “Rural Russia”. Although he calls the experience “Misery Tours”, the idea to visit real Russia attracts us, and so we are underway.

The Train to Tver

Moskovski station in St Petersburg is crowded at midnight. Our train hasn’t arrived yet but at the platform is shown where carriage number 2 will stop, so that’s where we wait for it. But as it arrives, numbering of the carriages is backward, so we have to walk the entire platform after all.

Russian Trains

Most trains in Russia offer two different classes: Kupé or Platzkart.

Kupé (coupe) is the preferred class for most foreigners. It is a private cabin with four places on two bunk beds, with a small table in the middle.

Platzkart seats are located in an open carriage. There are six beds into the space that the coupe uses for four. An extra bunk bed is arranged along the aisle. For long foreigners there is less room here. And in busy trains, these are the worst beds since there is continuous walking in the aisle.


Since the train is longer than the platform, we even have to descend from the platform and enter the train from the ground. Fully packed, the step up isn’t easy, but compared to others we do it quit well.

When we bought the tickets, different options were presented. Unfortunately, a Kupé (a cabin with 4 beds) wasn’t available, so we chose “platzkart”. This is an open carriage with beds along the aisle and perpendicular to it. We were advised to take a bed along the aisle, and so we did. But people are walking in the aisle all the time, which makes sleeping almost impossible. So much for good advice.

The train would arrive at 7.20 AM in Tver. At 7, our alarm wakes us. We get dressed and pack our gear to wait by the door. But it takes another 45 minutes before the train arrives at the next station. Just before that, another passenger arrives who wakes the Providnik (conductor). We ask him whether this is Tver and indeed, we can get off the train.

How to use a public telephone in Russia

According to Uncle Pasha the railway station should contain a telephone center, but it takes us quite a while to find it. The lady in the booth is not really helpful (Russians are very helpful, unless the have an occupation that requires them to be helpful…), so we figure out ourselves that only one phone accepts coins. We call Uncle Pasha’s number, hear a voice on the other side, but our words don’t come through. After a few attempts we let some other guy go first. This man understands even less than us and doesn’t know where to put the coins. We show him, but he can’t make a connection either. In the end, we find someone who tells us we need to press a button before we can speak and then, we get Uncle Pasha. He tells us to take the bus to Staritsa, where he will pick us up.

Bridge over the River Volga in Staritsa.We walk to the bus station 200 meters further and buy a ticket for the bus that is supposed to leave at 9.15 AM. We wait in the cold hall and get outside at 9.05. One old bus after an other arrives and leaves, but not ours. Together with the other passengers, we go inside again, where it is a little warmer still. Finally, at 10 PM, the next bus for Staritsa arrives. The bus is full but we manage to arrange an extra seat for our backpacks.

When the bus leaves Tver we decipher the Cyrillic writing on a sign: Staritsa 65 kilometres. Oops, a bit further then we thought. SO we sit back and enjoy the views and the loud local music. As the ride progresses, people get in and out at roadcrossings. Apparently, the bus doesn’t pass the villages they are heading to.

Autobus Voksal Staritsa

After one and a half hour we arrive at the bus station of Staritsa. It is a little building where a lot of people are waiting. We do not recognize Uncle Pasha, or rather, there is nobody that recognizes us or our backpacks. So we join the waiting people and take a seat. We think Pasha may have heard from the bus delay and left to come back later. To be sure, we call him again but another Russian man answers the phone. “Staritsa Autobus Voksal?” “Da, Staritsa Autobus Voksal”. He must be on his way.

After an hour of waiting, a slightly older man approaches us. “Paatrik? Sabina?”, but he speaks no English. He walks to another, younger man to discuss. When he comes back he makes steering movements (only the “brrrmm, brrrm” is lacking), and he makes clear we have to follow the other man. We take our backpacks and put them in an old Lada, apparently a taxi.

The Lada starts quickly in the cold, and we hit the road. First through the clean streets of Staritsa, quite a large village. When we pass a river we decipher “Volga” and the driver, speaking no English, confirms this should be the Wolga. After a while we leave the clean road for a road where only the tracks are clean. We leave Staritsa and pass some other, smaller villages. We take another turn and this time, we drive on the flat driven snow. But after a few kilometers, the next turn brings us onto fresh snow, completely white. We ask ourselves where this heads to. To a place where not a lot of cars are going to, that’s for sure.

Deserted streets

Then we arrive in a little village. But the streets and houses look deserted. We also see an old church when the taxi stops at a crossroad. The driver gets out and looks around. He walks a bit further down the road and makes an impression of being lost. When he gets in after 5 minutes we ask him that, but he cannot make clear what is going on. Meantime, we wonder if we’re being kidnapped by the Russian mafia.

Finally we meet Uncle PashaWe drive along until we reach a point where we cannot go any further. There are parked cars in the snow, and some nice view over the river and to some houses on a hill. The driver gets out again, looks around, and starts calling. There’s no answer so he gets in and starts pushing his horn. We have no idea what he’s up to but after a while we see some movement near a shack on the hill. And a little later, a horseman comes out way. When he finally reaches us, he introduces himself: “Pasha”….

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