The Belly Button Window Details

About Belly Button Window

The Semi-Regular Newsletter


Russia, October 5, 1997

Billet = Ticket in Russia

So you wanna take a ride on the Russian railroad?

a bus/tramvai ticket, very simple to getIn the last edition, I had a Nike Experience, where I went to the largest (and only) mall in Russia, GUM, and bought a pair of Nikes just like in the states, with plastic and a smile.

Today I will present the opposing viewpoint, the Billet Experience.

Billet = Ticket

Today I wanted to buy a ticket from Moscow to St. Petersburg on a night train leaving on Friday. I plan to spend the weekend in St. Pete, and return to Moscow Sun night. Now this being Russia, the concept of a travel agent doesn't exist, so I went to the state train company's ticket outlet here in town.

My first mistake was arriving at 1pm. As those who follow my stories know, what happens at 1pm? Yes, lunch. So, when I arrived at the ticket office the door was closed in my face, literally. I decided to wait an hour until the office reopened, having lunch in the meantime. By 2pm, when it was to open, the skies already had, forming a lake in front of the door. When the door opened all the people waiting for it to open, about 30, rushed the door. I wanted to whack a lady in the head as I scrambled for a place in line because she felt my stomach was a convenient storage place for her elbow.

Once inside I stood in the chaos, which was actually four orderly lines by their standards, for an hour. Oh, I was fourth. Yes, 20 min a pop! Talk about slow service! So, by the time I was up, I was ready, with translations of what I wanted, the cash, and a calm demeanor. Yeah, like that was going to work.

Guess what the answer was. Just guess... "Nyet!" Seems I couldn't by a ticket there, not because my feet were too big, or that I was wearing purple silk underwear, but because I am an American. Russia is a little paranoid, so foreigners, like me, have to go to special places to buy tickets. I must go to the Moscow train station to buy a ticket. To a special window, yes there is only one, where I can buy a train ticket at triple the rate Russians pay.

Now this window is open only in the afternoons, only for a few hours, or so it should be. In practice, I have no clue if it will actually be open then. And here is the clincher; I can only buy the ticket on the day I want to travel and only one way. I can only by a ticket from Moscow to St. Pete on Friday in Moscow. For St. Pete to Moscow, only in St. Pete on Sunday, so if the train is sold out then, well....

As you can tell, *anything* dealing with the Russian government is insane.

I finally did buy the tickets, using a Russian method. I paid a Russian to stand in line for me, and bribed the conductor when he saw that the name on the ticket was not the same as the name on my passport.

And I will never, ever complain about a western travel agent again!

Enter your email for Belly Button Window updates: