We were warned about drinking vodka with the Russians. We were warned how impolite it was to refuse offers of hospitality.
We just weren’t prepared for such a painful experience so early in our Trans-Siberian trip…
Beware. I almost died!
On the morning of our first day of our five day non-stop stint on the train from St Petersburg to Irkutsk, as we finished our late breakfast, the three of us were approached by a massive Russian dude . The dude knew hardly any English, and us hardly any Russian. The guy started saying the only Russian word we did understand which was “vodka”, “vodka”?
Contrary to Russian convention, we gently explained in English that it was only 11am, and although we were extremely grateful for the offer, we really could not join him for a drink just yet.
This was hugely effective, and spurred our new Russian friend to buy a bottle of vodka which he promptly brought to our table with four glasses……and thoughtfully some orange juice, given that it was still breakfast time of course.
Three bottles of vodka, and one dodgy bottle of cognac wrapped in cling film, (bought from an old lady who whipped it out of her plastic bag on a random Russian train platform) later, I woke up having passed out in the restaurant cart next to our new Russian friend who was comatose beside me. (It was apparently his birthday the next day so we couldn’t say no…).
My boyfriend and our friend were nowhere to be found. I staggered, somehow, back to our cabin and managed to ask the provonista to open the door to my room, only to see my boyfriend, Andrew, and our friend sleeping soundly (not together fear not).
In my inebriated state, devastated and disgusted that my boyfriend had left me in such a vulnerable state with a Russian weightlifter, I was too shocked to enter the room and notioned to the provonista to close the door before I burst into tears in the middle of the corridor. The angel that was our provonista, seeing that I could hardly stand up and couldn’t walk, decided to give me her room which I gratefully took before I appreciatively vomited all over it…
As I cried in shame, my new Russian mother, although not impressed, dutifully cleaned everything up, before bringing me a clean blanket and gestured that I go to sleep.
Panicking, Andrew threw up in the corridor just outside our room, (we were not popular…!), and ran to the restaurant cart to be greeted by the bar man laughing his head off and making impressions of us all drinking. Trying to speak a drunken version of “where is my girlfriend” via Russian sign language, my boyfriend noticed our DSLR camera, his wallet, and our passports neatly lined up behind the bar. (We were lucky that they weren’t stolen…)
The bar man handed the valuables over before holding up a smashed and broken glass and pointed to a figure on a calculator, which he subsequently demanded in roubles.
Worried that I had been kidnapped, raped and murdered, Andrew rushed through to the end of the train, frantically opening doors and wandering cabins trying to find me.
Stressed and trying to imagine how he would explain my disappearance to my friends at home, he returned to the room, beside himself, only for the provonista to open the door to her room so that he could catch a glimpse his alive but sleeping and sick girlfriend. Emergency averted.
We all spent the next few days getting over our hang overs, (difficult with only boiling hot water and carbonated water available – I still can’t really drink agua con gas as a result). We were too scared to return to the restaurant cart or to talk to any Russians lest they offer us some vodka…
You, less stupid person than we were, can still enjoy socialising with Russians by limiting your drinking experience to 1 or 2 bottles of vodka between several people, and eating a proper meal beforehand, (just don’t forget the super strong nurofen and a spare set of clothes for you to change into in case you throw up all over yourselves!).
The whole train will thank you for it!