You have heard stories of people flying or traveling to the wrong Paris, Texas instead of France. Or Oakland, CA instead of Auckland, NZ. How about Grenada in the Caribbean instead of Granada, Spain? Worse yet, Birmingham, AL instead of Birmingham, England? Another similar name is Dhaka, Bangladesh instead of Dakar, Senegal. Or Ghana instead of Guyana? Or two places I have been, San Jose, CA or San Jose, Costa Rica? Las Vegas, New Mexico instead of Las Vegas, NV? Or even my new hometown of Clovis, CA versus Clovis, NM?
My monumental mistake occurred in 2014 while on the Trans Siberian Railway. I stopped in Ekaterinburg, the fateful home of the last Tsar, Nicholas II and his family. After a pleasant two night stay, I taxied to the train station to continue my journey to Moscow. I looked up at the big arrival/departures board, waited for my train to be called (in Russian?), and headed out to Platform 8. There was no train there?
Perhaps it was on the adjacent track, but the providnitsa (the typically large and gruff Russian female conductor) yelled at me after I showed her my ticket. Totally confused, I headed back into the station, and saw that my train had already departed. It turns out my train was scheduled for Track 8, not Platform 8. I missed my train!
Now, I am thinking about what to do. I tried to find some help at a security desk. She yelled at me too! I got in line at a window whose sign I could not read. She yelled at me too. I got into another line, only to have it close for lunch! But, with no other choices, I stayed in line, behind a Russian woman, who could not speak English. I thought about going back to the hotel for another night, or even taking a cab to the airport and fly to Moscow.
But I stuck it out, waiting for the window to open. When my turn came, the woman yelled at me, much like all the previous Russian women, all large, all very mean, and with no sense of compassion. Just as I was about to try option B or C, a young Russian man speaking English appeared out of nowhere. After I explained my dilemma, he told the Russian window woman what I needed. I was in luck, so I thought.
They explained to me that the only train coming through Ekaterinburg today would be a second class only train to Moscow. So, without any viable options, they reticketed me, gave me a huge refund on my credit card, and I waited another two hours for my train. That said, I barely made it down to the correct track, and loaded myself onto my train.
After traveling up to this point in first class, I was rather dismayed at the four bunks in my cabin, and the stench of cigarette smoke everywhere. How would I endure three more nights in this hell hole of a situation? As the day went on, several seat mates changed as we stopped at various stations. None were very friendly, but they all smoked, and smelled like B.O., even the women. Oh yes, they mix the sexes on these Russian trains, though you would be hard pressed to call any of these females, young or attractive women.
Without a cafeteria on this train, I bought food at the platforms where we made stops. No problem there. But as nightfall came, I had to climb up to my upper bunk, a feat that requires one to be a Romanian gymnast! Add to that, my three roommates decided to smoke themselves to sleep. And I was still not sure how many were men or how many were women!
Mercifully, the next day, I spotted three young, attractive Russian grad students in the hallway. Apparently, they sneaked on during the night and were now staring at me from a distance. As we warily approached each other, the three, two young ladies, and a young man, wanted to know if I spoke English. Hallelujah!!!!
Needless to say, we became engaged in a great discussion, shared our food, and otherwise had a great time together in their cabin. In fact, after spending the entire day and evening with them, it quickly became the highlight of my trip!!!
We talked about many topics of interest to them, like university level academics in the U.S., the economy, social life of students, everyday life in America, you name it. But they would not talk much about politics, gays in Russia, or Putin. We passed by several gulags, military bases, and missile sites without so much as a comment.
I was so sad when they left the train in Omsk, as I still had another night on the train before getting to Moscow. But I realized it was the best part of my trip, and it happened only because of my incompetence in reading the Track and Platform in Ekaterinburg. Somehow, I was surviving a second class train!
So, was it a monumental mistake? It could have been. But it turned out to be the best part of my trip to Russia. But if you have ever been in a similar situation, I would love to hear about it.
PS: I did meet another nice group of people traveling with Intrepid Tours. Mostly Aussies, a few Canadians, a motley crew at best. We shared food, beer, and vodka, so it helped make the last leg of the trip to Moscow somewhat bearable.