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I 'M NOT SURE if our train has slammed into something on the tracks, but a loud bang wakes
me up. Then another. And another. Half asleep, I realize our provodnik is waking us up as
we are approaching our stop. “ Yaroslavl, tridtsat minut [Yaroslavl in thirty minutes].” Sergei
and I rustle ourselves out of bed as quietly as possible, as Viktor and Ilona are fast asleep,
heading farther east. Neither of them wakes up amid our fuss—or at least they show no out-
ward sign. I grab my toothbrush and deodorant and navigate the dark hallway to the lavat-
ory. Hesitant to use the notoriously dirty train water, I use a bottle of mineral water to wet
my toothbrush, quickly brush my teeth and wipe my face with the towel provided with my
linens—it's smaller then an average washcloth, and not nearly as plush. As I return to the
compartment, Sergei has already bundled up in his black winter coat, winter hat, and gloves,
and he's ready to disembark. I quickly follow with my preparations, finishing as our train
pulls into Yaroslavl. Sergei and I barely have time to drag our luggage and ourselves off
the train and onto the platform as the train begins to pull away. At the last moment I catch
the eye of our provodnik, who is smiling through a window, waving good-bye. So stern on
first impression, as she refused our electronic-ticket itinerary, but with time I see her true
warmth. I can't say the same about Yaroslavl's weather. Sergei and I are standing on a near-
empty train platform in the bitter cold just after four in the morning. I am not sure why I had
forgotten this would be our reality when we put together our itinerary: Overnight train from
Moscow to Yaroslavl. Arrive 4:00 a.m. Wait three hours. Take local commuter train to the
nearby smaller city of Rybinsk to meet the parents of a young hockey player killed in the
team plane crash in 2011. I still stand by the plan. But the pressing question is what the hell
to do with ourselves for the next three hours.
We wander into the station and are forced to walk through a metal detector. Both Sergei
and I set it off, but no one is manning it, raising the question of its usefulness. The machine
bursts to life with loud beeps that echo through an otherwise quiet station, where five or six
tired passengers are—were—sleeping soundly in a waiting area. Sergei and I sit on a bench,
and he brings out his laptop and begins to surf the Internet. I am too fidgety for this, and
tell him I am going to wander outside to explore. There are about three feet of snow on the
ground, and the cold is so bitter you can't keep your gloves off for more than a few seconds.
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