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tradition for which I was embarrassingly unprepared. Here was Zhanna, bringing out saus-
age, delicately prepared at her family's home in Belarus, the meat pushed into its casing by
Zhanna's relatives. Her mother used an old family recipe to mix the horseradish and may-
onnaise, sealing it in a jar, surely expecting Zhanna to share it with a worthy fellow pas-
senger. All this warmth and generosity, and what was I able to gin up in my compartment?
Luna bars. She was patient with the newcomer, politely declining my American snack but
saying nothing more.
Sergei and I find our spots in the third-class car, one upper berth and one lower berth in
the section of four by the window. As we are removing our heavy coats, a woman with short
blond hair and glasses enters our space, greets us with a nod, then pushes her way past us to
the window. Outside, on the snow-covered train platform, her family is scanning the win-
dows of the train car until they spot her looking out. “Do svidaniya, do svidaniya!”—good-
bye, good-bye—she yells, blowing kisses to her family, who jump and wave back.
Having learned the lesson on that first train trip, I have come somewhat more prepared
to share food this time, opening a bag of chocolate croissants and motioning to our blond
traveler that she should have some. “No, thank you—I brought my own food from home.”
She is friendly but clearly determined to prepare for bed, as it's approaching midnight. Our
train begins slowly pulling out of Yaroslavl.
I'm a big fan of lower berths, and Sergei agrees to let me have it on this trip. After a
quick stop in the lavatory, Sergei is ready for bed and, like a gold-medal gymnast, he puts
his forearms in place, lifts himself up, smoothly transitions his body over toward his berth,
and delicately lands. I half expect him to raise his arms for the judges and await his score.
He simply smiles and says good night. I open the plastic packet of sheets, make my bed,
and settle in. The lights are now off in the cabin. Sergei is asleep above, and our blond
neighbor is asleep, facing me in the other lower bed. In the quiet darkness I am having
trouble dozing, at which point the concert begins. The blond woman begins to snore, a
lower tenor sound, smooth notes, perhaps one every two seconds. Then a lower baritone
sound comes from a few sections away. These notes are deeper, louder, and more frequent.
And finally, a brassy, higher-pitched, squeaky snore emerges from a bit farther down the
aisle. No one around me seems to notice—perhaps more acclimated to life in such close
quarters—but my own sleep on this eight-hour night train to Nizhny Novgorod is limited.
N IZHNY NOVGOROD IS a tree-lined city of a million people in central Russia, situated around
two important rivers, the Volga and the Oka. The landscape reminds me of my hometown,
Pittsburgh, with crisscrossing bridges, linking neighborhoods that are close in proximity
but feel distinctly different because they're on opposite banks. Arriving in Nizhny, I feel
like a real Russian traveler, because we have a family waiting excitedly to greet us. As soon
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