As soon as I arrived in Russia I was overwhelmed with all I could see around me. The buildings, the landscape, the language, the fashion -- OH, the fashion! -- there was so much to take in. By the time we all met up we had two hours to buy train tickets, take a quick look at the Red Square, and get all our things for our overnight train ride to Veronezh (pronounced Ver-oh-niche).
With my senses still at full alert I took in a lot more than I otherwise would have as we entered the train. It was easy to tell from the outside, the train was not up to par as the ones I've been on in Europe. Inside was dimly lit with dark walls and Persian runner rugs in the narrow halls. I heard the words "spasibo" and "pazhaluysta" passed around from the mouth of one person to another like a game of hot potato.
The room, also dimly lit, was small and cramped and had a rug which coordinated with the one in the hall. The walls were covered in a dark red fabric and the window, which we quickly opened due to the lack of air circulation, was dressed with glittery champagne colored drapes. The blankets provided looked like quilted table cloths. All told, the train screamed "RUSSIA" and couldn't have been better if I had come up with the design myself.
By 11pm we were all in bed as the train rocked back and forth on the tracks. With the window open we could hear every squeak and turn the train made. 30 minutes later the train started jerking to a halt. The breaks were squealing- the sound was nearly deafening, we were still rocking back and forth, and with the occasional jolt from the train slowing we were lucky we didn't fall out of our beds.
That's when it happened. The voice. A strong, abrupt, commanding female voice over the loud speaker saying something in Russian in a tone that made my blood run cold. The heat, the cramped room, the fabric walls, the Persian rug on the floor, the rocking back and forth, the jerking, the voice... it was all too much. All I could think was, "HOLY COW, WWII!". And as blasphemous as it may sound, the vision of Jews in gray jumpsuits lined up on the platform of the train station where we had just stopped came to mind.
No, there really was no better way to say "Welcome to Russia, Claire!" than that.