Friday, June 21, 2013

Still figuring things out

Since I've spent a lot of time here and my Russian is OK, I've started trying things I would not have taken on at first. Sometimes that brings new surprises.

Today, for example, I was offered a free ticket to a jazz festival next weekend in Grodno. Alla and I like jazz, we like Grodno, and we've been planning to get around more in Belarus this year anyway. Alla is out of town, but I figured it was a no-brainer and accepted the ticket. We can buy her a ticket at the door, but I knew I'd better reserve train tickets right away. I've seen Alla do this both online and on the phone, so I decided I could do it too and I plunged right in.

First I went online. Third-party sites referred to the train I wanted, but try as I might, the Belarus Rail site claimed that they had no such route. I know that's wrong, so I called the phone number at the bottom of the web page. The nice lady on the phone said that the train was almost sold out, but I could still get second-class tickets on upper berths. Alla hates upper berths, but I figured I'd still go for it. Unfortunately, however, the information lady doesn't make reservations at all. I had to call a different number.

Right. The special line was perpetually busy, though I hit redial as frequently as I wanted for a long time. I tried other numbers, but when I got a human being they insisted that I must dial that number and only that number.

I gave up after a while and went down to the train station. Actually, I went down to the shiny new ticket office across the street from the train station, hoping the lines might be shorter. Unfortunately, every window said "international" in Belarusian above it. It's almost the same in Russian so I understood that I had a problem. After confirming with the administrator, I went across the street to the very-crowded train station. Don't buy tickets on a Friday afternoon if you can avoid it.

I picked a line that may have been marginally shorter than some of the others and stood there. The agent was scheduled to come back from break in four minutes and I figured that was pretty good. I did not notice, however, that my window had some extra text on it, in Belarusian. In this case I could not guess what it said, but empirical evidence suggests that it said, "Anybody with any kind of special issues gets to go directly to the front of this line." There were lots of them.

Anyway, I got my tickets and it only took a few hours and a little less than eight dollars. I even got Alla a lower berth in the side section.

Flush with my success, I went to the big department store TSUM to get a spare patch kit for my bike tires. I really only wanted glue, but figured I'd buy what I could get. That turned out to be a patch kit for an auto repair shop with a huge tube of glue and a giant pile of big patches. I almost refused this before realizing that it cost about a buck and a quarter. That's less than I expected to pay for a little tube of glue. I don't know what to do with the patches. I hope they're biodegradable.

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