Hello, Russia.

This is one of those moments in time when you all of a sudden realize what you’ve done to yourself.

I’ve gone done and put myself in Russia.

I could be back in Vancouver, sitting behind my desk in my decidedly comfortable chair, dealing with some client calls, checking my facebook, and planning what type of sushi to have for lunch. Making a living, knowing where I am, and knowing I can go home to my own very warm and spacious bed.

But no. Instead, I’ve somehow managed to navigate myself into the middle of nowhere, completely lost except for some snow-covered signs that tell me I should be somewhere in the neighbourhood of Siberia, and I’m not even certain that’s what they say.

We step off the train. I can see my breath and my fingers are instantly numb. I immediately curse myself for deciding wintertime was a good time to visit Russia. Frost covers the tracks. It’s 9 o-clock in the morning on some random wintery Wednesday. It’s pitch black. And by the hammer of Thor, is it ever chilly.

First order of business – find a washroom. I’ve had to go for the last 30 minutes but, alas, with the locking bathroom doors, I’ve not had a chance to relieve myself yet.

Hello, Number 3 Most Disgusting Public Washroom I’ve ever seen in my life (yes, I keep track of these statistics – Number One was in a subway station in Paris, Number Two was next to a bus station in Malaysia, if you must know). If it weren’t so dreadfully cold, this place would be covered in black flies. I think it’s been decades since anyone has cleaned this place.

I don’t know why I found it necessary to divulge any of that, but I did, and I did. Be happy I didn’t also find it necessary to include pictures. You’re welcome.

Exiting the train station is a surreal experience. We are immediately consumed by the darkness of our surroundings. A giant black and white clock is suspended across the street like an orb in a midnight sky. It reads 9:09am. But it’s darker than the darkest night I have ever seen. I can see the moon, for crying out loud.

There are people milling about the streets in complete darkness. They’re dressed nicely: hair done, cologne spritzed, makeup fixed. They’re walking to work under the stars; they’re taking the bus in the moonlight; they’re reading newspapers under the glow of the streetlamps. They’re lining up at the bakery for a morning scone under the light of the moon. Drinking coffee on a bench under Orion’s Belt.

Irkutsk in Darkness

What is happening here? I feel like I’m in some sort of parallel universe. Where people work in the night and sleep in the day. This is absurd. Surreal.

And completely and totally awesome.

Who conducts business under the stars? The Russians, that’s who.

I decide to conduct some of my own business under the moonlight. Hey, if ‘ze Russians can do it – damnit – ‘zo can I! I need to find a way to make some Russian Roubles appear in my wallet. Last I checked, I was no good at magic tricks, so I figure bank machines are my next best bet. And since I’ve heard this country isn’t cheap, I’m probably going to need a lot of them there Rouble things. The first two ATM’s I visit won’t work for me. This is fantastic. How am I going to get to Listvyanka and swim in Lake Baikal to earn 25 extra years of life if I can’t even extract one measly Rouble from the Rouble Dispensing Machine? I blame the fact that it’s the middle of the night, and I don’t work in the middle of the night either, thank you very much.

We find a third machine across from some grocery store with frost-lined window panes and a line of shoppers queuing under the moonlight. Thankfully, this machine allows me to push some buttons and extract a bunch of local currency. And even more thankfully than that, the decidedly sketchy guy in the black trenchcoat and tall fur hat didn’t rob me. Off to a great start on this here fine day. I take out a whole whack of cash, because I’m pretty certain (and by pretty certain, I mean not certain at all) that it’s about 27 Roubles to the dollar.

I’m still not completely sure that my world hasn’t been turned upside down.

In fact, I’m rather convinced that somewhere between leaving Mongolia and arriving in Russia, day turned to night and somehow, universes collided – leaving me stranded in this awkward pocket of moonlight and morning coffee.

But since I’m literally thousands of miles away from my comfortable work chair and plans of sushi for lunch, I may as well make the best of it. Breakfast under the stars? Don’t mind if I do!