Mid-Point of the Ultimate Train Challenge, #UTC11 Update and Plea for Help 35

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russian orthodox church with onion style domes

Church in St. Petersburg from my last trip, but get in the Russian spirit and roll with me here


Well, it is September 15th, and I have made it to Moscow. This will not come as a shock to any of you that read this site, but I am here a day early, because I didn’t pay any attention to the various emails from Jeannie, the Nomadic Chick and Nora, the Professional Hobo on when they were going to arrive. I thought they were showing up today also.

Planning is not my forté.

Before I get to the update, I have a plea, a request, a heartfelt “HELP US, PLEASE” from the three of us.

We are trying to raise $10,000 as part of this quest — from you, our readers and followers — all for charity. Not a penny for us. We simply want our journey to make a slight bit of difference to those that really do need our help.

We are so far from our goal that I can barely think of anything else.

We have partnered with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF) to help children suffering from disabilities in Da Nang, Vietnam.

Since 2006, Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF) has worked closely with the Center for Children with Disability/Agent Orange, and Children of Disadvantaged Background, run the Da Nang Association of Agent Orange Victims (DAVA). It’s a rehabilitation, day-care and respite center for children with disabilities.

100% of donations from individuals and organizations will go to the DAVA center to support the on-going activities, including rehabilitation, day-care, special education, vocational training for children with disability, home-based rehabilitation programs, support for parents/care-takers, funds for surgeries, wheelchairs; programs to train physical, occupational, and speech therapists.

Eurail.com has been nice enough to agree to kick in some money for every booking that comes through the UTC website, so make sure you head over there to buy your Eurail Pass.

The three of us are going to the center after the Ultimate Train Challenge to deliver a check. I ask of you, implore you, and down on our knees, beg of you — if you can find your way to contribute $25 or $50 or $100 or more… we will be in your debt. And more importantly, you will be making a difference to hundreds of kid’s lives — kids that didn’t do anything to deserve the fate handed to them.

Here is what you can do to help today:

Click on the graphic below, which takes you to the VVAF website. On the left side of the site is their PayPal account. Just contribute via there and we’ll keep track of how much we raise in that fashion.

vvaf logo
Again, thank you for your help. Every little bit helps. I just clicked through and made another donation myself. If you can see fit to do the same before you scroll on down and hear more about my train mishaps, thank you.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming:

If you have been following along on the Ultimate Train Challenge website, either by looking at our fancy map there, or by just reading my latest post on the blog, you know that I have been taking the northern route to Jeannie and Nora’s southern plan. And you know that the last few days haven’t gone as planned for me.

In short, I pulled a muscle in my leg and could barely walk for a couple days, and worse, missed a train and had to take a bus for part of the way. O’ yea, and it turns out trains didn’t run on the route I wanted, so I needed to make an emergency stop to get a transit visa through a country I had no intention of going through. Go over to my post on the UTC website to get the full details of my mishaps and foibles.

I posted that up immediately  before I walked to the train station in Vilnius to catch the overnight train to Moscow. As I walked up to the station, I stopped at a vendor outside and bought a sandwich and a beer, paid for with almost my last Lithuanian litas left in my pocket.

I’m glad I still had 20 litas left over after I bought them.

michael hodson in red square

Crazy eyes from my last trip to Moscow... I think this was my expression yesterday

I sat down on a bench outside, ate my sandwich, drank a bit of my beer, and read from my Kindle, as I waited for them to open up the train doors and let us on the sleeper car. Up walked two Lithuanian policemen waving their fingers and me and saying something in a language I didn’t understand. I replied in English with a “I’m sorry, what?” and got back the reply “beer — no beer — no alcohol.”

As a former criminal defense attorney, I have a major aversion to cops.

Apparently, you can’t drink in a train station. Well, at least according to these two cops. The reason I say apparently is that it quickly took on the scent of a shake-down. They took me to their office at the station and extinguished their English with “pay us 50 Euros cash, or jail” and “no beer — no alcohol — 50 Euros” (as he pointed to the palm of his hand for emphasis).

Note the 50 Euros in every sentence.

Luckily I was almost cashed out at this point. I protested for about 3-4 minutes that I didn’t know it was illegal (amazing that drinking ANYWHERE is illegal in this part of the world, given what you see all over the place). I pointed out the stand that I bought the beer at, which was about 50 feet from their office. I throw out “U.S. Embassy” a few times.

But my train was scheduled to leave in about 15 minutes and I had already paid a pretty penny for that ticket, so I finally just pulled out all the money I had on me and threw it down on the table.

10 Euros and 20 Litas, which is about $22 or so.

My first bribe and my first shake-down. All at once. I had been all the way through Africa and never had either happen (though I tried to bribe a border official multiple times in Ethiopia) and I got it in Lithuania. Sort of like my getting teargassed in Vancouver — not the country I would have bet on for this happening, especially because it is a EU country.

Just one day short of the mid-way point, the whole Ultimate Train Challenge was seeming more like a chore than something I was truly enjoying.

The events of the last 48 hours had worn me out. Being injured or sick is like kryptonite to travel happiness.

This was all compounded by the minor annoyance of the music from the cabin next to me on the train, shortly after we boarded. There was a Lithuanian basketball team on board (three of the kids were in my cabin) and they all were congregating next door for an impromptu karoyke session to the music from someone’s iPod pumping through some speakers.

There is nothing like the completely and totally dispassionate Slavic sounds of 4-5 guys singing — well, not singing really, just shouting along with the song — the quality rap lyrics:

Slap the bitch, slap the bitch.

I missed my $24 dollar beer. I really missed my beer.

It was as though the events of the last two days had stretched me thin on some medieval torture device and now I was being sonically flayed to death. 

So, I did what I usually do in such occasions. I pulled out my iPod, plugged in my earbuds, picked out some great music (in this case, a 80s playlist) and sat back and relaxed. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, I looked out the train window at the approaching storm and saw the most perfect rainbow.

It started on one side of the train tracks, went right over the tracks, and down to the other side. It was absolutely perfect.

The arch of understanding sympathy.

It would all be better soon. And in the end, it was.

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About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

35 thoughts on “Mid-Point of the Ultimate Train Challenge, #UTC11 Update and Plea for Help

  • Jeremy Branham

    Unfortunate that type of corruption still goes on in Russia. Hope that was a good beer! And you are right – still can’t believe the tear gas experience in Vancouver!

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Hell, if it were in Russia, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all. Par for the course here. But in an EU country? Lithuania? For me, unexpected.

  • Andrea

    Awww – sorry to hear you’re struggling! That’s a shakedown if I’ve ever heard of one. Just donated via Paypal – I was wondering how to do that up until now. Hope the next leg of your journey balances out the bad one – we find that happens all the time when we travel. One day or one week bad, the next awesome =)

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      So many thanks for contributing ya’ll. That is very kind. And not down and out… which is the only thing that matters.

  • Phil

    Money’s tight, but I gave a little. I hope you can get more people to contribute. I will try to spread the word. Bummer about the beer situation. Is a shakedown not part of the scavenger hunt? I feel like it should be..

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Phil, that means a lot. Thank you. And given how many charities you have been a major part of yourself, it means even more.

      As to the scavenger hunt… I agree! I think I am going to petition the readership for a item addition to our list.

  • Jenna

    What a lovely choice of charity. I will click on over, and I also already shared this on my facebook page. Best of luck with the rest of your trip and the charity donations. (Oh, and btw, your site looks great!).

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Jenna, thank you so much for sharing the information around on our charity. That is above and beyond the call of duty. So nice of you.

  • Abi

    Oh man, stay strong! (I guess there’s some perverse pleasure in not having the requisite 50 euros with you 😉 )Off to spread the word (about the charity, rather than the bribe. Then again…)

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      never so happy to be cash poor 😉

      and thanks for spreading the charity word, Abigal. Many thanks.

  • Yvette

    What does it imply about me that I know exactly which Lithuanian basketball team you’re talking about and why they were probably on your train, even though I do NOT watch basketball at all?

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      LOL. I hope you don’t know which team. I think they were in high school or college. 😉

  • Michael

    Damn. That’s intense. Glad that didn’t turn out worse.
    Still jealous you’re taking a train though. I love train travel.
    Stay safe…

  • Angie Orth

    I had to laugh out loud at the rap lyrics… I know you weren’t feeling it at the time, but that’s quality stuff right there. Try to stay out of the police office, wouldya?

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Yea, it was really funny listening to those guys shout along with those crap lyrics. LOL.

  • Don Faust

    Michael – that shakedown sucks! I hope things get better on the 2nd half.

    I absolutely love the church spires in Russia. Chris was just in St. Petersburg, and she said it was the most beautiful cities she has ever been in – there was no war damage there, so all of the significant architecture is still there. Chris heard from several people that it’s so corrupt in Russia – you can’t do business unless the mafia gets involved, and the oligarchy has all the money. Unfortunately for many, they like the communist system.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      St. Pete is really beautiful. Fabulous city to get into the photography mood, which means, you need to get there soon!

  • Natalie

    Just gave what I could Michael. Good luck with getting more donations. Stay off the beer. There is never a better time to be tee-total! 🙂

  • Cailin

    Good luck reaching your goal!
    I’m jealous that you are in Russia I have always wanted to go there! note to self I will try to steer clear of the police haha

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Well, Russia is an interesting place, to be sure. Everyone should visit, but I am not promising you will love it 😉

  • Sharon Miro

    Michael: For some reason I cannot find anything on the UTC site about the connection to VVA. Nor is there anything on the VVA site about UTC.
    I kniow a number of Vietnam vets, and wanted to tell them about this, but feel kinda strange because there is nothing on the UTC to point them to…did I miss it?

  • William

    Made a donation, thanks for the awareness to this cause. Hope you all travel safe, and at the end you all are succdessful in your goal.

  • Erik

    These countries could really benefit from more tourism, but the corrupt officials and bribes are undoubtedly keeping people away. If that lesson is every learned, they could become tourism powerhouses. That and all the red tape.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Agree on all fronts. Countries are really shooting themselves in the foot if they don’t do the best they can to run a corrupt free police force (and border crossings).

  • Adeline Freeman

    Hope we got this sorted out on Twitter, while I was on the trains. Many thanks, Gene. Agree on all fronts. Nor is there anything on the VVA site about UTC.

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