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Arriving 101: How not to do it

It’s around 21:40 and I’ve just arrived at the international bus station in Kaliningrad. Unfortunately is it about 2.2 kilometres outside the city centre where my hostel is.

I’ve not really heard anything bad about Kaliningrad or any warnings about being out at night. But as anywhere you’re wound able waking from a station towards the city when you’ve just arrived, especially at night. Simply because everybody knows you’ve just arrived, the luggage will give you away in a second, and you probably don’t know anything about the place yet either.

I know this – and I know how to look like as I belong, and all the other small tricks for lowering the risks and losing someone shading you. Years of travelling helps you develop your own little black book full of James Bond like manoeuvres and tactics – even though most of them are just in your own head.

Anyhow, the first thing that happened when I got out of the bus was one of my fellow passengers handing me a business card to an establishment in the business of‘pleasure-girls’ to put it nicely. While I bust around the station, trying to get information about tickets and schedule to my next destination, that same passenger apparently just lingers, because he leaves the bus only a few seconds after me.

I’m painstakingly aware of him walking only six or seven metres behind me and my paranoia is from the start setting in with full force: “Is he following me?”“He is going to rob me!” and “Hopefully he only got a knife” (as if a knife isn’t bad enough).

Starting to look for options I realize that the only thing around me is low industrial buildings and dark parking lots, where I will be even less safe than on the half lit sidewalk I’m currently at. I decide to pick up the pace. Walk faster.At least I’ll know if he is following me if I don’t shake him off. For the next 200 meters or so a pretend to fasten my eyes at random building I’m walking past, looking at them like I’m interested in them - just because it gives me a change to glare back at my follower. He’s not falling behind. Dammit!

A hundred meters ahead is a fairly crowded bus stop: “I’ll be safe in the crowd” my scumbag brain figures… Nope, because just before I get there the bus arrives and pick up most of the waiting passengers. But there’s also a crossing to the other side of the road, where there is a little kiosk. Always a good idea to pop into a shop is you want to lose someone.

The light is green so, thankfully, I don’t have to stop. The moment I’m across the steps behind me is picking up speed. I glare back and the guy is running towards me!I literally jump a meter into the air, backpack and all with me. And I scare the crap out of this poor fellow. Hearth still racing I’m trying to show that he just shocked me and while I slowly backs away he goes into a nearby supermarket, still noticeable shaken.

Scumbag paranoid brain of mine! But that’s what happens when you try to prepare for the worst.

That was the easy part of that night of arrival. My hostel should be down town –Kaliningrad’s only hostel I might at – in a big apartment block. Of cause I didn’t check the location when I check the availability this morning, but even though things changes in a two year old guide book locations are usually solid.

The block is there alright, but there’s no sign of a hostel. After having walked around it a few times I finally knock in the gatekeeper’s door. He doesn’t speak English and I still don’t speak Russian, but he has clearly said the words “No Hotel” a lot of times before, so I figure they’ve moved. And I have no idea about where to and at minus six degrees I don’t really want to spent a night in the park.

The second best option is the train station about a kilometre to the south. There should be a dorm there so you have the change to crash before an early morning departure for a few dollars. It’s just past 2300h when I get there. Outside, smoking, is two women an older lady from the train service and a younger security/policewoman (their jackets give them away). I explain that I’d like to use the station dorm the – younger woman looks at the older. Something is said in firm Russian including the word “niet” a couple of times. Then the old woman looks at me shaking her head. I try – looking very sad, lost and confused while I do it – to confirm that there’s is dorm in there, but the only reply I get is a very firm “Neit, neit!” The security woman points to a sign reading “05:00 –23:00” and making an apologising gesture. Apparently I’m five minutes late…

My options were running out now. The cheapest hotel in Kaliningrad would set me back two daily budgets – and I really didn’t want to do that. On the other hand, I didn’t want to spend the night in the 24h McDonalds I passed on my way to the station.

I start walking back to the city centre, hoping some solution comes up – either on the street ahead on in my head. The solution turns out to be a café that doesn’t close till 02.00 and have a big sign saying WiFi on the door. The heat inside feels incredible good and when I get served chocolate pancakes and coffee (at this point I hadn’t had dinner yet) am I – for the first time on this trip –actually happy about bringing a computer along!

For better or worse it seems the hostel moved to a location seven kilometres outside the city – and I’ve honestly walked enough! No hotels, plenty as they are, will cost me less than two daily budgets so I’ve really only manage to postpone my troubles a few hours.

When the clock strikes two, the nice staff explains me directions for a rather nice place, open 24 hours a day (earning themselves a nice tip) and I manage to get there after a 20 minutes’ walk. Without many incidence, albeit some drunk Russians insisting to keep a very one-sided conversation with me going for the first hour, I’m able to spend the last few hours there while shooting a lot of coffee down, cheering the Russians’ vodka shots along.

At 05.00 am I finally able to through my tied body in a bed on the second floor of the train station, giving me six hours of sleep before getting out to see how Kaliningrad looks like in daylight.

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