Belgorod the Beautiful

My travel to Russia this time was not the easiest, unfortunately. Right before leaving I underwent some sort of stomach bug/food poisoning fiasco that had me hooked up to an IV at the Urgent Care.  It had passed by the time I got on the plane, but I had kind of a psychological hangover that made me feel sad and lonely and damaged and vulnerable.  It didn’t help that the route was unfamiliar to me; due to the regulations in Fulbright funding I had to fly on an American airline (i.e., Delta), which meant layovers in Atlanta and Amsterdam.  And it really didn’t help that I’d been reading The Goldfinch, a novel about an orphaned and vulnerable child.  Thanks, book-jacket-cover, you made it sound like an international art theft thriller, instead of the depressing tale of drug abuse in Nevada that it is!

I’ve flown to Moscow gillions of times but I’d never interacted with the peculiar Terminal E at Sheremetyevo, with its hidden bathrooms and odd passport-control layout.  From the airport I went straight to the Kursky Train Station, one of Moscow’s dingiest.  I had a brief flashback to 1992, which I think might be last time I was at this particular train station.  Creature comforts like ATMs and mobile phone stores have been tacked on since then but the whole thing could really use an overhaul.

Russian train stations are all kind of seedy, filled with drunks and shady characters on the make, but Kursky somehow seemed even worse due to its bad lighting and gray cement walls. I made a bad financial deal with the porter to get my massive luggage onto the train and almost had a “come-apart,” as my mother calls it.  But the luxurious Moscow-Belgorod train, with its cozy beds and free bottles of water helped me sink into sleep and I woke a few hours later with my normal perspective on life returned.

We pulled into Belgorod at about 8am and the bright morning sun and hot cup of tea were cheery preludes to the friendly man standing at my train car calling my name.  “Vilson?  May I help you with your bags?”  Never have more welcome words been uttered.

He piled me into a minivan and ten minutes later we were at the Hotel Belgorod on the city’s main square.

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View from my hotel room

After a shower and a massive buffet breakfast I took a walk around town.  The University was about a ten-minute walk from my hotel on pedestrian boulevards lined with flowers.

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The University itself is right next to the river.

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Its main entrance is marked with a spritzy fountain and open plaza.

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I met Natasha, my lone contact in Belgorod, and she was so warm and so excited to see me that it made me a little misty.  She showed me to my office and desk and, over some very necessary coffee, we looked at apartments on the Internet.  She had one picked out ahead of time that looked amazingly good.  Turned out it was just as nice in person– about a fifteen-minute walk to the University and right next to a park.

That’s everything important that happened.  Somehow I made it back to the hotel and fell into bed, but how exactly that happened is a bit of a blur.  Jet lag is a tricky mistress.

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