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  • Writer's pictureConnie George

Connecting Cultures Over an Old Orange on an Old Soviet Train: An Early Foodie Traveler's Tale


curved railroad tracks, fog

 

I was on an overnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg in the early 1980s, sharing a sleeping car with a roommate on an educational trip. We were the youngest ones in the smallish group of about 20 travel agents.

 

I long ago forgot my roommate’s name, but I can still picture “scenes” in my mind of the ride.  Being young and silly, we decided to wave at people walking by our railcar before we departed from the station.

 

It was a time of transition as the Soviet Union was dissolving. People weren’t unfriendly so much as they didn’t know how to be comfortably friendly. I noticed women often walked arm in arm, making me feel they wanted to safely talk as quietly and closely as possible. I’m not saying that’s true. Just that it was my feeling.

 


red and blue train car, red door
Adventures on our overnight train ride from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

So here we were before the train pulled out of Moscow, two crazy American girls standing by our sleeping compartment’s window, waiving at people walking by on the platform. We wanted to see how many would wave back. Some did, but not many. More often, we got a look of curiosity which was very understandable. But we felt like we scored a point for everyone who felt comfortable waiving or, at least, nodding back at us.

 

Our excitement prevented sleep, prompting us to explore the train, much to the displeasure of the elderly female conductor. She didn’t have to know English, nor us to know Russian to be aware we were not making her happy. But there was also a 30-ish male conductor who was friendly, again with us at a language loss.  Unfortunately, his being friendly with us wasn’t scoring points with his more seasoned co-worker. There was no flirting going on. Just friendliness, curiosity, and the sweetness that can come with short times between cultures.

 


old shrunken bruised orange on white plate in front of knife.
It started with an old orange.

At one point, our new friend pulled out an orange and mimed that he wanted to share it with us. 

 

There are a few things you need to know. First, fresh fruit was a rarity in the Soviet Union. It would have been hard to come by and expensive. This orange looked like something you’d find months later in the back of your refrigerator, but it would have been a treasure to him.

 

Part of me wanted to turn down his gesture, but we knew it was a gift from the heart. Heck, even if I hated oranges, I would have been honored to eat a section of it. So three of us ate that orange (before the mean female conductor caught us all together and got him into trouble!). This offer and our acceptance crossed cultures and brought us together.

 


black bowl filled with red soup on wood table
Borsche is a popular beet soup in Eastern Europe that we enjoyed during our trip.

Little did I grasp then that this simple act would mark the beginning of a profound realization—how food transcends boundaries, fosters understanding and connection, and teaches history and cultures. It laid the foundation for a passion to enrich others' journeys through immersive experiences, particularly those that are food-related.

 

From TLN Culinary Collection Sailings to my agency's annual "foodie" cruise, each of these culinary-related adventures aims to infuse local cultures with the essence of food and drink, fostering unforgettable experiences and bridging divides— one shared orange at a time.


Happy Traveling,

-Connie




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