Two hundred miles into the trip, we reach Valdaione of the few places where Radishchev is not a hero. He wrote that all the local women were prostitutes. If so, they have moved on to greener pastures, but closer to Moscow they line the highway preening for business.
Valdai, a town of about 20,000, is now famous for its lakes and aspires to be a tourist haven, but it has a long way to go. The streetlights are never turned on, apparently to save electricity. And then there's the Hotel Valdai. Radishchev was treated to baths and the comforts of so-called "lustful monsters" who stole travelers' money, health, and valuable travel time. We were treated to a Soviet confection of chipped white brick.
The unsmiling staff seemed surprised if not downright upset to have foreign visitors. With a new willingness to please permeating Russia these days, it was a shock to find Soviet-style brusqueness. You have to pay a fine if you fill in the complicated registration form incorrectly. Payment for the room is demanded in advance. The curt explanation is: "Russians live day by day."
It was a rough night. The Valdai hotel had long since shut off its hot water and heat, and the room was freezing. And then suddenly in the wee hours, there was this noise.
A check of the door dispelled fears of an intruder, but the noise continued. It was loud. It was downright raucous!
Telltale nibble marks in a box of oatmeal later revealed it had been the scratching, gnawing assault of a Russian rodent.
Morning came too quickly or not quickly enough depending on how you look at it. The receptionist, resigned to trouble, asked, "What are your complaints?"
She wasn't going to do anything about them, and it became clear why the hotel demands money in advance. When competition hits this town, and it's coming, this hotel will be history.
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