It was just after a thunderstorm and the carriage was in near-darkness as the train pulled out of Odessa. None of the lights seemed to be working, the windows didn't open, and there was nothing coming out of the air conditioning vents but dust. There were three middle-aged women sitting in the compartment, talking between ringtones. I answered their first question in Russian, the second in English. "He doesn't understand," they said, turning away.
The toilet was at the end of the carriage, a rusty metal bowl and a puddle on the floor. When I came out the conductor was pointing to a sign I hadn't seen and screaming something about zones. All I could manage was a shrug in return.
We made our beds at midnight and I jumped up onto a bunk as hard as a police station floor. My head touched the wall by the window, my feet touched the wall by the door. The door didn't close, the train rocked so much you felt you were on horseback, and the woman below had already started snoring.
There are times when it's better to arrive than it is to travel. Three hours after leaving the train at Simferopol, I reached Sevastopol on the half past two bus, passing kick-off at the football ground and an armoured train with Death to the Fascists! written across the front. There were groups of men in flat white hats and black naval uniforms, wild poppies by the roadside, Hare Krishnas dancing at the seafront, and a statue of Lenin on a hilltop, facing out to sea, his right arm pointing forwards in the direction of a huge Russian flag.
At the hostel I was met by a man in a Red Army Officer's uniform, who pulled up on the cobbles in a World War II jeep. "Michael? Sorry about the wait," he said, extending his hand. "Welcome to Crimea."