Hello everyone. Once again I bring you an account of a journey on the Russian Railways.
A short while after I had settled into my chair in the waiting room, the lady approached me and informed me in Russian that my train had arrived and was at platform 1, so I collected my bags and dragged myself to the platform. In one of my bags I had a bottle of Russian vodka that I could share just in case I was put into the same situation as I was on my trip from Moscow. The train arrived as soon as I left the warmth of the terminal and was thrust into the ice cold outside. I found my carriage as quickly as I could, checked that it was the correct train with another passenger and climbed aboard. I walked clumbsily down the carriage searching for my berth and soon found it, I opened the door and to my shock, someone was already in my bed. The person wasn't present but their pocessions were. As I was thinking what to do a man approached me from behind and done the typical Russian thing and started speaking at me whilst I repeated I don't understand. Another passenger intervened and stopped this man from speaking and reiterated that I was English and that I didn't understand him so there was no point in talking at me. I was soon made aware that the Russian gentleman wanted to swap beds with me. I had no problem with this but wasn't sure on what the Provodnitsa would say. I soon found my new bed and settled in. The attendant came round and checked tickets, he pointed me down the carriage and I explained I swapped, he didn't seem to care all that much so I continued to make my bed.
In my compartment there were two middle aged Russian gentleman. I introduced myself to the one that was awake and he didn't seem all that sociable so I said I was going to rest for a little while. An hour or so later the men had swapped what they were doing and I introduced myself to the other one. This gentleman had lost a lot of fingers on both hands. I presume he had lost them through frostbite. He came from a town near Magadan and I got the impression that they were fishermen. I don't know why, but that's the feeling I got from them. Niether of the men spoke English or were very sociable so I spent most of the journey reading or watching films on my Zen. This suited me quite well as I still wasn't feeling that well and I though rest would do me the world of good.
During the evening a lady became the fourth person in our compartment. She immediatly noticed that I had a cough and a temperature. She fished around in her bag and revealed some pills. Her name was Christina and alleged that she was a pharmacist. I took the pill, not sure what it was or whether she was a pharmacist but thought, what the hell! I don't think it did anything to help, but again it shows the fantastic hospitality you receive from Russian people.
The journey was long, but I continued to watch movies and just read my book. I confused myself with regards to the time zones too as the schedule on the trains were printed in Moscow time, I thought I would revert my watch back so I could keep track of what stations we were stopping at. Two hours different isn't so bad, but then it goes to three, four and Irkutsk is five hours ahead of Moscow. I found myself living in Moscow time and wondering why the sun was going up so early.
The only conversation I really had on the train was with a twelve year old boy who was in the compartment next to mine. Unlike older Russians, the boy gestured when he spoke and pointed to things so I could understand what he was saying. He taught me a lot of words one evening but I couldn't remember them all.
The train wound it's way steadily through the snow covered wilderness of Siberia and it reminded me of something somebody said to me, Russian trains are always on time because they are never in a rush. It's so true. The train makes it's way steadily across Russia, stopping every now and again for a rest. However, someone later told me that the drivers are paid bonuses according to their 'on time' record, so they make sure they create a schedule that they can keep.
One morning I was lucky enough to wake up during sunrise and oh my god, it was one of the most beautiful things I have seen in my life. The sun peaking over the horizon, it's beams of light bouncing of the ground, dispersing throughout the frozen air and once in a while framed through the trees. My description cannot possibly describe the beauty of this and unfortunately I didn't get a photo of it to share with you. I was hoping to get one the next morning, but unfortunately I missed it as I was going East, it was constantly getting earlier.
During my last few hours on the train journey, an English speaking Russian version of a friend of mine, Laura Landamore, took the place of the pharmacist. The girl was a training, travelling Russia training people up on technology. I was so happy to finally be able to converse a little with somebody in English and somebody who was able to translate at least a little of what the other passengers were saying to me. Apparently one of the guys was fascinated as to why I didn't eat much on the train, because he was constantly munching away on anything he could get his hands on. This meant the Russian guy made me sit down whilst he made me tea and force fed me some chocolate cereal. Again, another experience of excellent Russian hospitality.
I arrived in Irkutsk around 6pm and followed the directions I noted down before I left Yekaterinburg, they seemed simple. I got on number one tram outside the station and asked the attendant to alert me when I got to the stop I wanted. The next direction was to walk in the direction of the church. PROBLEM!!! It was dark and I saw no church whatsoever, so I checked on the map but there was no church mentioned so I took an educated guess and walked towards civilisation but soon discovered that yet again I had walked in the wrong direction and soon came to the end of the road. After retracing my steps, I discovered that if I had walked one hundred yards the other direction I would have soon a huge white church, but it was not lit up and was under renovation. The rest of the directions were easy to follow and I arrived at my new hostel a few minutes later.
In the next installment, I will tell you about my time in Irkutsk, a visit to Lake Baikal, Icical destruction, Russian Birthday celebrations and my trip out of Russia and into the wild Mongolia!