Posts Tagged ‘магистрал’

In Irkutsk, I met up with Erin at the hostel. She was my travel partner for the rest of the trip back to Moscow. Her flight got into Irkutsk before my train, so she got into the room and took a nap. Upon arrival at the hostel, I immediately went to shower after almost three days on the train. Feeling like a new human, we ventured out to get dinner at a Mongolian restaurant. We then walked around the downtown and shore of Irkutsk before calling it a night.

Downtown Irkutsk.

Our hostel was ok, and we had a private room, but there were some issues with it. The first was that there was no overnight staff. The second was that there was no insulation, so it was very noisy. Both problems combined around 1:30AM when some drunk Russians pounded on our door and shouted, “девушки” (girls) and then “hello” in English. I just angrily cried out, “что” (what) and they left us alone. They were again up at 6:00AM and making noise that woke us. When we left, they were drinking beer around 9:00AM. Good times.

From the hostel, we went to grab some breakfast at a café before heading to a literary museum for the writer Valentin Rasputin, a Siberian writer and one of the subjects of Erin’s dissertation. The museum was brand new and pretty cool. From there, we walked off to a museum of retro motorcycles and Soviet technology. The museum was especially cool because we were allowed to sit on/in a number of the motorcycles.

Newest members of the traffic police reporting for duty.

After the museum, we grabbed some lunch at a German style beer hall before hopping in a marshrutka to ride about 90 minutes to Listvyanka, the closest settlement on Lake Baikal. The village itself was beautiful, but it had the feel of a Russian Jersey Shore. All of the people there were fairly low class, which caused a few issues.

Baikal beach at Listvyanka.

We walked to our hostel and dropped our stuff off in our room before exploring the village on foot. We ended up walking about three miles down the road to try to get to a lookout point, which we later found was far too far away to get to. We then tried to go into a local scientific museum, which was closed despite the hours indicating otherwise. We then decided to go into a nature reserve, which said it would close in about 15 minutes. No one stopped us from entering, and we wandered to a lookout point in the reserve.

View from the nature reserve.

When we got back to the gate, it was closed, and we had to climb over it to exit. We then tried to get a taxi back to the center of the village. The first company told me that they were busy, and it would be better for us to take the marshrutka back as we were already at the bus stop. I called a second company, and they said they would call back with the info about the taxi. The never called back, but after about ten minutes, a red mini-van pulled up and the guy asked if I was the one who called the taxi. A little concerned, I asked if he knew where he was going. “No, you have to tell me first.” Slightly worried, we got in, but as there was only one road, we were ok and he took us to our place.

We then set off to a Georgian restaurant in a nearby hotel to have dinner. We came in and were seated. After ten minutes, someone finally wandered over and asked if we were ready to order. We said that we still hadn’t been given menus. She then said that they menus were only in Russian, which was an odd comment as we had been having a conversation with her in Russian. Eventually we ordered, and it was pretty good food. A highlight was a serving of local omul fish, the famous fish of Baikal, done in what is similar to a ceviche style. It was incredibly delicious. The downside of dinner, besides the staff, was another diner. It was a woman, her toddler, and seven year old son. At one point, she changed her toddler’s extremely full diaper in the play area in the restaurant. The smell was awful and lingered in the restaurant. Even the staff was somewhat upset. They checked for damage in the play area and opened up the windows.

Ouml round one.

From there, the night only got worse after a quick stop via the first market for some more omul.

I want them all.

Our hostel had quite a lot of problems. The first was that we paid extra for a room with a balcony, only to find that our balcony was just a hallway. The “balcony” room also meant that we were on the second floor in a wing accessible only from an outdoor staircase that was very steep and unlit at night. We shared our hallway with another room, which was for three people, and we had a toilet on the floor. The shower was annoyingly in the main part of the building, which was down the stairs and completely on the other side.

Around 9:30, Erin went to shower, and I was just sitting and reading in the room. At that point, our neighbors came back. They proceeded to make a lot of noise. From the yelling, doors slamming, and jumping noises, I thought they were high school aged kids horsing around. After about fifteen minutes of noise, and hearing that they were in front of my door, I exited my room and found two thirty-ish, trashy Russian women. I asked what was going on. One asked if I was sleeping already. I said no, and again repeated what was going on. The other just said, “Oh you know, girls.” She then asked if I was cold and wanted to show me how to use the heater. I said I was not cold, and again asked what was going on. I was then dismissed. They stopped making tons of noise, and I went back into the room. A few minutes later, Erin came back and asked if I knew why the neighbors on the stairs said “they know Russian” and why she heard “not a shy girl.” I explained what happened, and we then got ready for bed and read.

When I went to the bathroom, I noticed that they were quite drunk, and that they had pissed all over the toilet and used all of the toilet paper. I braved the deadly stairs with my phone flashlight to go to the main building. In the main room, there was a doorbell with a sign to ring it and wait a few minutes to wait for the staff to come. I did this multiple times and waited about 20 minutes before giving up. I then went back to the room and tried calling the phone number from the booking website. Someone eventually answered and I asked if anyone worked at the hostel. They said the person who is usually there had a problem and wasn’t there that night. I explained the problem with the bathroom and the noisy neighbors. They told me where to find more toilet paper and said that the neighbors had already been warned to be more quite and to call again if there were still problems. By midnight, we got tired of the super loud and rambunctious neighbors. I called again and was allegedly talking to the owner. He said he was on his way to kick the women out. About twenty minutes later, there was a knock on our door. It was a guy who was clearly not the owner. He asked about the noise and we said it was the room next to us. He knock on their door and asked them to be quieter, which caused them to storm out and pound on our door and yell at us to come out. The guy did nothing to stop them. Erin went to talk to them, and it got us nowhere. They said we are foreigners, and in our country everyone has to go to sleep at 10:00, but in Russia they can do what they want. Needless to say, we didn’t sleep much at all that night.

The next morning, when we tried to check out, there was no one to give the key to. I again called and was told to wait and that I would be called back. Someone else called and told me to lock the room and leave the key in the door so that no one would get into it. I was confused, because if I locked the door and left they key in the door, someone could open the door with the key that was in it. I also said I was upset about the lack of staff and that we were very angry about being lied to the night before. I said I was extremely frustrated with the poor management, and that I would be leaving a bad review. The woman asked if we would like a free night or the use of the banya, but I said that we were leaving soon. She then relented and gave us our money back in full. Apparently some Russians are now afraid of me. This is very pleasing.

Not everything at Listvyanka was bad, though. After dinner, we strolled along the water a bit and headed to the local market where we got two different types of smoked omul, cold and hot. We also got some local beer and enjoyed some of the fish with it on our “balcony.”

More fish please.

The next morning, we got up and went to the local beach so that I could swim in the freezing waters of Baikal. My swim was very short, as the water was pins and needles cold, but it was actually very refreshing. I also impressed a gaggle of Chinese tourists who came down to the beach just after I got out of the water and sat on the dock trying to dry off in the sun. They spoke neither English nor Russian, but we communicated with gestures. A man came up and asked if I had gone swimming and I said yes. I used my three words of Mandarin with him. I pointed to the water and said “good” and made a swimming motion. I pointed to the water again and said “bad” and made a cold gesture. He understood what I meant and was very happy. Some other women came up and then they all insisted on getting photos with me and Erin. I asked them to take a photo of us as well, and said “thank you” in Mandarin, which also greatly impressed them. And that is how Erin and I briefly became celebrities with the Chinese tourists in Listvyanka. It was actually hard to get away from them to head back to the room so that we could head back to the city.

Becoming celebrities with the Chinese tourists. The was the first of MANY photos.

Irkutsk itself was also a major highlight of the trip. The city is beautiful. There are lots of wooden, Siberian houses all over the city. There are also plenty of places for getting food and drink. And there are plenty of museums to spend time in. The waterfront was also quite nice. Irkutsk itself would be a great place to spend a solid two or three days.

So many cool, wooden houses in Irkutsk.

Despite wanting to spend more time in Irkutsk, we had to get on another train to Krasnoyarsk around 5:00PM. It was a ridiculously hot day, probably about 80F. When we got into our Chita-Moscow train, train 69Ya, we thought we were going to melt. As we tried to cool off and relax, we caught the attention of the children in the train around us. A grandmother in the next berth over asked if we knew Russian and what language we were speaking. She said the children kept walking back and forth because they wanted to know what language we were speaking. We said English and she asked about where we were from. She relayed the information back to the children, who then came over in droves. The car was basically full of a children’s choir heading to Krasnoyarsk for a folk music festival. They asked us a number of questions and then gave us a concert. They were exceptionally skilled, and it was quite a delight. After the songs, they continued to question us until eventually the grandmother intervened and told them to let us rest. One of the children was our favorite, though. His name was Vova and he was obsessed with Star Wars. He asked us about all of the film and what our favorite pieces of Star Wars technology were. He clearly had a much deeper knowledge of Star Wars than us, as I caught mentions of things that were presumably in the Clone Wars cartoon, and bits of light saber related mechanics that I remember from playing Knights of the Old Republic.

After a few short stops, we got someone in our immediate berth area. We didn’t get his name, but he was a very chill guy to ride with. He had a lovely collection of gold and steel teeth that I sadly didn’t get a photo of. He showed us how to properly rip apart the cold smoked omul that we were going to snack on. He also told me that in the future, I should always ask to have my fish wrapped in paper and not plastic because the fish needs to breathe. He seemed only mildly concerned that he was transporting lots of fish to friends somewhere else on a very hot and non air-conditioned train.

Our very cool train neighbor.

One of the women chaperoning the children was annoying at night. She came by and said that we had to close the window because of the breeze. Russians are paranoid about breezes and catching colds from them. It was still very hot in the train, and I told her it was hot and that we didn’t need to close the window. The man with us also agreed and told her to leave us alone. He made pleasant conversation with us and told some jokes, but at one point he asked our ages and if we were married. At this point, Erin was getting some tea in the morning, and he told me that we need to get married and soon. It’s not good to be our ages and not have husbands. Then children also got off of the train at Krasnoyarsk, and a chaperon joked that the man could now have some peace. He joked that he could now start drinking vodka.

Train snack – cold smoked omul.

In Krasnoyarsk, we got a taxi to our hostel, which was fantastic. If anyone needs to stay there, I highly recommend Hovel Hostel. It’s in the center of the city, the staff is very friendly and knowledgeable, and the facilities are great. Our private room was huge and had its own PS3 and copy of Call of Duty. They also had laundry facilities, and let us shower the next day after checking out but before our train to Novosibirsk. The hostel also had a card, which got us discounts at a few local restaurants.

The super amazing room in Krasnoyarsk at Hovel Hostel.

The guy working at the hostel when we arrived was friendly, but he gave us a hard time about registering. In Russia, you have to register your presence in a new city, but generally only after seven days. As a rule, though, hotels have to register you while hostels don’t always have to. The guy working there said he had to register us, which is different from what Erin had been told by the visa staff at her university. While waiting to enter our room, we made some small talk with a British traveler staying there and some Russian guys who were also checking in at the same time. One of the Russians asked lots of questions and kept talking to us all the time when he saw us around coming and going from the hostel. He was a little annoying and demanded to know how to move to America and what we thought of Trump.

We went to one of the discounted restaurants for lunch, a beer hall, and then went back to take a nap before exploring downtown Krasnoyarsk on June 12th, Russia Day. There were some activities set up along the main road, Prospekt Mira, and around Lenin Square and the Central Park. Unfortunately, most of the stuff on Prospekt Mira was being packed up by the time that we got there. There was a classic car show at Lenin Square, which was really cool, and we were allowed to sit in a few of them.

Lenin overlooks the Soviet cars.

We then walked through the park, stopped by a rock concert for a bit, and then went to the central view point of the Yenisei River. We then doubled back along the park and listened to a few more bands before grabbing some dinner and then popping into a local craft bar for some beers. When we emerged from the bar, it was raining. The rain wasn’t too heavy, but it had been much worse while we were inside and the streets were flooded. Nearing the hostel, we were heavily splashed by one driver.

View of the Yenisei.

In the morning, we got up and went to the literature museum. After wandering through it, Erin spoke briefly with the director before we got some lunch and coffee. After, we took a taxi to go to the Stolby National Park. Thanks to the awesome girl Anya who worked at the hostel in the morning, we knew a few tips that made the visit to the park much better. The first was to be super careful of ticks, so we bought tick spray at the pharmacy before going. She also told us that it’s possible to get to the park by bus, but then it’s about an 8km walk to the park from the bus stop. Instead, it’s better to take a taxi to the ski area and take a lift up and down. The lift takes you to the center of the park, where it’s possible to easily hike on mostly level terrain and see the solby (pillars) for which the park is named.

Up we go.

At the top, we spoke briefly with a family from Krasnoyarsk who had relatives visiting from Kazakhstan and Chechnya. They were excited to meet us and asked to get photos with us. Then, at a later point, I asked a young Russian couple to get a photo of us. I asked if they wanted one in return and said that it wasn’t necessary, they would take a selfie. I said I wasn’t skilled enough for us to take selfies and they laughed.

With the Russia/Kazakh family.

The park was definitely worth the visit and the stop in Krasnoyarsk. The city itself seems to have a few cool museums, and there is definitely a lot of good food and drink to be found in the city.

Krasnoyarsk from Stolby.

Of course, I also had my own other motivations for seeing the city. Being a huge fan of the Russian sit-com “Папины Дочки” (Daddy’s Daughters), I wanted to see the city after one of my favorite episodes, which revolves around going with Papa back to his hometown of Krasnoyarsk for the summer. It’s episode 110 for those of you who know Russian and wish to watch it. It’s clearly a favorite episode as it’s also not posted on Youtube with the random other episodes uploaded by the studio.

One of the major pillars at Stolby.

After the park, we got dinner at an Indian restaurant. We then went back to the hostel to shower and get our things before the train to Novosibirsk. Anya also roped us into filming a quick video for the hostel as we are Russian speaking foreigners who had a good impression of the place. I told Anya about my interest in seeing Krasnoyarsk from Papiny Dochki, and she laughed and couldn’t believe me. She also asked why we were going to Novosibirsk and told us that there was nothing there besides a metro. After another night on the train, we realized that she was somewhat right.

While heading to the train station, we had a very funny taxi driver. He lamented the loss of the USSR, where there were no “drug addicts, terrorists, or prostitutes.” He then was angry about nationalism for different ethnic groups and thought it was better when everyone was one country. He then talked about the Russian police, or the politsiya, and said that he missed the older militia, militsiya. He then asked us about cops killing people in the USA. He said that if a cop ever killed a member of his family, he would kill the cop without any hesitation in revenge. He was a charming fellow.

Some Krasnoyarsk Communist Party trolling. “How’s living under capitalism, comrades?” Also, UAZ!

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Just before 8:30AM on Wednesday June 7th, I walked to the Khabarovsk train station to undertake the longest leg of my Trans-Siberian journey. I would be on the train for roughly 58 hours. For this jaunt, I was on train 007 – Vladivostok-Novosibirsk. While waiting at the platform, a 20-ish student approached me and asked if he was in the right place for his train. He was French, spoke somewhat broken English, and zero Russian. He was indeed in the correct place, and it turns out that he had the bed above mine in the train. His name was William. He had some time off from university, and he decided to take the Trans-Siberian and make some stops along the way. His grandfather had done it the year before, so that was one of his motivations to take the trip. We would be together on the train for 50 hours, until he got off at Ulan-Ude, a stop that I wanted to make but didn’t have time for as my trip was already 16 days long.

Novosibirsk-Vladivostok carriage number 12, my home for 58 hours.

As we got to our area, we met out other traveling companions. The person with the lower berth across from me was a 70 year man named Boris. He was traveling from his home of Khabarovsk to Ulan-Ude to visit some relatives. When William and I got to our spots in the train, Boris was sitting with his wife. They both sighed in relief when they found out that I spoke Russian. Boris’s wife was not going with him, though, she was just saying goodbye to him. In Russian trains, it’s common for people seeing you off to walk into the train and help you get your things settled at longer stops. The conductors allow this, and a few minutes prior to departure, the conductors walk through the carriage telling those accompanying passengers to leave the train. Boris was quite the character, and he made sure my time passed quickly on the train.

Bad photo, but the only one I really got of Boris.

Above Boris was Ulugbek from Kyrgyzstan. He had been in Korea (which Korea was slightly unclear) on a work contract. Ulugbek was an engineer who works in hydroelectric stations. He was riding on the train from Vladivostok to Krasnoyarsk. I was worried because we got onto the train already 13 hours into its journey, and Ulugbek had an unrefrigerated rotisserie chicken that he proceeded to eat over the next two days. He was also very friendly and pleasant company.

Ulugbek and his collection of most likely rancid food.

Along the window there was a 20-ish girl who was a student at Far Eastern Federal University, who was riding back home for the summer. I forget where exactly she got off, but it was towards the evening of the first day. She had to switch trains to ride to some smaller city called Tynda. She was asleep most the day that we were with her, and she didn’t say anything to us, though she did tell Boris she was a student and going to Tynda.

The train itself was pretty nice. It was the newest style of older carriages. The bottom bunks had padding for your back when you were seated, and I had the coveted spot in the carriage that had an outlet. In the older trains, not every spot has an outlet. Usually the second series of berths on each side have one outlet. Then, there is usually an outlet by the toilets at either end. I didn’t have to worry because I could change my phone whenever I wanted, but others in the carriage took turns standing by the toilets and watching their phones. Others just decided to chance leaving their phones by the toilets. On our longer train, we had police officers patrolling the carriages, and at times they would ask whose phone was being charged as a reminder to look after ones belongings. The carriage we were in didn’t have air-conditioning, or if it did, it was broken. Thankfully, our window opened. And, unlike the older trains, these newer carriages have LED displays at both ends of the carriage that display the Moscow time, the temperature in the train, and whether or not the toilet is free.

Pretty nice for platskart.

Although my ride to Irkutsk was long, it wasn’t bad. I alternated my time in the train talking to my companions and reading. The train also makes a few longer stops each day, and in the Russian Far East, villagers have created their own small businesses around the train schedule. They know when the long-haul trains make stops and line up near the station to sell provisions.

The food sellers in Belogorsk.

In Belogorsk, for example, I managed to buy a hardboiled egg, some potato vareniki, and a local fish called harius. I opted to go for hot smoked, which leaves the flesh pliable and soft as opposed to cold smoked, which dries out the fish and almost turns it into jerky. The meal was scrumptious. While at the stop, a man selling fish looked at me and turned to the woman with the eggs and vareniki and said in Russian, “Do you speak English? You better.” I responded that I speak Russian, and they were happy.

Hot smoked harius.

I then had a discussion about the differences in fish smoking techniques. I also had to help William buy food as he couldn’t communicate with the people at all. After we ate our food, I watched in horror as Ulugbek added a large quantity of unrefrigerated mayonnaise to his bowl of ramen. The standard train foods for these journeys are sunflower seeds, a Russian pastime, and either instant noodles or potatoes. Every Russian train carriage has a water boiler for tea and food.

Golden Lenin of Belogorsk.

Most of my entertainment from the train ride came from talking with Boris over the first two days. I spoke a little with William, but his English was bad, which limited our conversations. Boris was a bit of a provocateur, and was full of lots of interesting information about Russia. He constantly spoke in a weird slang, and refused to ever use common words to explain himself. He asked me if I heard about what to say if someone asks if you want a brick in Vladivostok. Apparently, this is a petty form of extortion. The person being asked is to respond, “how much?” and then pay said amount, otherwise they will be beaten and robbed. Apparently, there are lots of similar tactics on Russian roads in the Far East. Often, people will just sit on the side of the road and say they don’t have gas, or will try to sell you gas. Sometimes, they’ll leave something on the road for you to stop and grab. In all of these situations, I was told to never stop. However, if stopped, it’s always best to pay what amounts to the bribe. Finally, when traveling on Russian roads, it’s good to have a weapon in your car trunk. Boris was once stopped by a group. One guy talked to him while another searched his trunk. They both left him alone after the one who opened the trunk found a large machete. This also partially explains the wooden mace that the government chauffeur in Ulyanovsk had in his car trunk.

Typical view at a stop: everyone out and smoking.

Between teaching me about how to survive in Siberia, Boris spent time provoking me and those around us in the train. We discussed Russian history at one point. He was angry that I didn’t know a word or two about tributes during the Mongol conquest of Russia. I said that my specialty was Soviet history. He said that it wasn’t an excuse, that instead my program was probably weak or that I was lazy. I responded that I don’t have time to read about early Russian history in depth because I have to spend my time reading about the Soviet Union and other history. This then caused Boris to launch into a lecture about how I have time because I do not work on a kolkhoz, a form of village based Soviet collective farm. Had I lived in a kolkhoz, he said, I would truly not have time. I would have to wake at 5:00AM to feed the chickens and milk the cows, make breakfast, wake the children, “pat [my] husband on his head,” and send everyone off before doing my assigned labor task on the farm for the day. This then caused Boris to lecture about American women. He wanted to know why it was acceptable to go shopping in house clothes or sweat pants. In his mind, women need to dress up to buy groceries or run simple errands. In his eyes, a woman should always be made up and strive her best to visually please the men around her. That was a fun conversation, and one of many of different cultural views about the gender roles and marriage ages in America versus Russia along the train ride.

At one point, when William and I were speaking in English, we caught the attention of two young girls in the train. One asked what we were speaking, and was surprised when I said English. She said she studied English, but refused to say anything to me from being shy. Eventually, she told her mother about us, and then her mother came to talk with us. Boris then began to provoke the mother and said that her daughter didn’t speak any English because she refused to say anything to me. Boris then proposed English lessons on the train. He said he was the director of the school and would get 70% while I would get 30% of the proceeds. When asked why the cut was so large, Boris cheekily responded, “because I’m here getting you work, while you’re being lazy and just reading books.” He then said that lessons would begin promptly at 8:00AM the next morning. I groaned about the early hours, and he laughed. Although Boris liked to poke fun at people or stir up trouble, he was truly a nice man. One night, he noticed that I had gotten cold while sleeping and got a blanket for me.

Boris was also immensely entertaining because he somewhat befriended the lady who walks through the train selling food and drinks. He offered all of us, plus her, some food and drink. She accepted the offer, and would sit down with us when she passed us by. She affectionately called him “ded,” basically, “gramps.”

Making friends with the food seller.

One of the interesting experiences on the train was with the police. They extensively patrol the trains in the Far East. At times they were doing document checks, but they never asked us for our documents. I have rarely seen the police on trains in Russia. I have only on one occasion seen them on one of the trains between Moscow and Ulyanovsk, and they asked for my documents then. I remember being confused, and the older woman in the kupe with me said that it was nothing to worry about and normal. They did a little more on this train, though. On the second full day on the train, we stopped at a small place called Mogocha. About fifteen minutes after leaving the station, the police walked through our carriage with a man in handcuffs. There was one cop in the lead and there were two behind. The second cop had his hand on the back of the man’s neck/head, forcing it down. The man’s hands were tightly cuffed behind his back, and he was bent over and walking in a stress position. The third cop was carrying the man’s bag. Boris said that he had never seen that before in all of his years riding the train. He seemed to think that the man had tried to ride on the train without a ticket, but from a conversation I had just before getting off the train in Irkutsk, it seems that the man might have been belligerently drunk. He was hauled off of the train when we stopped in Chernyshevsk.

Also on this day, as we rolled through some middle of nowhere part of Siberia, it began to snow. I had not expected to see snow that south in Siberia in June. It was crazy.

On the second day, the girl had gotten off of the train, and no one new joined our area. This meant that we could sit at the two smaller window seats when we pleased. At one of these periods, William’s passport fell out of his pocket, which caused me to have a discussion with Boris about Russian passports versus American or European ones. Russians have two kinds of passports, internal and external. The external passport is just like ours and is used for leaving the country. The internal passport serves the function in Russia that our driver’s licenses do, basically, and then some. They include information about birth and age. They also include where the person is registered to live, marital status, and information about children. While talking to Boris, a man in the next berth over noticed that I was foreign and began to speak with me. Andrei was a sailor who works on large freight ships. He was traveling from just outside of Vladivostok, Nakhodka, to see his children in Irkutsk, where he had grown up.  Andrei was very friendly and went on long rants about the divisions within Russia between Moscow and Siberia. In his opinion, Moscow steals everything from Siberia and gives nothing back. Boris at one point was jealous that Andrei was taking over as the one to tell me tales about Russia and told Andrei that I probably didn’t understand what he was saying. What Boris didn’t know was that I understood Andrei’s slang better than has because Andrei used simpler words and words that I was familiar with.

Andrei mid-speech about something.

In the morning of the second day, when we made our “breakfast” stop, Boris told me to buy something called “сера” (sera), which is a Siberian gum. It’s made from tree sap/rubber. It tastes like chewing a mixture of a pinecone and a rubber band. I can’t say I super loved it, but it did make my mouth feel cleaner around sporadic trips to the somewhat gross toilet to brush my teeth. You buy sera by the stick. I got one. Others bought bushels of them. Apparently, it’s only common to buy in the Far East.

Sera – Russian gum.

As the train carried on across Siberia, I alternated between reading and staring out of the window. I had heard someone describe the Trans-Siberian as “the greatest Russian novel ever written.” I’m not sure where I heard this, but I agree. It was easy to spend hours just looking out of the window, watching the scenery change. You would fall asleep and wake up in what looked like a completely different country as the geography and vegetation would change drastically. The temperature also fluctuated between hot, comfortable, and downright cold. At one point, the provodnitsa walked through the car and asked if we were cold and if they should turn the heat on. They were taking a poll of the passengers and their comfort level. I said I was fine and just put on a warm shirt. Thankfully, they didn’t turn the heat on. The villages that came and went along the rail lines were fascinating to look at. Although some of them looked a little rough, none of them looked totally rundown. There is clearly poverty in Russian villages, but they don’t look like war zones like some of the places I’ve seen in ex-Soviet republics. I now really want to find a way to spend at least a day or two in an actual Russian village.

Village life.

Another interesting part of riding through the Siberian wilderness was looking at the cars. The number of vehicles in the villages was pretty small, but almost every settlement had either an UAZ Bukhanka, UAZ 469, or a Lada Niva. Ulyanovsk pride for Siberia! On the whole, cars in Siberia were interesting to observe. Most of the cars in Vladivostok were right-hand drive, brought in from Japan. As you ride across back towards Moscow, the percentage of right-hand drive cars shifted from about 90% to 40%. I suppose the Urals are the dividing line for this trend. In European Russia, it’s possible to find a right-hand drive, Japanese import car, but it’s rare.

Ulyanovsk pride in Siberia.

 

After Boris and William got off in Ulan Ude, I spoke with Andrei quite a lot on the leg from Ulan Ude to Irkutsk, an additional 8 hours on the train. This was the best part of the trip because we spent most of it riding along Lake Baikal, and the view was mesmerizing. Andrei gave me tips for what to see or do in Irkutsk and told me the history of the area and the Angara River. He also gave me his phone number and said that he would be glad to show me around the Vladivostok area should I wind up there again.

Lake Baikal from the train.

Just about two hours before Irkutsk, the train made a stop in a place called Slyudyanka, and a man of about thirty got on and took what had been Boris’s space. He was nice and well prepared for the long train ride. He had brought a combination strip outlet/extension chord with him to power his laptop. He offered some of his snacks, and asked if I wanted to watch a movie. I declined as I was getting off of the train soon and had to gather my things. At that point, another guy came into the area and asked Andrei where the foreigner was. He said that he was in another car with a French guy, “from Brussels.” I told him that Brussels was in Belgium. He said, “Whatever. He speaks French and English. I don’t speak much English. Please come and translate for him and two other foreigners.” The new guy next to me asked why I had to do that. The strange man said that the others around them in the carriage also didn’t speak English, and that most of the others around them were foreigners, like my neighbor, and spoke Russian with an accent. My new neighbor then got angry and said, “What do you mean foreigners like me and what accent?” The guy responded that he was clearly from a different country. The neighbor responded that he was born and raised in Irkutsk, and that his family was from Dagestan, which is part of Russia. The weird guy again said whatever and ushered me off with him.

My new home? It would probably be a good place to write my dissertation distraction free.

We walked into the next carriage and I met the Belgian guy, who was named Arthur. He was talking with two Italians who were going home from an 11 month trip around the world. Both Arthur and the Italians were on the train for the sake of saying that they had done the Trans-Siberian. They were all riding from Vladivostok to Irkutsk, stopping in Irkutsk to see Baikal, and then going from Irkutsk straight to Moscow. I chatted briefly with them and then went back to gather my things. Andrei and my new neighbor wanted to know what was going on, and I said the strange guy was just drunk and that there was no need to go off and talk to the others. However, when I got off the train, I did end up sharing a taxi with Arthur, who must have been some sort of rich Belgian playboy or trust-fund guy. He talked about having spent the past three months in Asia. He also had an American Express Platinum card in his wallet. His hostel was near the one where I was staying, so I figured it would be ok to grab a cab with him. We took a Yandex taxi for under 100 rubles, which was funny because the taxi driver asking if we wanted a ride quoted 500 rubles for the same ride, and I just laughed in his face.