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Published: August 2nd 2010
The famous Trans-Siberian Railway, covering two continents and spanning over 9000 km of track from Moscow to Vladivostok, any train lover's dream. It was built back in the early 1900's and connected much of Russia's vast and remote regions. In my case I only cared for the train in a transportation perspective, but I'll admit it was going to be an interesting ride and a good place to meet Russians from all walks of life. I left from Ulan-Ude, stayed in the plastkartny section (3rd class) which consisted of open berths (six per berth) and boy do Russians like to feel at home on them. The olfactory sensation alone will forever be tattooed to my mind. All sorts of food, clothing strewn about, people in their undergarments, and the smell of sweat invaded the senses. Of course I had the two drunkest guys on the train right in my berth, but I already knew that was going to happen. They were hitting the sauce hard, one could only slur, they were both interested in the facts that I was a foreigner and in my goatee. They had been on the train since Moscow and the cracks in their sanity were beginning
to show. Although I'm guessing that they were already nuts to begin with. Then again everyone is nuts in my opinion, I know I am!
There were others I met, most very nice people. One guy was a wrestler from Chechnya on his way to compete somewhere, another guy was an engineer who would utter a few English words. One woman, close to my age actually, felt bad when she saw the bread I had brought with me went bad and gave me food for the rest of the trip. Awesome and keep it coming cuz I eat a ton! The Fat Man was only on for the last part of my ride, but made his presence felt. A funny man he was, even though I couldn't understand him, he did try to get under my skin but not in a hostile way, more like just bugging the foreigner. Many people got utterly wasted simply to pass the agonizing days on board. And of course getting to know everyone else. I swear the best way to get to know any language would be to spend some time on a train like this with the locals, cuz you will pick
up many a word. And some locals took the opportunity to catch a few English words too. A young kid had an English/Russian dictionary so we passed that around for a while.
On and on the train went, always east, first out of the Buryatiya region and then out of Siberia and then entering the Russian Far East, composed almost entirely of wild taiga. To anyone who thinks Siberia is remote, well this region takes the cake apart from a few bigger cities near the coast where I was heading. Most of the towns the train stopped at were uninspiring. There was one I did find interesting though, only a few short hours from my destination. The train pulled up at a dreary station and I went out to stretch my legs, then I noticed the stations name was in Russian letters, usual, but also a second language I recognized as Hebrew. I found out that the town was the capital of the Jewish Autonomous Region or Stalin's Zion as some called it. The Jewish population there never rose above 32000, nowadays it only numbers in the hundreds if that as most have emigrated elsewhere.
I got back
on the train as the journey carried on (50 hours!!)...
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