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Published: March 5th 2019
R: So armed with reduced baggage (Cate and Clare took our spare clothes etc) and armed with enough Russian supermarket purchases to last a month, we took the metro to Varoslavski Station. Our train was at 23:55 which allowed me only one occasion to think I had lost my passport. Our tickets had been delivered to our hotel so we were ready to go. When the time came to board the train, we headed down to the platform. We were in carriage 1, which was right up the other end of the train. For some reason we rushed, though we knew we had booked spaces. The Provodnitza (carriage attendant) took our tickets and passports and showed us to our cabin. It is a 4 bed room, two bunk beds on either side. You get a box underneath the lower bunk to store things in, there is a small table with a doily on it, and not a lot else. As it was night time, the cabin was already in night mode, with fresh linens and duvets laid out for us to take. As the time approached 23:55 we stared at the other two empty bunks for our bunk mates, but none
appeared. The Provodnitza dropped by and spoke to me in German - I'm not sure how she knew I spoke German, and we departed bang on time. The carriage by this point as unbearably hot, but got colder as the air conditioning booted up. It turns out this only works when you aren't in a station. We settled down for the night, being safety conscious, by locking our door from the inside.
The window comes with a full black out blind around which only a small amount of light can get through. However, this also shuts out air from the window. We woke the next morning having not acquired any bunk mates over night. The train had made a couple of stops at Vladimir and Nizhny Novogorod but we had decided not to get off at these stops. When the train stops you are vaguely aware that the movement has stopped, and the air conditioning has stopped, and general noise around the train, but you soon get used to this and sleep almost through it. The scenery had changed a lot overnight from the outskirts of Moscow which seemed to go on for ages, to birch trees. Lots of
birch trees. Something told me this was going to be fairly familiar after a few days. We started our day with breakfast from our supermarket goodies, and the Provodnitza joined us in our compartment for a little while dressed in her nightie. She didn't want anything per se, but continued speaking German to me (her English wasn't so good). (There were actually two of them, but we rarely saw the one on night shift). We decided to wander down to the restaurant car, which was about 7 carriages down the train, and we had to traverse numerous different carriages to get there - which was interesting as we got to see "first class" and "third glass" as well. First class was essentially the same on this train but with no upper bunks. Third class was a room full of around 50 bunks. This is supposed to be the "social" and real way of doing the trip.
Once in the buffet car, the attendant, called Alexander, crept up behind us. He was extremely pale skinned, and dressed in a crushed velvet suit with food stains all over it. Sort of like a grubby vampire. We ordered a sandwich and they
didn't have it. We ordered another item, and they didn't have that either. We landed on sausage sandwich, which was available. We didn't make friends with Alexander per se, but we did enjoy his daily lurkings around the restaurant car. One morning we got to the car to find him sleeping on one of the benches - which made us think about the kind of toll this kind of work takes on people. I also noted there were no mirrors in this car.
We stopped at Kirov and this was our first opportunity to jump down. (There is a timetable in the carriage that tells you how long you have. The provodniza, if she likes you, will also make sure you don't get left behind, but even so, Richard and I took it in turns to jump down to avoid a hilarious situation where our baggage went to Beijing without us. Kirov was not the most interesting stop and I was a bit disappointed as I jumped down with my Roubles not to find old ladies selling steaming bowls of noodles or meat on sticks. Instead it was all plastic stuff that we didn't want. This worried me for
the rest of the journey. The train made more stops at Glasov and Balezino. Balezino seemed to be the land of the cuddly toy - the platform was filled with vendors hawking every type of hideous stuffed thing. I also noticed the Russian Railways staff hauling a disable passenger onto the train. It seemed a bit undignified, but I guess it's good that its accessibly after all! There was at least some food on this platform and I headed to a kiosk to buy yogurt, fruit and gingerbread with an apricot jam in it. The watermelon yogurt I bought had a layer of mould on the surface, so I gingerly drank around it for a bit, before giving up. Mmmm. Yum. I wonder how long that had been there for?
The provodniza appeared in our cabin with some Russian Railways souvenirs to try and convince us to buy them. All of this was done in German, but she proceeded to show us German style beer steins, model trains and other bits and bobs, which we politely declined. She later popped back and beckoned for me to come with her (not Richard though). I followed her to her cabin -
she was again in her nightdress - and I was more than a little concerned! She was watching a black and white Estonian war film. She told me lots about the actors and actresses, and various other things before saying, in German, "During the war, we not friends" and made a colliding fist type gesture at me. At this point, I think she had totally forgotten looking at my British passport as I boarded and so I showed it to her again and she said (in German), "ahhh... British! In war, we friends!" and beamed widely at me. I thought it was better not to point out any holes in that theory and politely started to make my retreat to my own cabin. I don't know why she was wearing her night dress so much. I guess between stations she didn't think anyone would care. However, every time we arrived at a station she had changed into an immaculate Russian Railways uniform to look the part.
We had a late night stop at Perm, twinned with Oxford, but didn't get to see much here (except the train being re-filled with water), let alone any dreaming spires, so we headed
back to see Alexander who was still working in the Restaurant car. Most of the menu items were, predictably, off, but I had a rather nice Schnitzel and Chips. (There is a full kitchen on board, though we never saw the chef - it may have just been Alexander in a different suit). With a few (Czech) dark beers in our systems as well, we chatted to a Russian businessman from the oil industry who told us what to look forward to, and what not to in the days ahead. He was very positive about Russian things, but less so about Mongolian ones. We headed back to our compartment and played cards with a little of the contraband Vodka before hitting the bunks. Once again, we locked the door from the inside for safety...
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