Monday, March 5, 2012

The Long Haul: Irkutsk to Yekaterinburg

We had gotten our feet wet with the 28 hour Beijing to Ulanbataar train and the 36 hour Ulanbataar to Irkutsk train.  Now it was time to put everything we had learned to good use on a marathon train ride from Irkutsk, in Siberia, to Yekaterinbug, in the Ural Mountains.
Damn that's far!
How long was this train ride?
-- Long enough for for me to read War and Peace, watch the second season of Vampire Diaries and screen two movies.
-- Long enough for Dave to edit approximately 13,000 photos.
-- Long enough for us to consume enough ramen noodles to satisfy our sodium needs for the next five years.

Here are some statistics to put the journey in perspective:
-- We covered 2,176 miles in 58 hours.  That's like taking the train from NY to LA.
-- According to google, it would have taken us between 29 days, 5 hours and 33 days, 16 hours to walk (you know, depending on the route and on whether I set the pace or we walked like snails Dave set the pace).
--This journey was twice as long as the trip from Beijing to Mongolia, but cost $4 less.  Go figure.
-- We crossed from Asia to Europe!  

Train #9, the "Baikal" was really nice.  Over the course of the two and a half days, we shared our four-person compartment first with two little old ladies who spoke no English, and then with Pavel, a college student with limited English and Luba, a boisterous, 300 pound babushka who talked to us nonstop in Russian.  Occasionally Pavel would translate.  More often than not, Luba would gesture to Pavel to translate [DSM - her gesture is more accurately described as pounding her ham-sized fist onto the table and yelling "...Pavel" and from her reclined position on the bed gesture from Pavel to us].  Pavel would desultorily thumb through a battered Russian-English dictionary and then shrug his shoulders and explain, "I do not know words."  Our own Russian phrasebook consisted of three stapled pages that we had printed from the Lonely Planet online, and was focused solely on train travel ("Where is platform 2?" "I would like to exchange my ticket." "Please, can't anybody help me?").  Despite these language barriers, Luba taught Dave a number of Russian folk songs (or perhaps it was pop music, who knows?) and instructed him on the proper pronunciation of "Yekaterinburg."
Our four person cabin. Dave and I had the top and bottom bunks on the right.
Luba had the bottom bunk on the left, which she immediately turned into a bed,
and spent all her time lounging in a nightgown/housedress.
Poor Pavel had to lay in his bed up top (not enough room to sit up) or perch on the edge of Luba's bed.
Luba at a rare moment when she was not laying on her bed. Pavel, to her right, enjoys a rare moment on the lower bunk.
I am sitting on our bed, and a man in a handsome crocs, sweats, and beater ensemble stands near our window.
Lounging (Luba's position for 52 of the 58 hours)
The hallway of our train car, and the samovar where we collected hot water for instant coffee, tea and ramen noodles.
The ramen noodle selection in Irkutsk was far, far inferior to the selections in Beijing and Ulanbataar.
Beef and broccoli (?) ramen
Most provodnitsa (Russian train attendants) are sour-faced women, but we lucked out with Boris, a young, friendly and slightly doofy male attendant.
Boris checks our tickets.  He was late to work that morning and incredibly flustered.
We all had a good laugh (crossing language barriers) over his missing name tag.
Just look at Boris' unorthodox pose, compared to his surly coworkers...
Cold as ice.
All business.
When cleaning, however, Boris was notoriously camera-shy
You may recall the uniquely-decorated dining cars of the Chinese and Mongolian trains.  While the Chinese car was bare and utilitarian, and the Mongolian car resembled some Hollywood version of Genghis Khan, the Russian dining car was decked out like a retro diner, with green pleather seats, damask tablecloths and gold doilies.

Here, we took a break from the ramen and the cheese and crackers for an $11 plate of vegetables.  I don't think you'd even pay that much in NYC.

After two days of non-perishables, these were delicious.
When we weren't hanging with Luba or getting our veggies in the dining car, we watched the world go by.  The scenery was kind of boring.

Could've taken this photo on the NJ Turnpike
Way more interesting was Russian train fashion.  Or, "fashion."
Double camo makes this man especially hard to spot.
I love the tucks... the shirt into the pants, the pants in the socks.
I get it, I don't really want any part of the train touching my skin either.
This man was happy to have as much train touch as much skin as possible.
Did I mention that it was about 50 degrees?
Occasionally we played with these kids who ran and crawled up and down the corridor incessantly, and then came into our compartment to check us out, over and over and over again.

I think this sign says, "Don't throw yourself in front of a train."
All in all, the 58 hours went by pretty quickly.  Boris kept the hallways vacuumed, the samovar filled, and the bathrooms clean.  And it was way more comfortable than our accommodations in Yekaterinburg....

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