Thursday, September 21, 2006

Trans-Siberia, Part Dva

(Instead of having another epileptic fit when the computer loses my entire previous post, I had the brilliant idea of starting a new one.

And to get you up to speed, a rouble is worth four cents. And I forgot to pack my Russian-English dictionary.)

Anyway, it was Sunday afternoon and I was looking out the window. Now many of you may well think that spending 100 hours cooped up all by myself surrounded by a bunch of Mongolians would start to be boring. But I continued to be alert and fascinated. Of course, I tend to be alert and fascinated when I drive across North Dakota, so your results may vary. But, anyway, how often does one get to be in Siberia?

Around sunset we pulled into Novosibirsk, that other fabled Siberian metropolis. We were once more in a Soviet city, though not nearly as dilapidated as the small towns we were passing or as the cities had been back in 1992. Once more no food available at the station. I went back to my compartment, rustled around in my knapsack for some stale bread and cheese, and gnawed away for a while. Then I went to bed.

I awoke around 3 am absolutely shivering. I rustled around in the darkness and found some more layers to put on, but even then if it weren't for an extra blanket that was somehow lying around I would have flirted with hypothermia.

When we arrived in Tyumen around 8 am it was cold and windy and overcast on the platform, and a few snowflakes fluttered down. Even the Mongolians were freezing. When the train started up again we were all huddled under our blankets. My Deep Pondering Insight for Monday was: If the rest of my trip is this cold and miserable, I probably won't be having much fun.

We passed through the Ural Mountains, which were entirely and perfectly flat. Surprisingly, given the temperature outside, the leaves had just barely started to turn, and the fields were still green. At 2 pm we got to Ekaterinburg, the city where Tsar Nicholas and family were killed, and now our compartment only held three.

As the evening started to descend, Raya mentioned that all the Mongolians on the train were talking about how a guy in the compartment next to us had ripped off some Chinese travelers in the next car for $3000. So that I didn't have to worry about my throat getting slit tonight, she said that Mongolians only hated the Chinese.

Also ominously, this Mongolian lady who had been mysteriously hanging around a couple of days before showed up with a lady friend, who now wanted to claim the now available bed. If I had thought to bring a gun along, I would have slept with it under my pillow.

As it was, I really layered up in preparation for another freezing night. Which meant of course that the weather changed again and I woke up feeling like an attic on a hot summer night.

Unlayered, I awoke on Tuesday as the train was approaching Nizhni Novgorod, actually Russia's third largest city. It has a reputation as being really on the grow, and, although I saw nothing remotely resembling Shanghai, I could tell that now that we were entering Europe things were getting spiffier and somewhat more prosperous. And as if to confirm that impression, as we pulled into the station there was a McDonald's logo shining in the dawn just a half a block away.

By now I was plotting to rush out on the platform, through the underpass, out of the station, across the street, and back with a pierogie or two. Unfortunately, this was only a ten minute stop. I pulled out the last of my ramen.

As we started in again, the scenery was becoming more, well, lush. The forests had considerable undergrowth. There were small flower gardens and occasional apple trees. I imagined Tolstoy and Chekhov playing badminton just over there.

Now we were getting near Moscow, and the excitement, if that's what you could call it, was becoming palpable. At the end of it all, the 100 hour train ride had turned out to fly right past. I hadn't even had time to write a novel.


Post a Comment

<< Home