Saturday, October 09, 2010

On The Rails II


Cooling off during a stop at a station

There are many Trans Siberian trains - fast ones, slow ones, old ones, new ones and even different routes. Some are so long that the carriages extend well beyond the platform and it can be a long walk before you reach the station. Forget about wheeled suitcases – there are too many stairs, the great leap forward into the trains is steep and the platforms are often very rough. Pity help the slow or disabled.
The lines are always busy. Timber goes west. Mining equipment and machinery, including tanks, goes east and south. It’s not uncommon to see a gas or petrol train pulling sixty – nine wagons.


Another Day, another train
The scenery stays much the same for thousands of miles – mostly taiga (pine forest), or mixed forest with birch - interspersed with huge rolling fields, rustic villages with wooden houses and an onion domed church – very impressive when you first see them, or big cities with ugly industrial sites and concrete flats. If you are lucky, you will have interesting or at least pleasant travelling companions and mostly the ride is smooth enough to read a book if you can concentrate on it. Sleep is a wonderful thing, especially in the heat.

Irene and her balloons - this little girl amused herself and everyone else by making balloon animals for all the other passengers



I think these may have been her very surprised parents
 
Children seemed to cope remarkably well with these long journeys, but I felt very sorry for their parents who had to wrestle with enormous quantities of luggage, water and food. Some stations had little stalls selling provisions though the queues were long. Occasionally there would be an unexpected stop in the middle of nowhere and the train would be besieged by people bearing fresh food – new potatoes with herbs, smoked fish, wild berries, hot meatballs, or eskies with kvass, beer or icecream.


Food Sellers besiege the train

Lunch

Trying to keep cool
Luggage
Tired Couple

It's too much for these ladies

I was also amazed how well people scrubbed up after the journey. Regular passengers have this down to a fine art, long queues for the toilets in the morning, notwithstanding. Though you do feel better after a quick scrub down with soap and water, clean teeth and a change of clothes, I really missed my morning shower and preferred to break my journey often and take many different trains, rather than a single one right through. The drawback was that it was not always easy to get back on as it was the peak summer season and the price for not pre -booking was interminable waits in train stations. Things got progressively worse after Tomsk and I spent whole days (Novobesirk), even whole nights (Samara) in train stations while the weather got progressively hotter. Hell is a Russian railway carriage with 54 passengers on board, stalled in 35oC heat!
I also had a little trouble on leaving Krasnoyarsk. The Left Luggage department decided to withhold my luggage until I had paid again. They kept pointing at one of the signs and yelling at me in Russian. I suspect that it had something to do with the fact that by Moscow Time, we were already twenty minutes into another day and hence the need to pay again. I got the police. They got the Railway Administration, but in the end I simply had to pay up or miss my train.
Many of the stations are very beautiful with high ceilings, fountains and art work. They are also kept relentlessly clean. Just don't try to sleep in them because one of the uniformed guards will rake his baton along the wire seats.
Some also had very luxurious Resting Rooms where you could pay by the hour to stay in the comfort of leather lounges, watch television, have a shower or sleep in a bunk for a while – sorry, no photos allowed, but the toilets remained universally depressing.
Old Station, Kazan, now a waiting room

Interior

Chandelier


New Station, Kazan

The new station at Kazan is even more impressive than the old one.



Filigree work in the new Kazan Station

I am sure the only reason I survived was because I had a lot of help from my fellow travellers. Vlad of the crystal blue eyes carried my pack and got me on the right train on the way to Tobolsk. Two lovely doctors Eugeny and Elena, kept me company during the long wait in Omsk. Artur taught me a little Russian on the way to Ekaterinenberg and invited me home to visit his family. Alexander the English teacher from Volvograd helped me in Ufa. Lena the power generation engineer who spoke a little English insisted on buying me chocolates. Reynard and Romea (lawyers from Samara) and their 8 year old chess champ Camille fed me generously en route to Piatigorsk and Natasha translated for me when I unexpectedly found myself three hours out of Moscow. Saddy, Robert and Vitalik rescued me on the way to St. Petersburg.
Here are some of my train friends. Thank you everyone, both named and unnamed, for keeping me sane and on the right track
AND A VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY SADDY!!



Vlad who carried my pack and put me on the right train for Tobolsk


Friends from the trip south

Olga, Natasha's Sister on the night train to Rhizan
Saddy
Robert

Karpenko/Vitalik?
My three archaelogical friends from St. Petersburg




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