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Trans Siberian Railway
TRANS SIBERIAN RAILWAY Ulan Ude Aug 6-7 Irkutsk Aug 4 Aug 5-8 Yekaterinburg Aug 8-10 Aug 11-12 Kazan Aug 13 Nizhny Novgorod Aug 14 Golden Ring Aug 15 Aug 16-17

MOSCOW Aug 17-19 Aug 20-21 Aug 22-23

Irkutsk to Yekaterinburg, Russia, August 8, 2003


August 8-10. IRKUTSK TO YEKATERINGBURG  This was going to be the second two day stretch we would be doing on the train.  The other one was from Urumqi to Shanghai. Our train, the Baikal, was very nice and a significant improvement from our 2nd class dormitory bunks in China.  (Third class is dorm style in Russia and it actually looks more crowded than the Chinese trains.)  The cabin was all decked out in yellow and blue.  We had a bright yellow table cloth and curtains with the name "Baikal" printed on them in blue and a small bouquet of plastic yellow flowers.  The seats were covered in a plush blue cloth.  It was very neat and clean.  lWe had a very attentive providnitsa, carriage attendant.  This woman could have taken care of two train cars, she was that on top of things.  She was probably in her 40s, kept her hair ratted up around her uniform hat in a 1950's style and had her finger nails painted gold, each with a little design painted in black.  

The first thing we had to sort was that we were give a top bunk in one cabin and a bottom bunk in another cabin.  She let us switch to the same cabin and for the first night we shared our cabin with a nice grandfather and granddaughter.  Our providnitsa then tried to explain to us that we would be getting some food.  We weren't sure what she was talking about but later that evening, while we were eating in the dining car with Guy and Stephanie, the brother and sister we had met at America House, our providnitsa came to find us and provide us with a package of instant coffee, tea and soup with some sliced salami and bottle of water.  That was followed by a plate of hot dogs and pasta.   Comparing our ticket to Guy's and Stephanie's we knew ours had been more expensive but we didn't know why.  Apparently we had gotten a ticket with a meal plan.  It also meant we didn't have to pay extra for our sheets.  It turned out to be pretty convenient actually.  We never had to leave our cabin.  The grandfather and granddaughter got off the next morning and we had the cabin to ourselves for the rest of the journey.  It was just as well.  My stomach was still very queasy and too much food was hard to take.  Rob got to eat both of our meals, which still wasn't much food but as good as anything they were serving up in the dining car.   The surplus fee we paid was a bit much for what we were given but it hadn't really be a choice.  We met other foreigners in our car and some had two meals a day while others were on a different plan.  None of us could quite make sense of it really.

After two days of lounging on the train your body starts to feel like muscles are atrophying.  The train occasionally stopped for as long as 20 to 30 minutes and Rob got off to stretch his legs.  I was hard pressed to just get around the train but watched from the window when all of the babushkas lined up to sell piroshigis, crayfish, drinks, sweets and whatever else they had cooked up. Some stations were quite lively.  However, one of the most annoying things about all of the stops was that the bathrooms are closed some time before, during and after the station.  We had left a major station about 30 minutes earlier and I was waiting anxiously in front of the bathroom for it to open.  The providnitsa indicated that it would be closed for another 30 minutes.  Why, I don't know and that was bad news on an upset stomach.  Rob searched a few cars down and found a toilet open but as I a carefully made we down the carriage our providnista took pity on me and opened a toilet.  

We passed on the train showers but Guy and Stephanie later told us they tried them and they hadn't been too bad.  I can't imagine the water pressure would be that good and after all of our long train rides I had become accustom to my own filth anyway.  A shower after a long train ride always feels extra good.  

The scenery from the train was nice but didn't change much during the trip.  Siberia is basically a pretty flat place with a lot of trees and little wooden houses scattered here and there. It just goes on forever.   

We finally rolled into Yekaterinburg in the late afternoon on the 10th, after 50.5 hours. 

August 10. YEKATERINBURG (Western Siberia)  When we arrived in Yekaterinburg we stuck together with Guy and Stephanie to look for a hotel.  Rob and Guy watched the bags while Stephanie and I searched our options around the station. Stephanie was the only one of us who spoke any degree of Russian and was a real help.  But the hotel options were poor, to say the least.  So, we caught a taxi bus into downtown and hoped to find some help from a travel agent in finding a home stay.  It was Sunday so the travel agent was closed.  Lugging our packs around we found another LP suggested hotel but its rates had increased about four times since the book was published a year earlier.  They gave us a couple of other hotels to check out that were cheaper.  This time Guy and I watched the bags while Stephanie and Rob went to check out the hotels.  Not having eaten much in four days I got totally knackered from carrying my pack just a few blocks.  Rob and Stephanie returned a while later with two rooms sorted out at a hotel just around the corner from the travel agency we initially tried so we lugged our bags back to the same place.  The weather was actually pretty warm, which was just our luck since we were carrying our packs all over the place.

The hotel staff weren't very excited about dealing with foreigners so we had to wait patiently while they spent a lot of time doing something and decided to check us in.   The hotel wasn't anything to get excited about but was refurbished, clean, and cheap.  It also had a decent shower which felt awfully good!  

After getting cleaned up we met Guy and Stephanie for some dinner.  It was a rare sunny day and across from the hotel there was an elaborate food garden set up in the park.  It had a Paris theme set up around the park fountain with a huge blue Eiffel Tower erected behind the food tent and a DJ stage on the other side of the fountain.  We had some drinks and chicken kebabs and whiled away the evening watching the local people dance.  The guy singing on the tiny stage was a tan muscled fellow dressed in a tank top with plaid pants pulled up to his ribcage.  It was quite a look.   The crowd was mixed ages and levels of dress.  Some of the most lively dancers were an older group of men and women.  Stephanie videotaped one man bouncing around with his fancy footwork.  He was amused when she played it back for him.  The younger crowd was a racier set.  Many of the young women in Russia seemed to prefer a very "professional" style of dress, covering as little of their body as possible and usually complimented with stiletto heels, regardless of the time of day.  It was hard not to notice that g-strings were popular.  Makeup was on the heavy side as well. Underneath it all some looked like they were attractive but most of the men didn't seem be looking at their faces.  The men themselves were also dressed rather slick and liked pointed shoes.    

Yekaterinburg was only one hour earlier than Irkutsk in time zones so the sun set very late.  We finally dragged ourselves off to bed around 11:30 and left Guy and Stephanie to socialize with the neighboring group of Russians.