Wah wah wee wah!
It has been a splendid journey so far and today I must admit I am a bit buggered (and slightly dehydrated).In Moscow we boarded the Number 2 Train (first class, latest and most updated train thank you very much) around 9pm with Salami, some fruit, our luggage and lots of excitement. We shared a four man cabin with Dima, a very shy Russian Officer who spoke very little English (or so we thought). The first evening was filled with the simple excitement of being on the train and not knowing what that entailed. We had a very cute little Russian Hostess named Anna who looked after our wagon, she too spoke little English and would blush and get slightly baffled each time I tried to communicate with her. In the end I opted for my name is Tanya in Russian which got a positive response. No Vodka was offered on our first night.
Day 2 we were so excited at seeing the scenery before us yet soon it became clear that we would see lots and lots of yes...wait for it....TREES! Trees, trees and more trees....beautiful, green magnificent, graceful, bountiful, amazing TREES. A few houses splashed in between but the most part was Trees and not forgetting grass. The excitement then turned to when does the train stop next and what food can we buy at the next station. One station offered us smoked fish, chives, tomatoes and vodka (which we didn't buy because the guide book told us we would be offered vodka left right and centre, both the German and the English ones so were sure it would come). The next station offered a variety of deep fried bread with surprise stuffings (usually meat with onion, or meat with Dill, or just meat...very tasty even for a "vegesnarian" like myself) There were pancakes also with surprise stuffings, either cottage cheese or meat with onion, or just meat. Then some stations had nothing but a station we could photograph which was a good change to the numerous photos of trees rushing past and blurred on film.
Night 2 saw Thomas and I in the food carriage having Russian red wine (grape juice mixed with vodka was my guess at what it actually was....I loved it, Thomas thought it was too sweet) and the beginning of our Backgammon championship. First we played with no double dice, then the double dice came in, and NOW, Thomas is kicking my *()#! and I can only sit and smile....I've created a monster!
Day 3 on the Train brought us a new roomie, Pawel, another Russian Army soldier, and guess what...Dima really did speak a little English and more so after we shared Vodka...finally the vodka sharing with real Russians came and it was as one can expect! Fabulous! There were a variety of meats on the table, some lemon and sugar. The key was to smell the meat, skull the vodka and then savour the smell of the meat again before eating a bite. Alternatively you smelt the lemon, skulled the vodka, savoured the smell and sucked a little on the lemon. Fun and games. I slept like a baby that night.
Day 4 on the train would be our last and I learnt how to play Russian Backgammon then shared my version with Pawel who did not appreciate losing and soon lost interest. He played a very gentle game, and refused to eat my lonesome travelers yet I ate his which resulted in my winning more often than not...I think Thomas also beat him! He was kind enough to still wave at us when we departed and the train headed for Vladivostok.
Thomas arrived in Tayshet, and were taken to a very small village of 600 people where we stayed with a local baboushka and were taken care of by her grandaughter Katya. She fed us pancakes for dinner, omelette for breakfast, and potatoes for lunch. Good Russian food! The home was humble an the toilet was outside so we had to battle the siberian mosquitoes when we exposed our bits to the world...they attacked when we were most vulnerable.
There didn't seem to much to do in the village and after we had explored the village the evening we arrived we thought we'd seen it all so we anticipated a relaxing day maybe walking the street again and then maybe just sitting at home and chatting. At about 11am the local English teacher came and took us for a walk through the village, telling us about the history when the convicts were brought under Stalin and the foundations of the Village. She told us about how the village operated under communism and how each person had to work to earn their place in the community and there were no problems like alcoholism and boredom. Today, she said, half of the male population are suffering from alcoholic abuse and in the last year they had to bury 8 of their men all ranging from ages 25 -40 who had died because of drinking too much vodka. She also told us that the youth are also suffering from not having much to do because it is such a small town and they too are turning to drinking and taking drugs to escape the mundane existence. It was a sad story, and also sad because apparently this is the case in many small towns all over Russia. After the walk Thomas and I were feeling rather heavy and contemplative about what such a community could do. We went back to the house ate some lunch and discussed viable options then fell asleep.
Around two we were woken up and told we were going on a boat trip. So we made our way to the river and there was a wild looking man in an army outfit and a tired looking woman in tight jeans and a tiny top. Going with the flow, we hopped in the boat and set off for the 'boat trip' not knowing what this would be at all. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the trees were shimmering so a lovely boat trip it would have to be right? Right! The man Mikail was a lively and entertaining man. With no English he managed to communicate very effectively that he loved this river and he was going to show us how amazing it was. The woman was no generous at all with her smiles and sat slightly cold at the front of the boat pouting. Once we set off and were zooming along at a high speed admiring the beautiful scenery that was around, trees, trees and more glorious trees, islands started to emerge and we were completely surround by trees, it was sort of like the green lake with lighter green tones to the trees. After zooming away for about 20 minutes he pulled over to a shore where we were told to follow Katya up a hill...so we did and we went for a walk up a steep mountain and up into the taiga, we walked and smacked mosquitoes and big biting flies and it was lovely up there, great views and good vibes. then we went down again and back in the boat, we were ready to go back to the house happy with our boat trip to the taiga...but NO that was not what Mikail had in store for us. Instead he took us further along the river to a pebble beach. Started a fire. Katya pulled out some pots and proceeded to cook the most delicious chicken soup i have ever eaten. he went and picked out some leaves from the taiga and put it in the soup. then pulled out tomatoes, and other veg that he said came from his garden. we sat on the shore and ate and laughed and communicated perfectly without really knowing what we were saying. Then he started skidding rocks in the river and so Thomas and i started too and before we knew it we were throwing rocks and having competitions to see who could throw the rock furthest, we were laughing (including Katya) running, grunting and behaving like 5 year olds in a candy store. I was exhausted by the end of the day when we took the trip back at 7pm feeling as light as feathers and enjoying one another's company like old friends. Mikail and Katya took us on the best boat trip possible...
Now we are in Irkutsk the Paris of Siberia, i had far to little sleep last night due to caffeine and snoring of one of our very interesting looking roomies. So today is my lowest day so far....which is good too...ups and downs are part of the journey of life!
Internet time is running out now....Next stop lake Baikal and then Mongolia...
Russian food is good, the train is relaxing, Thomas and I are getting on very well (even though he is beating me in backgammon) we have super conversations which I enjoy very much. I am well and happy and I feel like a teenager in love at times remembering Vilnius and the lovely Lithuanian!