Transiberian pictures and stories
So I rode the “Rossiya”, train No.1, from Vladivostok to Moscow. It covers a distance of about 9300 km. 8 time zones in 7 days. Amazingly, thanks to good conversation and an overkill of Japanese puzzles (thank you Christine!) I was never bored. First of all, I have to say it was more comfortable than I expected. Perhaps it was because of the time of year, but the train was running at a little under half capacity. Each of the cabins in our car (of which there were about 15) had 4 beds but I shared with only one Japanese student. Our cabins and our restrooms were kept clean by our provodnitsa, a Russian who is assigned to each car to make sure everything runs smoothly. Hot water was always available for drinks and soups. The bathrooms did not have a shower but they did have a drain in the center so given a piece of tubing it would have been possible to give oneself a good rinsing. About every five hours the train would stop for about 20 minutes giving me plenty of time to buy some food/drink from the kiosks or older platform ladies. There was also a restaurant car which served soups, snacks, and meals. Food costs were about 60% of what you would pay normally in the states. The actual cost of the train ticket was less than half of what I paid the travel agency.
Some of the people in my car I meet on the ferry on the way over from Japan. Most were Japanese college students. There was also a Canadian in our car and a number of Russians. The one Russian grandfather I got to know best was traveling with his wife and granddaughter. He spoke German, so we were able to communicate pretty well and he helped me learn Russian by translating between German and Russian. Two of the Japanese I was traveling with spoke pretty good English but the others did not so occasionally I got to translate from German to Japanese when my Russian grandfather was saying something. Apart from being fun, this was invaluable later in our trip.
The only problem we had was in Yekaterinburg. I got off the train with three of my Japanese friends and we went out in front of the station to buy some food and take some pictures. Some uniformed Russians approached my Japanese friends and asked to see their papers. They also asked to see their cameras and when they saw that one of them had many pictures of the station they escorted him to a military car parked alongside the station. I watched all this from a distance and the other Japanese came back and told me what happened so I ran back to the car and bumped into my Russian grandfather. I told him what happened (we were all deathly afraid of missing the train) and we ran back to the car. He spoke to the uniformed Russians (one was carrying a semiautomatic) and they told him it was against the law to take pictures of the rail stations and that he would have to pay a fine or go to prison. Because he didn’t have the money on him my Russian grandfather arranged for his release on the condition that he leave behind his camera. We got back to the train with about 10 minutes to spare but when my Russian grandfather related the story to some other Russians in our car, they became upset, and insisted that they go and try to get this guy’s camera back. I was totally amazed that strangers would go so to such extreme lengths for someone with whom they didn’t even share a common language (I was really afraid that they would miss the train). They weren’t able to get the camera but they arrived just before the train pulled out. We then spent the rest of the day discussing what recourse the student might have in getting his camera returned (my guess is none but the Russians were more hopeful).
My internet connection at home is dial-up so I’m posting my pictures in stages rather than all at once. Till next time…