Wednesday 16th October – DAY ONE – Vladimir, Nizhni, Novgorod (during the night), Kirov and then … Glazov
On waking, very quickly hypnotised by passing sights. Stared out the window as scenery zipped by, a task I would soon perfect. It was mainly forests or trees surrounding fields this day.
Took each thing step-by-step in the morning. Dressed. Washed. Folded bedding. Filled up cup with boiling water from coal fire.
Breakfasted with cereal and coffee bought from Berlin and fruit from Moscow. Found three charging points down the corridor. Met three Kiwi blokes in the restaurant car when I went to buy a bottle of drinking water (70 roubles). One, Mark, was bringing his pals along for his fiftieth birthday treat, meeting another fiftieth pal in Japan for some rugby thing. (Sorry, lads, not my area of expertise.) They were concerned to hear any potential room-mate could be male. The Russian trains offer female-only compartments. It was nice to have someone agree this was a matter of concern. On the other hand, I didn’t want it to be a matter of concern. (At this stage I hadn’t read Compartment 6.)
On the stops, up to 20 minutes so far, people exited the train and wandered. ‘Not too far,’ said each captain to their errant charges. A flatbed truck full of coal arrived on the platform and went from carriage to carriage delivering buckets of coal to the captains. Two blokes, darkened with coal dust, shovelled the buckets full with big black rocks. We were definitely old school. I was travelling a living history lesson and feeling not a very good Extinction Rebellion example. Wasn’t sure if the engine could be steam? Surely we would have noticed plumes of puffing smoke? Would try to avoid smuts.
Lunched on rice cakes, peanut butter, soggy cucumber and a carrot cup-o-soup. All went well until I tried the nori on the peanut butter. Not a winning combination, I’m afraid.
We travelled through forestry, towns of little wooden houses surrounded by veggie patches or sometimes something larger, a small market garden, small cities and factories. Nothing that provided those shameless stenches I’d met the previous night, but certainly tall chimneys poured out extensive plumes of smoke. Of course, Mother Russia must keep manufacturing.
Anton clambered into the compartment at Glazov (2 minute stop) with all his MASSIVE bags. He would be with me for three and a bit days. When he booked he’d seen there would be another body joining us in the compartment. Darn. My days of spacious luxury were over. Our next stop was Permi II where Joana Lumley stopped off to look at the ballet school. We hoped it would be a svelte little ballerina who joined us to sleep on the bunk above.
I got a bit tense in the shoulders when Anton invaded my space. By now I’d realised all the other cabins were empty. The captains each had a compartment at either end of the carriage. In perfect and delicate mime I asked grumpy Captain if it were not possible to move to another carriage? He snarled at me, something that I translated as, ‘Get out of my face, you ignorant bitch,’ but that might have been overthinking it. I trotted back to the corridor to charge my phone and stare out the window. What was the worst that could happen?
I needn’t have worried. Anton was relaxed and an extremely polite gentleman. He worked in foundaries as a mold maker. He was going to Mongolia to work for a year so that he and Ludmilla could buy a little house in Sochi with a small garden for veggies and fruit trees. His mother had given him enough food for four days. He was 47 years old. Considering he didn’t have anyone to practice speaking with, his English was excellent, remembered from his school days.
I changed in the bathroom and lay down into the hardness and constant movement. I listened to Les Miserables. I fell asleep after the first four chapters. Perhaps I was tired. I loved Victor’s description of the Bishop’s sister. Her translucent skin was only to hold her soul here on earth.
Overnight we would stop in Yekaterinburg, Tumen and arrive at Pshim at 10:11am. I hadn’t been on the train for 24 hours.
Reading from Tao te Ching for my thirteenth day of travel: ‘The world can be your lodging.‘ Good enough for my soul.