Sunday, November 29, 2009

Day 15 - 24th July 2009 Friday

Train stops, train starts. I wake up, look out, fall asleep. This happened a number of times during each of the nights as we made little calls to out of the way non-descript places. The guidebooks would give the names of expected stops along the route but these places didn’t even merit more than a mention of expected stopping time and subsequent journey time until the next stop. By the morning, well 6am or so, it was pointless to try to sleep any longer. I would watch the telegraph wires pass by like continuous lines drawn by black indelible marker pens across the sky, broken only by the brief flash of a supporting pole each 25 metres apart. I could tell they were at 25 metre intervals as there were always kilometre markers along the left hand side of the tracks. These would count down towards Moscow in tenths of a kilometre. Then at every two kilometres you would get the distance left to travel - 2000, 1998, 1996 and so on. How often I watched those markers count ever slower. It was always a great feeling to wake up after a few hours sleep and see that you had covered up to 400 kilometres during the night. The main excitement came from watching the numbers go from four figures down to three, from 1000 to 998. This was punctuated by time zone changes, upset stomachs and sleep patterns. Oh, what fun we had. We waited with baited breath to see the obelisk that marked the halfway point between Moscow and Beijing. The excitement built as the moment came closer and we expected to see a grandiose pillar of biblical proportions. It was so small we almost missed it. After that we settled back into our routines as best as possible until the next excitement, which in this case was the male Provodnitsas doing the vacuum cleaning around our feet. Like I said, small things become big things when there is little to do. The enterprising lady in the kitchen knew we were a captive audience and came round regularly with hot fried things - not sure exactly what they were, just things - a great way to boost the coffers. During a stop at Malinsk we bought fried doughnuts on the platform. Everything was fried. They were washed down with copious amounts of vodka which helped dull the excitement. The landscape of Russian steppes was continuous and more or less monotonous, not because it wasn’t pretty but because it went on forever. Day in, day out, the view was only punctuated by white, blue and yellow flowers interspersed between the birch trees and the small towns and villages where no-one ever stopped. Alexei, our travelling companion, made it safely to Novosibirsk and I wished him the best of luck with his English tests and with his new life ahead in space age Ireland. I would love to say that Alexei regaled us with his wit and innate charm. I really would, but sadly that was not to be.

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