Sunday, November 29, 2009

Day 16 - 25th July 2009 Saturday


Woke up to day three on the train at 6am. We had already passed through two time zones yesterday and upon waking today just passed through another one. My body clock was totally out of sync and my digestive system was reacting badly. The fact that I was in Russia I suppose I could have said that it’s revolting but that would have been stating the obvious! The time had changed to Moscow time minus one and I got up for a quick wash in the train toilet. The was a rudimentary sink in the toilet and a hole in the floor for spilt water. Kind of like a wet room. I used the top of my aftershave bottle as a plug to hold the water in the sink. Plugs are a rare commodity in Russia apparently. Holding on while the train rode a curve I tried to get as good a wash as possible in the cramped conditions. Three days non stop on a train get to you after a while. The scenery outside changes, although I had to admit that this last two days all I had seen was green fields, trees and rivers. Very nice but it looks just like a never ending Irish landscape. Inside the train though you try to read, write sleep and eat. Not much else to do except go to the restaurant Car and drink. Food wise you can bring your own food with you - much cheaper. Or if you don’t have your own and don’t want to eat on the train you can wait until one of the 10-15 minute stops at a little station somewhere and buy supplies from the babushkas on the platform. I have seen everything from doughnuts to crayfish for sale. I asked what was in the doughnuts and the babushka said ‘Meat’. What sort of meat? I asked. ‘Meat’ she said. Hmm. So I had some and, sure enough, it was meat. Not sure what type of meat it was but it was definitely meat.
At 12 midday we left Siberia. At 5pm we crossed the border between Asia and Europe at last. Another white obelisk marked the invisible line between the east and west. There was always a saying when boating that every day a yacht would shrink by a foot in length the longer you spent aboard. By the end of a week or so you were so glad to get away from your crewmates and back on dry land. I can vouch that a train suffers from the same reduction fever and you really need to be very good friends with your travelling companions before you begin such an undertaking.
A girl three compartments down had a habit of hogging the only working electric socket in our carriage for her mobile phone. Our Chinese guide and fellow traveller needed to charge her laptop and did so when the plug was available. Within half an hour ‘Plug Girl’ had unplugged it without warning as she needed to say lovey-dovey things to her anticipatory boyfriend waiting with baited breath in Moscow. When she arrived she looked like she had just stepped off a Milan catwalk. If her beau had seen her for the last three days with unkempt hair, no make up and wrinkled vest and hot pants and/or pyjama bottoms he would maybe have thought twice about arriving with a bunch of flowers that probably cost him half his month’s wages. Anyway, plugs went in, came out, went in and out again. No words were said but there was a slow kind of east/west attrition only warmed up by the hair dryer and curling tongs in use when the plug had been, yet again, reclaimed by the east. I told our companion that maybe she should politely ask the girl if she was finished with the socket for a while thus thawing international relations, but her point was that she didn’t know the words in Russian. I looked up the phrasebook and a little devil whispered to me…..
I showed her the Russian phonetic translation for what she thought was ‘Are you finished yet?’ which she practiced a few times before heading up the corridor. When she said it to plug girl I was later told that she looked confused at first, then had a dawning look of understanding in her eyes and finally looked quite horrified. She said ‘Nyet!’, unplugged her hairdryer and backed into her compartment while closing the door sharply. Our companion, confused, relayed the experience to me. I had to explain that I had told her, quite accidentally of course, that she had actually said something like ‘Are you married?’ Or ‘Are you free?’ or some such statement. Either way it solved the war of the plug quite succinctly I thought. It also helped pass the time rather well.

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