On how presumptions, legends and stories about the Trans-Siberian Railway are all true.
07.03.2013 - 08.03.2013
View Asia Less Travelled on askgudmundsen's travel map.
The Trans-Siberian has always been the stuff of legend to travellers. Though I honestly imagined some of the stories; the welcoming people, the hospitality, the feeling of distance, and the time that flies to be just that – legend, from travellers who’d exaggerated just how great the World’s Greatest Railway Journey actually was.
When I left you here, I’d just manage to board the train four in the morning, for a 35 hours ride between Perm and Tomsk – the longest stretch of my Trans-Siberian journey.
Waking up on the train am I greeted by a cherry “’morning” by two Russian guys in the bunks below me. One of them is a Moscow lawyer speaking a little English, the other a (former) long distant bus driver, speaking a little German.
They are eating breakfast, consisting for white bread, canned fish, coffee and vodka. Still a bit disorientated I’m offered plenty of bread, fish and coffee and the conversation takes off in the usual fashion with where we’re from, we’re going and what we work with, so on and so forth…
The first toast “to international friendship” occurs less than half an hour into the conversation. And when in Rome, right… So I accept, though I make sure to ask for a small drink. It works, kind of, and I’m served considerably less than they take for themselves. I still get served considerably more than I’d like this time of day. Welcome to Siberia.
Bottoms up! There’s no biting over the shot during a Trans-Siberian celebration of international friendship. The vodka is washed down with some lemonade I’m also offered. Vodka is always drunk unmixed, first afterwards comes a zip whatever’s available, in this case lemonade, to take the edge off. Even though I’m fairly sure a lemonade-vodka drink would be quite tasty as an alcoholic breakfast.
Next toast is initiated about 20 minutes later. All while various subjects are being are being discussed, forgot, re-discussed and translated a number of times between English, German and Russian. Most popular topics are: The size of Russia, everything Danish, whatever is outside the window (relates slightly to the first subject), the European economy (surprisingly enough), canned fish, why I – for all that is holy – would bring fruit with me on the train, their jobs and my studies.
The forgetting of any given conversation or subject is usually related to the serving of “tea” as the lawyer humorously calls the vodka. Whereas we pick up the conversation at very other place until something comes up, that makes us rediscover the interesting piece of conversation that we left three vodkas back…
Times fly, though, and the kilometres slowly ticks away outside the window. During this time, everything in the carriage just seems to become more familiar – even our fellow passengers. It might be the vodka or maybe just the fact that most people here have been on the train for more than two days.
But incidence comes and go, in which everybody just seems like one big family. At some point a women leaves her baby with us, while she’s off to the restroom. A rather bold move on her behalf, if I might say so, since we are well into the second bottle of vodka, and have begun to wash it down with beer. Nonetheless the baby survives, seemingly happy to be able to throw around with some of our stuff.
Not surprisingly is the rate and intensity of all this vodka drinking a little higher than I’m used to, even though I’m drinking the lesser sized drinks. I – obviously – insist that the vodka has nothing to do with it, and it’s purely a matter of me boarding the train very late, but during the late afternoon do I retire to my bunk for a nap.
For the second time that day, I wake up to a white bread and canned fish. And roasted chicken, someone brought in return for some vodka. It is no big surprise that the vodka drinking have continued through my nap, and I pick it up where I left it: with yet another toast to international friendship. As a matter of fact doesn’t the drinking seize till German-speaking bus drive vomits in a plastic bag and falls asleep around midnight.
Brave as he is, this doesn’t stop him from continuing the next morning at 10 a.m. More people have joined us, and now we are a whole little party of 6-7 people sitting around the bottles. I finally pitch in buy a bottle of vodka at one of the stations, but am going even slower that yesterday. Not that anyone notices, but since I’m getting off during the afternoon, it might be best not to get too drunk. “Not a problem”, the lawyer remarks when my little drinking is finally notices, “you’ll just take a coffee before you leave.” I make it to my destination only half drunk, but do indeed finish on a cup of coffee generously poured by my new friends.
Everybody on the trains seems to be excited about a foreigner boarding. It might just be because it’s a welcoming change on a long, otherwise fairly boring, journey – the outcome is no matter the same: Overwhelming generosity and hospitality.
No until I offer to buy the next bottle of vodka have I should worry about anything. I’ve been fed faster that I could get hungry, haven’t eaten any of my own supplies with exception of some fruit I tried to share, but they all made up polite excuses not to eat my food. This attitude towards foreigners or guests seems to be common everywhere on the Trans-Siberian no matter if vodka is included into the mix or not!