28 hours on a off-the-beaten-track part of the Russian Railway
02.02.2013 - 05.02.2013
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The scenery outside the window shifts between snow covered pine forest and a landscape of small hills dotted with much lower and more widespread trees – also covered in snow. Overall snow and trees are the norm here in Northern Russia. Only the ground they cover changes.
Now and then we’re passing over a river running out into a large lake on the west side of the tracks. The lake is dressed in a layer of ice, while the rivers– because of the waters movement, I guess – is ice free.
Once in a while, maybe a few times every hour, a small village passes by. If it wasn’t for the people standing next to the rail road, waiting to cross the tracks, you’d think they were abandoned. So decrepit are the house, so little snow has been cleared from the roads. Those villages are the clear sign that rural Russia is a lot poorer than the palace ridden, cosmopolitan Sankt Petersburg were I’m going. Even the suburbs of the grey, rough, working class harbour-city of Murmansk seems like a paradise of wealth compared to those small villages.
I’m sitting at a window seat in a plastkash – 3rd class – carriage on a typical Russian train. It’s not really a seat, just the part of a lower bunk bed, closest to the window. I’m sharing the wagon with 53 other passengers.
The bunks are arranged like normal compartments. Down though the carriage,there’s nine “rooms” each with two lower and two upper bunks. Each “room” are divided by a thin partition. There is open access from the bunks to the corridor running through the carriage and down alongside the wall are set up another nine lower and upper bunks.
Most of my new travel companions are napping, and they have been doing it ever since we left Murmansk at 09.12. Not that there is much else to do abroad. Napping, snacking, sleeping and eating…And looking out the window, where Russia, at the relaxed pace of approximately 60 km/h, rolls by.
Two old men are playing an old, Russian version of backgammon and a few places have lunch been replaces by beers at a time a day where there would normally have been served tea. No one have yet broad out the heavy stuff –I actually fail to come by a vodka bottle on the entire trip. So that is either a myth or something that doesn’t go on, on this rail road stretch. Or maybe it’s just confined to the second class – where it’s easier to hide your escapades behind closed doors.
But in most cases people are in their beds sleeping. Some tried reading a book, but it seems that the sleep-inducing sound of the train running over its tracks have forced most into sleep as well.
We’ve been going at this for seven hours so far. That means we have 21 left before we’d finished the 1400 km trip. It’s a long haul and most Russians don’t really see it as the journey I do. For most of them, it’s simply a point of getting from A to B. As a foreigner I have one trump on wasting time (which I’ve already used): Walking the length of the train in order to have a look around and find the restaurant car. I found it after passing through eight plastkashs like the one I’m in. Behind the restaurant is just as many second class and a few first class carries.
My roommates – the people in the bunk beneath mine and on the two across the table – are a Russian family going home to Sankt Petersburg. They don’t speak any English, but we get by with sign- and body languish.Even though it isn’t absolutely clear to me, it seems they’d been visiting the mother’s parents. And the dad seems pleased to be leaving. The normal way to introduce yourselves is by offering a little of the food you broad along for the ride. I offer some biscuits and they overbid me with chocolate. Damn Russians, they win again!
But the conversation doesn’t really get a lot further when you can’t communicate with words. The solution, at least one I discovered on this trip where to start practicing my Russian. Just the basics like hello (zdravst-vuy-tye), goodbye (da sve-da-niye), thank you (spa-si-ba),you’re welcome/please (po-zha-lus-ta) and the numbers 1-10.
I was definitely the laughing stock of the carriage, but I got points for trying, and the family was happy – both for the entertainment and the new time-consuming activity. I might even have improved a little bit.
When we finally stopped the lesson in Russian a group of six or seven teenagers have begun playing some kind of card game in the both next to ours. The girls were drinking ice tea and the guys beer. They are actually less laud, in the beginning, that I’d expect. They’re having fun though and turned up the volume as they got further into the game. A game I didn’t recognize. Actually I didn’t even recognize the cards they were playing with. Purple with big numbers on them. Maybe some kind of Russian Uno.
But out of the blue, someone slams their hand on the pile of cards on the table,and everyone else follow suit. Last hand on the pile of cards (under the pile of hands) apparently loses something, even though I’m unsure what. Just as I still don’t have a clue about when, or why, they were slamming their hands down on the cards.
But I have time enough to figure it out, before reading an additional chapter in my books or maybe take another nap…