Friday, April 10, 2015

The Train Ride Begins

On Wednesday, I ran into the director of my college overseas studies program. I first met him back in 2005 when I was a junior in college, arriving in Moscow after six weeks in St. Petersburg. He picked me up from the Leningradsky Railway Station after my first ride on a Russian train. At the time, my Russian was so non-existent that it took me multiple tries (and a good Samaritan with great English) before I could purchase my train ticket. At the insistence of my mother, I opted for the high-speed day train rather than the overnight train. I didn’t get robbed or roofied, but I did get yelled at by another passenger when I was too slow exiting with my mountains of luggage.

Ten years later and I am embarking on yet another solo train ride—albeit with less luggage and a far better grasp of Russian (and Russian rudeness). Even though Moscow is more than weird enough to keep me entertained until time immemorial, I decided to venture out on a month-long journey across the vast expanse of the Motherland. Moscow and Vladivostok are 9,259 kilometers apart, and it takes a train 143 hours and 20 minutes to cover that distance. Any Russian will aptly point out that it’s not only faster but cheaper to fly across the country, so why would anyone subject themselves to nearly a week aboard a train?

The № 002 «Россия» from Moscow to Vladivostok

As a Westerner with romantic notions of the Russian heartland and train travel, I actually am curious to see the mountains, lakes, taiga, and steppe that lie between the capital and the Pacific Ocean. I want to cross the Ural Mountains into Asia, explore the Siberian wilderness, swim in the deepest lake in the world, and visit Nanai villages on the border of China. And, of course, I’m hoping to cross paths with some crazy Russian characters along the way.

Endless Russian birch forests from the window

My first leg of the trip, from Moscow to Ekaterinburg, was mostly uneventful. I shared a compartment with an older couple and their grandson, all of whom were completely uninterested in speaking with me. After I introduced myself to them, they just asked, “How far are you going?” They seemed disappointed to discover that I would be in their compartment for the duration of their journey, also to Ekaterinburg. Despite my attempts at conversation, they gave brief answers and asked no questions of me. So even after 25 hours in close quarters, all I can tell you about Larissa, Sergei, and Kirill is that they were returning from a sanatorium in the Caucuses, and 5-year-old Kirill can watch classic Soviet films for a day straight. I’m hoping my next train (a 22-hour ride to Novosibirsk) will be more exciting. If not, I’m bringing a liter of vodka and heading back to the third class cars—you know it’s got to get wild up in there.

No Russian city is complete without Lenin!

A sidestreet in Ekaterinburg

No comments:

Post a Comment