(from a letter)
Today I woke up around nine, the same time that the Russian family I'm traveling with woke up. I don't remember how much of my last email I spent talking about my compartment companions (I remember falling asleep writing my email), but they're a family of four: the father, Sasha; the mother, Tanya, the son, Vanya, and the sister/relative, Tanya. They speak very little English, and I little Russian of course, but they're so nice and have been pressing their food onto me, offering me pieces of lard, cucumber, tomato, bread. Just now I came back from the restaurant car and they immediately asked me if I ate already, and I said yes, yes, thanks, at the restaurant wagon ("da, da, spasiba, v ristorant vagon"), and they smiled, and that was that.
Today after I woke up, brushed my teeth and had breakfast, the train stopped at a station for fifteen minutes, and I got out and bought some instant coffee. At the store ('produkti', the sign always says) I overheard a couple talking in Aussie (or so I thought) English about the prices, so I talked to them briefly, said hi.
Afterwards, on the train, I wandered the length of the entire train. After lunch, I made my way to the first wagon (I'm in the second), where I stumbled upon the couple I had met earlier with their three kids. Rose and Davy and their family from New Zealand were very friendly, and we quickly stumbled onto a three hour long conversation about Russian culture, traveling, Facebook privacy, and so on: sprawling but enthused. They had just come from traveling through Iran and Turkey, among other places, and was headed to Beijing, like I am.
Encouraged by this interaction, I made my way to the rear of the train, armed with a camera I bought in St. Petersburg (Lomo Lubitel 166B, from 1982), and tried to peer into compartments to look for anyone reading something that didn't look like Russian. Funnily enough, the blue cover of the Lonely Planet guide to the Trans-Siberian has proved to be a very good indicator of I-am-a-traveler-ness, and so on my way to the back of the train I met a few people who spoke English: John and Sigrut from Belgium, Mutter(?) and Kastina from Germany, Matt and Dave from New Zealand and their Russian compartment-mate Alexander, and a Swedish couple whose names escape me at the moment. I tried to take a photograph of everyone I talked to, which was nice. Everyone has been uniformly interested and involved and friendly, which is wonderful. I guess that makes absolute sense, as anyone going on this trip (especially as a tourist) is so open to newness and interaction, so ready for change. This is so lovely.
The last few wagons are platzkart wagons, or third-class wagons, which means that there are no compartments; it's a little bit more quiet there (counterintuitively) as every sound carries across the corridor, and I didn't find any non-Russians there --- or at least, I think. And the last car at the end of the train opened on to a wonderful smoking spot (not that I've been smoking) that looks onto to the train tracks sliding away into the distance.
After that I made my way back forward, and started reading more of Dostoyevsky's /The Idiot/, which is actually quite wonderful and mesmerizing, and read it until I got tired and fell asleep for a little bit. (If the way I've just been writing to you is a little bit different, with a little bit more long-winded sentences, for example, then it's Dostoyevsky's fault!) After waking up, I drank some water, stretched my legs, and by then it was nearly ten pm.
I decided to go to the restaurant wagon for dinner, instead of having bread with meat and spreads this time, and so made my way back to the wagon. I wasn't expecting this, but the wagon was filled with people, including John, Sigrut, Matt, Dave, and Alexander, and three other people (whose name escape me) and one other guy. Everyone greeted me so very warmly and offered me a beer, and so I sat down, ordered some borscht, drank a few beers, and talked with people. It turns out that the 'one other guy', Andre, was a little creepy and drunk, and so after he left we spent the rest of the next two hours drinking and talking, with a wonderful amount of camaraderie. I bought a bottle of vodka just for the train, and tried to suggest it as an "authentic" trans-Siberian pastime, but nobody was as enthusiastic as I thought they might be. I suspect this might change by the third day, I think.
Time to sleep.
July 24, 1am, between Yekaterinburg and Tumen.