MOSCOW, RUSSIA My train 016E for Yekaterinburg creaks out of Moscow's Kazanskiy station on time at 16:50. The train for the most part is empty. There seem to be more staff members than passengers. I'm surprised, since I had such a difficult time booking a first-class seat. Now I have my two-passenger first-class compartment to myself. None of the train's staff speaks English, not one word, nor are any of the signs or public announcements in English. To make matters worse, the staff members are a decidedly grumpy bunch of people. With the exception of one or two, they don't smile, and look at me with haughty contempt. Their patience runs very thin. I don't want to waste their time with stupid questions.
As I settle into my compartment, a stern looking attendant stops by and motions to see if I want dinner, which supposedly is included in my first class ticket. On a napkin, I write, 19:00. Meantime, I motion that I would like a beer. She understands the word beer and brings me a Lowenbrau. At 7 sharp, my dinner arrives, a small dried up piece of salmon, some boiled potatoes, two small slices of dark bread, and a small salad. I ask if I can get a glass of wine. Nyet! The only wine she can offer me is a bottle of Merlot for 1,400 Rubles or about $50. I pass. No desert is offered or comes with the meal. Although the trip will continue for another 24 hours, there will be no other complimentary services.
My cabin is clean and so is the shared bathroom at the end of the car, better than what I often experienced in Europe. The seats though don't recline, but you can pull them out and turn them into beds. Sheets and pillows are provided, although one of my pillow cases has blood stains on it. Each cabin comes equipped with an electrical outlet. The cell phone coverage though is random at best. Playing on the TV monitor in my cabin are a couple of Russian movies, which the couple in the cabin, next to me, to my annoyance, keep turned up. The windows don't open, which is okay, better to keep the mosquitos out, although I'm still getting bitten. The air conditioning works and maintains the cabin at a comfortable temperature.
|A Scene from the Train|
I sleep well through the night, the clitter clatter and the rocking of the train acts like a cradle lulling me into a deep sleep. In the morning, I awake refreshed, the sun shining brightly. I open the cabin door and a staff member sees me and offers me a cup of instant coffee for 80 Rubles or about $3.00. The prices on the train, I've already learned, are outrageous and the quality sub-standard. Nevertheless, I buy the coffee, but, in turn, resolve not to buy anything else from the train, instead, I hope to get something from one of those hawking their foods on the platform. To my delight, we soon stop and from a grizzly-faced toothless old woman, I buy a pirozhki, a deep fried bun stuffed with something, in this case potato. Will I get sick?
Outside, the land lies mostly farel. A lot of woods and land that hasn't been tended to in years. The homes are wooded shacks, heated with firewood stacked or piled outside. It's not clear how they obtain their water or dispose of their sewage. In the little villages, there are no paved roads or sidewalks, just trails and rutted dirt or gravel roads. There are no signs of churches or schools. A couple cemeteries I saw were overgrown by weeds. Only occasionally do you see a satellite dish. Nearing the bigger towns, we encounter rusted out and crumbling factories and warehouses. On one of those crumbling buildings, someone has scrawled, FUCK OFF NATO. Signs of progress appear near the city centers, where a factory or a few modern looking buildings emerge from the urban-scape.
The trip has been marked by boredom. There's been no one to talk to. The Russians themselves don't talk to each other. The dining car is like a morgue, no laughter or singing, no tipping of vodka, as I was led to expect. The only people in the dining car are the help, who listlessly sit at tables staring blankly out the windows. If not, but for the sake of a conversation, I want to ask them if I can get something to eat, but I know that would be futile, as they don't speak English, and all they'd probably do is point to the selection of terribly over-priced tastelessly bland looking seran-wrapped sandwiches that sit in a large basket on one of the tables. I wonder how long they've been there?
About nineteen hours into the trip, we start to move through the foothills of the Urals, marking the end of Europe and the beginning of Asia. It's September 1st, and 75 degrees outside, the leaves of the birch, maple, and poplar have started to change. There are few, if any signs, of civilization. At any moment, I expect to see a moose or a bear. But not long and we are again in a more civilized area, where we encounter towns with dilapidated Khrushchevski style apartment buildings, with rusted and broken windows, and lines of clothes hanging out to dry. Around these buildings or anywhere else, as far as that goes, no apparent effort has been made to mow the lawns, pull the weeds, or repair the crumbling sidewalks. No pride of ownership is anywhere to be seen.
|Friends at Last|