Thursday, August 31, 2006

Part IV - Des bains pi des trains

Other than the Kremlin, our last day in Moscow was pretty uneventful (well, as far as Moscow goes!). However, with a little push from Erik, Natalie decided to go to a Russian bath with him (although men and women were seperated). A Russian banya consisted as such: shower, steam, cold dip in barrel, swim (for Erik only, Natalie got a whirlpool though), shower, tea and snacks, then repeat. And all naked mind you!!! There were also several services available, including (for women anyway) manicurists, hairstylists, massage therapists, laundry service, etc...It was the perfect thing to do before heading on an 80 hour-5000km train ride to Siberia.

The train ride itself was quite a feat. We really didn't know what to expect. I don't think there was anything that could have prepared us for what we experienced. We wanted the "Russian Way" and I think we got it. We got a Russian family anyway. For most of the entirety of 5000km we shared our cabin with not one, not two, not even three people. Yes, there were 4 + us. There was a family of three (including a two-year old toddler) AND the grandmother. It was however pretty fun at times. There were several questions exchanged but hardly any answers exchanged. We did however share some beer, some food, some pictures and we learnt at least a bit about our respective cultures.

Vlad and Papa

The Russian landscape was spectacular. We literally spent hours staring out of the windows into meadows and villages. It seemed (along the railway anyway) that people are mostly congregated in small villages made up principally of wooden houses. Gardenning appears to be at least sustaining if not profitable. Several of what we might call "shanty" houses had amazing gardens and small farms. Most of the roads were made of dirt and we regularly spied people walking everywhere. We'd like to say it was depressing but the reality is that it was quite charming in a pastoral kind of way. There were several places we passed where we both wished we could have hopped off the train to do some exploring.

As for sustainance, we survived mainly on the rations we bought in Moscow and from the awesome food that was available on the platforms from the babushkas. The train stopped several times a day including at least 1-2 times for a period of more than 15 minutes. So we wandered, stretched our legs and played a guessing game as to what food might be good. Out of the four days, we only bought one bad thing....pretty good I would say.

One thing quite pleasant about this kind of trip is that time seems to drift by. Unless we looked at our watches, it was often difficult to tell whether it was late morning or afternoon. Evenings passed by quickly. The train itself runs completely on Moscow time although we actually rode through 5 time zones.

Whenever we wanted exercise (and if we were willing to brave the smoking chambers between the waggons) we wandered down to the dining cart. We ate, played cards, read, tried to figure out why the waitress kept scowling at us, and relaxed.

Upon debarking the train, we were chauffered to Lake Baikal where we spent a couple of relaxing days but more on that later.

PS-For those of you who did not know, it is election time in NB. Does Erik show it?
Also click here: Erik made the NB CBC online news!!!