We were supposed to meet at 11 am at the railway station. Simón is working since 3 am to finish his paper before our one week train vacation without internet (at least that’s what we assume – maybe it will be even longer?). At 10.45 I begin to worry and stress, we still need to buy water! But everything works smoothly in the end; when we finally arrive at the train station at 11.30, where Santi and Tanja are waiting for us already, we realize that our train doesn’t leave before 2 pm, actually.
With our backpacks, all the food and 50 litres of water, we board the train. For the first time, we see our new homes for the next days: It looks very similar to what we are used to from sleeping trains – 4-bed-compartments with bunk beds and a table in the middle. Just that there is no door, instead, there is another bunk bed opposite of the table. The lower bed serves as two seats with a small table during the day.
We have a short, but intense argument about who sleeps where, which results in a hefty discussion about fairness. After ten minutes of angry silence, however, everyone agrees that this is not how we are gonna deal with problems on such an intense trip. We arrange for the solution that whoever gets angry, has to dance instead of being angry, until the anger is gone. Let’s see how this will work out, at least our daily exercise would be guaranteed…
The young Russian couple that was sitting on our lower bunk bed, the unwanted bed (it basically means everyone is passing you when you sleep, and you are only allowed to go to bed when the upper bunk bed inhabitant decides to free their seat and go upstairs to their bed), has disappeared. Shortly before the train leaves, the girl comes back, she had said goodbye to her boyfriend. It turns out that she is our first roommate for the next 24 hours, my upper neighbour.
Her name is Irina and she speaks English. She just finished her Bachelor’s in Computer Science in St. Petersburg and is now on her way home, to visit her mum in Yekaterinburg, the city where the last monarchs of Russia, the Romanovs, got assassinated. She teaches us how to ask for a glass in Russian, and how to buy ice cream at the first long break at the train station. Like a monky, she climbs up to the level above the upper beds, where the luggage is stored, and gets her food. When she realizes that she forgot her cutlery, and I lend her mine, our train friendship is sealed. She tells us about her plans to study the Master’s abroad, maybe in Germany, after she has improved her English further. We learn a game from her, “From parallel to cross” (freely translated), where the first person makes up a rule by passing an item, and the other persons are either “parallel” or “cross”, and the first person confirms or disagrees. Like this, the others try to figure out the rule, or pattern – it’s a logical game, and it kills the first 3 or 4 hours. Irina shows us also other things to do on a train: besides climbing up and down, or drinking a coffee, you can always eat! For example, noodles. Or any dairy products that might go bad after a certain amount of hours on a hot train.
That’s the odd thing anyway: the train gets hotter and hotter, even though we are going a bit north first and the outside temperature is a lot chillier than it was in Moscow. When Irina goes to sleep, we also start to unroll the thin mattresses on the benches, wrap them in sheets, and use other sheets to cover ourselves – that’s how the beds work. We each got a fresh package of sheets and a towel from the conductor, our caretaker for the next days. Some people have been sleeping since they entered the train. It looks especially odd on the “unwanted” beds, when someone is sleeping or lying underneath a blanket and the passenger from the upper bed sits shyly at the end of the bed to not disturb the sleeping person. It looks like in a hospital, a little bit.
Sweating slightly from the hot air of the heated train, we fall sound asleep, while the unstoppable machines bring us further into this huge place called Russia, on the way to Siberia.