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Taking the Trans-Siberian

Watched the most glorious sunset that evening as I sipped on my newly acquired Russian beer, a splendid treat I must say, the sunset I mean! Following this I am getting puckish and decide to check out the Russian dining car for its food offerings. The dining car is a farce, poorly decorated, not awfully clean, half in darkness, and containing a number of blind drunk Russians, just great. I meet up with the fellow British party consisting of the Welsh guy, a wide-boy cockney working as a banker in Hong Kong and a quiet young couple returning home from teaching in Japan.

The Welsh guy had befriended some crazy Russian DJ character that is also in the dining car blind drunk on vodka, and so we are able to get some food. It appears this DJ fellow just proceeded to order a steak, some bread and beer for us; well that is what turned up on our tables anyway. The food was actually pretty good, or maybe it was good because I had lived on instant noodles in the previous 36 hours, I don’t know. Anyway, we talked some rubbish for a while about this and that, polished off another few beers, dropped a ten-dollar bill on the table and headed off in the hope that would cover the tab. With not much else to do, I hit the sack.

Wake up on the fourth day and carefully review the options open to me, finally deciding upon having a cup of coffee to accompany my instant noodle breakfast and continue reading my book. I occasionally glance out of the window to see the never changing scenery of trees and more trees, and before I know it we have passed on a good six hours of my life.

Shortly after a quick stop the banker from Hong Kong drops by my cabin and we pass the afternoon with Russian beer and idle chitchat, slowly getting mildly intoxicated as one does. Dinner time has now arrived so I decide to venture on down to the dining car again in search of a possible meal, although the prospect of being able to order anything I want is far from being possible I realize. Arrive in Novosibrirsk, a large neon wonderland it seems, and find myself locked inside the dining car for some reason or another, yet after protests from a loud Mongolian party and myself in particular we manage to be let out and onto the platform. After discovering that the train platform is not really very exciting re-board the train and return to the dining car, this time with the wise idea I should try some Russian vodka. Fortunately it seems like my fellow passengers are in the same frame of mind, resulting in me getting drunk rather quickly on spirits, more fool me really because I know I cannot handle my spirits. Banter is shared, photographs are taken, arguments had with some strong-minded Russians and eventually a departure was hastened by the two large Russian women who I think had gotten a little fed up with proceedings and kicked us all out. Bedtime.

Day five and I am still in Russia, and I will be all day. To make matters worse I have a hangover, and it seems like the entire train is operating with a hangover. Today, I feel like I have been on the train long enough now, I know we are arriving in Moscow tomorrow, and so first start thinking of wanting the train journey to end. Nothing much happens today worthwhile of noting, and I do believe I slept the entire section of the journey through the Ural Mountains. I go to bed early.

Woke up on the last day ridiculously early, and trundled through the country in near darkness for a couple of hours before an early morning stop somewhere in an industrial city that I could not learn the name of. Finish off all my remaining bread and noodles for breakfast, sit back and hit my book again to kill the time before our mid-afternoon arrival to Moscow. Enjoyable and relaxing as the trip has been, and amazed at how fast the previous 5 days have flown by, I just want today to get over and done with, to get to Moscow, get to my hotel and a shower.

Things seem to be looking a lot more built up now, more concrete, more communist looking things, there are more cars around and it certainly seems there are many more miserable people. Finish my remaining two bottles of Russian beer for lunch, I throw my stuff into my bags, and hang around impatiently as we slide through Moscow’s grim suburbs in the last hour. I even get back what is left of my train tickets.

I say goodbye to Ma, a typically frank, speedy Chinese goodbye, a quick nod of the head to the carriage conductor people and hop off the train for the last time, so here I am in Moscow, the capital of Russia.

My next challenge is to find someone holding my name on a piece of card, because this will be the chosen one, the one whisking me through Moscow’s hellish traffic to my hotel somewhere in this large city. I find the man; a huge towering miserable looking man who can speak no English at all, and from my experience should definitely be allowed a driving license. Still, thanks to his wish to die we get to the hotel rather quicker than I would expect given the congestion on the roads, and thanks to the communication barrier we also manage to avoid that horrible small-talk rubbish that is often painful to a weary traveler. Get to the hotel, which is nothing to write home about, but neither is it anything to write a complaint about, check-in, complete visa formalities and hit that shower.

Decide upon some traditional food, so I head off in search out the city center as such, if there is one at all, and a decent restaurant. My fears of the underground never materialized, armed soldiers throughout policed it, and I could navigate the stations with not too much difficulty. We wandered through the well-lit Red Square and around the outside of the Kremlin until we got bored and went off to hunt for a restaurant. Decided against the numerous McDonald’s restaurants and settled into what our perception of a traditional restaurant would look like.

After spending so much time in China previous it was a delight to again drink some heavy black beer, yet my food choice somewhat let me down. I ordered Siberian meatballs that I thought sounded great but in reality turned out to be a replica of Chinese dumplings, how frustrated was I! Headed back to the hotel shattered, all that walking around the city following six days of sitting on my arse had made me tired.

Next day, I killed the hours I had to kill before departing to the airport and England by wandering around the city again, but this time in daylight. Finally got home after a thoroughly enjoyable trip to England and my home village some 8 days after leaving my apartment in Harbin, China. Might do it again in the summer months to get a different perspective, I might not though.   

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