On the train to Irkutsk.
As we only had a 90 minute journey to the main line where we changed trains, we had cheap Plascart tickets (3rd class sleepers). This is certainly a step down in luxury - very thinly covered seats - 6 to the space used by 4 in second class, no privacy - all in all not the place to spend the night.We got to Taiga station where we had a 3 hour wait for the next train which left at 2:00 am. We decided to get a bite to eat so wandered down to the restaurant. Only the snack bar was open so I used my best Russian and the phrase book to work out what was in the rolls - Feeesh (Fish) we were told - opted for the safer choice, open meat sandwich as you could see what you were eating.. Sat down to eat it next to a very rowdy table - this turned out to be the restaurant staff 'unwinding' and celebrating a birthday. They had been intrigued by the phrase book and used it to inform me that one of their party was looking for a wife. I was given her email address and told to pass it on to anybody suitable. Any offers? Another young lady then joined in and gave me her phone number so if something suitable for her came up… Next came flattery - they got to look at our passports - I was young looking for my age - Fran looked like Margaret Thatcher - when I pointed out Maggie is in her 80s they quickly amended it to a young Maggie!!!. During all of this, Fran was frantically pointing to her ring finger to tell them I am taken!! When they discovered I have a son, they got excited again - no, sorry he is also taken. One of them had a plastic bag of fish. These were smoked river fish about 6 inches long. Apparently they taste wonderful with beer - all the girl could say was 'Fish & Beer - Nirvana' Apparently an even greater delicacy is to eat them after they have been set alight. Bottles of vodka were then produced - we were pressed to have some - I managed to get out of this by use of my phrase book - 'I am a reforming alcoholic' this produced fits of laughter and I went up in their estimation!!By this time it was getting close to departure time - Don't worry say our new friends (slightly the worse for wear) - your train comes into the adjacent platform. Needless to say the train came in and it wasn't at the platform we were next to. There was no bridge over the tracks so we had to run to the start of the train - over 2 sets of tracks and down to the first carriage. Fran thought at this stage we were going to miss the train- it was pouring with rain. I grabbed her bag and told her to run faster!! We were hurried onto the train to be told our carriage was 10 further down - so we had to make our way through 3rd class which had the look and smell of a refugee camp - bodies everywhere. We finally made it to our berths having woken the whole train - or so it seemed. The journey on to Irkutsk was a bit tamer - slept and watched the scenery. This was more like we had expected - thick forest and rolling plains interspersed with villages with wooden houses.