Less than 12hrs out of Moscow now! When I wake up (rather when I am woken at an evil time somewhere between 2 and 3am) we'll be chugging our way through Moscow's outer suburbs. The 4 nights have gone relatively quickly and it amazes me what things we do to amuse ourselves when necessary. Seeing the light has led to thoughts and discussions about what we are most looking forward to, with the common themes being real food and showers.
Here's a few highlights since my last entry:
• Russian pastries are called Paroshki. They are commonly filled with potato or meat or cabbage or rice and egg. They are more like a filled doughnut than pastry however and despite being greasy are warm and a welcome treat from the range of dehydrated goods bought with us on the train. Long story to get to my point but stick with me. For some reason unknown to me, the Russian word Katooshka has become a bit of a favorite for the group and is used at any opportunity whether in context or not. This word is the colloquial word for potato in Russia (I guess the equivalent of spuds in Aus). So you can imagine the looks received when it is yelled out or even chanted in some instances. Anyway, twice a day on the train a lady comes around selling fresh cooked Paroshki. Rather than calling her the Paroshki lady, she was nicknamed (much to her amusement) the Katooshka lady. You knew she was on her way down the carriage by the repeated calls of 'Katooshka lady', 'the Katooshka lady is back'. This generated a mass exodus of each cabin as people came out to purchase some Paroshki. This became a highlight of the days, not only for the food, but also a legitimate excuse to use Katooshka in context (at least for those ordering Katooshka Paroshki)! However Katooshka lady threw everyone today when she had no Katooshka Paroshki, only meat or rice and egg. This was met by disappointed chants down the hall of "nyet Katooshka" or no Katooshka. Had to be there I guess!
• Yesterday I had another Russian lesson, learning more about greetings and hobbies. Veronica has become a bit of a mother, lecturing me about everything from why I am not yet married to me really needing to put socks on before I go outside! She also gave Trent a lecture telling him he is too skinny and needs to eat more so he gets strong like me! I'm gonna stick with strong anyway, she could have meant fat!
• Olec got off at Omsk yesterday and was replaced by another Russian who also drinks and sleeps and not much in between...
• the night before last the train police were called to tell the other group off for drinking and making too much noise, making me thankful for being in with the Russians and somewhat detached from the reputation!
• Yesterday morning at our first stop where we got off, the highlight was inspecting the frozen s*** on the train wheels that had appeared overnight - apparently someone's dinner did not sit so well! Small things hey?
• Some members of the other group also befriended a group of young Russians in the dining car, who turned out to be a bit crazy and not in a good way, punching in a window and cutting up his hand. When our group left the dining car to get away, the youths followed to our carriage and tried to hang out here for a while, in the process dripping blood everywhere. This provided some excitement for a while until the next stop where they were kicked off.
• After the blood had been cleaned up in the dining car a group of us went down for dinner. After trying to order borsch and being bullied into ordering the spicy, thick soup by the tiny yet commanding waitress, my meal came out and it was neither spicy nor thick, but very tasty.
• Anyone wanting to grow a mullet should move to Russia - you'll fit right in. The mullet here is non gender discriminatory too with both men and women sporting the look.
• The new guy in my cabin was part of a group further down the carriage who were intent on having a large bight in the vodka and roping in unsuspecting Aussies. Ruben from our group thought he was up to the challenge - he was not. He unwillingly retired after being carried back to his cabin by hands and feet and promptly passed out a dead weight on the bottom bunk. I escaped the pressure of drinking with the Russians by telling them I was a recovering alcoholic - they left me right alone after that but it did mean from that point on that I had to sneak drinks in private (potentially and ironically giving weight to my claim).
• Last night we passed the Eurals, crossing the boundary between continental Europe and Asia.
• Four days without a shower has been somewhat challenging, and I have become quite a pro at the pit and crotch wipe routine with wet ones! I can't wait to have a shower with hot running water even if it is in a hostel.
• We had the 2010 Yanev world championship today with Claire and I the final two card players left to battle it out for the title. Sadly, I lost, was dominated in fact, and to make it worse, Claire is from South Australia!
• We had a debate about the differences between nooks and crannies and the merits of each. Nooks were the clear winner.
• I finished my book, The Slap (thanks again for giving the book to me Jeff). Despite it being a tediously slow paced story, I really enjoyed it's thought provoking narrative about the intricacies of human relationships and it reminded me that we all have so much going on in our lives, yet for so many different reasons we constantly make decisions about with who we will share what, with varying consequences. It got me to thinking about this leg of the journey and just how much thinking time I have had. Two things stick out that I will share on here - first, I realised that my gym habits over the last 6 months especially have been both my escape and my routine, and is something I have desperately missed since leaving Aus. Second, the other night, Trent and Claire told me that I reminded them of one of their friends from back home in terms of demeanor. Their nickname for him was Mr Sensible. I surprised myself with my reaction. I thought that being called sensible would have made me defensive, wanting to challenge and disprove the theory. Rather, my thoughts were of gratitude and relief that they had been comfortable enough with me to share it with enough confidence that it would not offend or upset me. Something that so often does not happen in the world we live.
Before I sign off for the last (hopefully) time on the train, the other noteworthy thing is the temperature. It's now -12 degrees at the station we just pulled into, more than 20 degrees warmer than what we left in Irkutsk. It is so much more bearable. We also had a fair amount of snow along the way today and one of the stations we stopped at had mid calf deep snow.