Zdrastvuitye! So last you heard we were about to get on the train at Vladivostok. We'd met Anna and were wondering what it was going to be like. I joked that we were bound to be sharing with a pair of attractive young guys, maybe backpackers themselves whilst Kairsten thought that a little optimistic and was more likely to be Vladimir and Olga, a middle-aged couple with no english. After discovering that the trains all ran on Moscow time and it was actually our train on the platform we helped Anna find her carriage then got on our own and searched for our compartment. Low and behold, while there weren't two backpackers, there WAS a young Russian guy in our compartment. Oh the power of positive thinking! Kairsten went to explore and he introduced himself as Alexander. (Aunty Sue, not sure if you got my text but I almost died at that point!) When Kairsten came back we attempted to chat with a mixture of my basic Russian, his basic English and sign language. We established that he is 23, doing his compulsory service in the military and heading back home to Chita to surprise his parents who he hasn't seen for a while.
Eventually I remembered I had brought with me a mini russian/english dictionary and that became particularly useful! We stayed up for hours having one very long and slow conversation. He helped us order from the food trolley and went and got us some tea. At one point he told me I had beautiful eyes (naww..) and tried to ask if I had a 'man friend'. It could have been a line but he even said my russian accent was very good!
Kairsten went to sleep and after a little while he asked me something in Russian. I understood "may I" and "you" but when I looked blank he got the dictionary and pointed to 'kiss'. Now, in the effort to keep it G-rated for the parents and bosses reading this, I shall neither confirm nor deny my answer to this question.
The next day we were joined by an older Russian guy in our compartment. We named him 'Hunter' or 'Grandfather' because that's what Alexander said he did/was and we couldn't pronounce his name. We spent the next couple of days on the train napping at odd hours and staying up till early morning watching strange Russian movies and music videos, eating and drinking tea and playing cards with our new little family. Both Alexander and Hunter tried to teach us a card game but I never really got it, so we tried to teach them some... still a bit hard although definitely worth the laughs. In the end we discovered we had blackjack in common. The first round Kairsten and I thought we'd got 19 and 20 but they looked at us funny. Turns out the Russians have completely different rules. Jacks are worth 2, queen 3 and king 5 while a 9 is 0.
The train stopped a couple of times in different cities along the way for about half an hour at a time. The first time we got off we noticed that there were people selling things like ice cream and flowers. I really wanted some but we couldn't be bothered to go back for money or attempt the Russian this time. So we just wandered for a bit of exercise and got back on the train. About 10 minutes later Alexander came in and he'd bought us ice cream! I tell you what, if he wasn't already impressing me, the ice cream was definitely a winning move!
The passing scenery was quite lovely, lots of green hills, rivers and some rural villages with quaint wooden houses. I loved the fact that some would have purple roofs and blue windows while others were just an entirely green house.
At dinner, both Alexander and Hunter would offer us food that they'd brought and insisted if we tried to say no to anything - whoever said the Russians were a rude and hostile bunch obviously never got to know any!
Alexanders stop was Chita, a day before ours and when it was almost time for him to go he changed into his uniform and then said "Russian tradition" and gave me 3 kisses on the cheeks. And then he was gone...
He does have my email and phone number and may have asked if he could come to Australia so for those of you concerned about my love life (Aunty Sue, that's you) then we'll just have to wait and see... you never know! (Kairstens already invited herself to the wedding.)
We're in Irkutsk now and the next update will be about our time here and the village around Lake Baikal. Hope you're all well!
Lots of love xxx