So, I've reached Irkutsk - the 'Paris of Siberia', actually less Paris than the usual dreary, industrial blot on the landscape that the Russians seem to turn any potentially attractive place into. (I'll have to be brief - this is costing an eye-watering 9 pounds an hour!).
The TRAIN!! Guess what, yes, I was sharing with initially 2 non English speaking Russian men. We were then joined by a 3rd (who was very nice and spoke good English). He was only with us for one night, then a 4th joined us, again non Eng. speaking. Never before in my life have I slept with so many strange men all in one go!! The initial 2 were both very nice as well. One was an older guy bound for Vladivostok and the 2nd a Mongolian with all upper front teeth missing and the rest were gold, but he was a kindly soul and, boy! did they drink!! The sale of vodka was not permitted on the train or station, but somehow they managed to acquire bottles of the stuff and it constituted their breakfast, lunch and dinner - that and beer! We had the occasional meal as well, which we bought from the vendors on the station platforms and all shared, so it was quite a convivial experience until yesterday. The Mongolian had a hangover, for which the cure was more vodka (and it seemed to work!). The older guy just became totally legless and quite unpleasant. He ended up sleeping for most of the day, thank goodness. He was a total pain anmywayu, insisting on telling m,e long, rambling stories in Russian, accompanied by equally meaningless geatures.
I did have one meal in the train restaurant, which was very good - fish soup, escalopes and fried potatoes - very tasty, but again, v. expensive, hence the shared meals. It is the custom on the train to share all food and drink with your fellow travellers. Needless to say the vodka I had brought for the journey had gone by lunch time the next day (I think I actually got to taste some of it!) and the 2 Russians did invite me to share their supper on the first night - I hadn't got round to buying anything. It was a good opportunity to experience the local food, some of which looked decidedly dodgy,but was, infact very tasty, especially a kipper-like fish which is eaten cold with the skinand bones pulled off and the meat torn into strips and washed down with vodka! There was also a lady with a trolley of snacks and stuff who patrolled the corridor several times a day, so we didn't starve thankfully, becausethe alternative for me was packet soup and cereal bars - not the best combination!
So, the saga of the train continues... The view from the train window was one of endless snow and endless forests and more snow and more forests and occasional abandoned snow-bound villages - such vast expanses of wilderness. After 2 days and 3 nights on the train we had only reached the half way pointof the journey. Mostly I was hunkered down with War and Peace in between gazing out of the window and attempts at communication with my fellow passengers who, with the exception of myself and a Dutch man, were all Russian. So there was not much socialising in the corridor on this part of the journey.