All Aboard

Well, we're finally on the Trans-Siberian Express and we'll now be on it for the next four days. Stops are between 2 and 20 minutes long, and it's up to us (and our awesome Uzbek guide, Laziz) to make sure we are in the right place at the right time as the train doesn't wait. We're in a private compartment (i.e. lockable, and shared only with members of our group) that's cozy and comfortable, although I'm worried it could hit sauna-bath temperatures when we actually get going. The whole train feels very 'soviet' - our group's new favourite word (everything is 'soviet' - from statues of Lenin to cappuccinos) - there's a really cool samovar (an industrial looking hot water machine) that's fed by a tiny coal stove that the ever present train attendant has to keep refilling; there are bathrooms, although even after a short while they seem to have taken on a distinctive 'pub loo at closing time' feel. I blame the ladies.

I thought I'd handle this bit of the trip by quickly summarising each day, just to make it a bit more contemporary.

Day One

After getting some food in for the trip, and when I say 'some' I mean enough dried food to survive a substantial trip into the Chernobyl exclusion zone, we got on board the train at around midday and settled into our compartments. We're sharing with Clare and Tom, a pair of friends from London, who are around our age and seem really nice. The compartment is smart but cramped when you account for four travellers, each with at least two items of luggage plus the aforementioned European food mountain we're all carting around. There's a luggage area at the top of the cabin, the width of the compartment and the depth of the corridor, so we immediately tried to fit Kate in there (it was easy). This quickly evolved into seeing how many more we could it in before the ceiling gave way (three). The first girl in did have something of a panic attack, so we quickly ended that game. Laziz has given us a pretty thorough briefing, so we know a little more about what to expect for the next few days, and we've eaten our first packet of instant noodles (our staple food now). Everybody seems just to be settling into their cabins or staring out of the windows for the time being so I'll get back to you tomorr... Wait a minute... I've just heard somebody crack open a bottle of vodka. Good times. L.

Day Two

We had a good night last night bonding over a bottle of voddy, and more instant noodles. The group is really gel-ing now and the train, which I thought might have caused fractures to appear (as can happen when you trap 15 people in a confined space for any amount of time - just look at Big Brother), is actually bringing us together. We totally occupy 3 cabins, and have claimed 3/4 of a fourth, so we all tend to move around depending on what's going on in which room. Laziz has been brilliant at keeping the momentum going, teaching us card games (A$$hole and Richelieu being my personal favourites) and telling us about the places we'll be seeing, so the days are flying by. We even had a conversation about racism, which ended uncomfortably when one of the girls, Charlie, betrayed her public school roots by liberally dropping the P-Bomb and upsetting one half of the carriage. She's so lovely that I think she recovered the situation, but needless to say there were some awkward silences and some sharp looks. Casual racism aside, there's also plenty of opportunities for photos thanks to opening windows in the passages, so I've got some blurry photos of the Siberian countryside. We've also had a couple of stops, so we've been introduced to the Babushkas who lie in wait for stopping trains. Forget the awful Kate Bush debacle, babushkas are local peasants that sell things at the stops, ranging from Coke to homemade snacks. The food is especially interesting and I've tried fresh berries, crisp pancakes rolled and filled with caramel and a doughnut stuffed with, of all things, mashed potato. It's cheap and hot, and can be very tasty, and I'm happy for anything that gives me a break from those damnable noodles. Anyways, someone's just called me an a$$hole so I can only assume they want a game of cards. More tomorrow. L.

Day Three

Seriously, enough with the noodles. The Russians might not do spice but they sure as hell do salt and I'm beginning to think that I've genuinely altered my body's composition so that I'm now only 45-50% water. As a change from anything other than the devil's soba, I opened a sachet of what I thought was instant cous cous; it had a picture of cous cous on the front, and what a delicious looking cous cous it was, so I think I was within my rights to believe that the contents should indeed be cous cous. Upon closer inspection, what I'd bought was in fact instant stock that should be used in the preparation of cous cous, rather than the grain itself. Bah. Loz had also made the same mistake, but he tried to drink it like a cup-a-soup... He's now composed of only 20-25% water. Other than the coronary-inducing levels of salt, the train is still great fun. Loz, Håkon and I, once our sensibilities had been brought crashing down by the ever present vodka, have discovered that we share the same schoolboy sense of humour so we've been keeping each other amused by sharing dirty jokes, funny anecdotes and disgusting euphemisms. I related some of the boarding school fun that didn't appear in Harry Potter, Håkon regaled us with stories from his time doing Norwegian national service, and Loz frankly outshone us all with tales of his navy days; 'Top-Decking' is something I shall have to explain in person. With the girls' eyebrows all stuck indefinitely in 'silly boys' mode, I shall beat a retreat back to the party cabin. We're going to have a 'gypsy disco' - this involves one person rapidly turning the lights on and off to evoke a party atmosphere. I'll let you know how it goes. L.

Day Four

Last night was not a good night. Kate, perhaps inspired by the Soviet heroes of old or maybe embracing the equality central to the Communist movement, tried to drink quantities of vodka that would keep Lenin embalmed until the next millennium. Seeing as she weighs all of eight stone, it went to her head somewhat, and she stumbled into the carriage at about 1AM having somehow made her way back from the dining car where our group was having am impromptu par-tay. Using my uncanny boyfriend senses, I'd already seen the iceberg approaching earlier in the evening so I'd retired to prepare for the worst. Without going into too much detail, I spent the night sitting up with Kate, making sure she wasn't ill in the carriage. Despite her best attempts, we managed to keep everything neat and tidy although Kate was less than fresh when she woke up and has spent most of the day in bed. I've spent the day writing and playing with the rest of the group, some of whom are equally soft-headed, so it's been a slow but nice day. We have one more night before we arrive into the place only Risk players will appreciate, Irkutsk, before we head up to Lake Baikal, so my next post will be from the world's deepest water mass.

Take care all.