Rolling Through Siberia

Moscow seems like a very long time ago. We’re east of Novosibirsk on the second leg of the journey, still nine hours out from Krasnoyarsk. We entered Siberia, technically, somewhere just west of Tyumen, which was only a few hours after leaving Ekaterinburg. We toasted with a few beers purchased on the train platform in Tyumen, something the Russians are planning to ban (sales of beer at train stations) in 2013. I don’t really see what problem this solves – people want to find oblivion for a number of reasons and convenience isn’t really high on that list. And for those of us who want a beer for non-oblivion reasons, such rules are nothing short of ridiculous. Hey Dmitri, do something about the world’s highest number of junkies, before enacting stupid laws that take the fun out of those long-distance train rides.

Tyumen was the first of several cities that we would pass by. In the western part of Siberia, there are cities with some regularity. It was dark in Tyumen. The train system in Russia runs entirely on Moscow time, which can be a bit disorienting as you progress through the countries nine or so time zones. You wake up in the morning and the meal car isn’t open because to them it is in the middle of the night. But they’re still serving dinner at what to you is 2am.

When we awoke, sometime past the city of Omsk, the landscape had become decidedly more Siberian. It was flat, with and endless expanse of forests, fields and bogs. Villages are nearly all wooden now, sometimes brightly painted, and having a much cozier, more timeless appearance. A few hours before Novosibirsk we stopped at a place called Barabinsk. This was classic. The platform consisted of a thin strip of chewed-up tarmac, clearly not having received a single kopeck of funding for repair since the end of Communism, and possibly some time before that. Babushkas owned this place, walking around selling bread, fried doughy things and whole smoked fish. I bought one such fish from one such babushka, and it cost four dollars. Smoked fish is something the Russians do really, really well. They eat it with beer. I bought some beer, too. All the small stops have great food. The big city stops are worthless for food – I guess the theory is that the longer stops people can get out and go shopping or something. But those small stops – ones like Barabinsk – became some of the most memorable on the trip for the local characters selling local food. Our cabinmate bought a whole roasted chicken. Why not?

Along the way, we determined with the help of our map that we really were in Asia. We were farther east than Kashgar, which was the first place I’d been to in China. At Novosibirsk, we resupplied our beer and ate the last of the smoked fish. Our cabinmates were doing much the same thing, and as a result we finally after 22 hours or so got to meet them and hear their stories. Time moves slowly on the Trans-Siberian and there is seldom any urgency to do anything. We still had nine hours to chat.

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