Saturday, July 12, 2008

Trans Siberian Railroad

So I am, in all seriousness, in Siberia. In the town of Irkutsk, which my fellow nerds in the audience will remember from ditching class to play Risk in high school. (Unrelated side note, to this day I am always red when I play board games because I always wanted to be the Red Army conquering the world in Risk. This related directly to my teenage pinko politics. Parents, never let your daughters read George Bernard Shaw's "The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism" in middle school.)

Anyway, at 3 am this morning, I got off a 5152 kilometer train ride (just over 3200 miles) from Moscow. How long does that take you may ask?

About 5 days. Living on bunk beds in a tiny little moving box with three other adults and a three year old.

The family that shared our compartment had the questionable wisdom of taking their "energetic" little boy, somewhat ironically named Serafim, on train, to go survival camping in the middle of the Siberian wilderness. Admittedly I am being a little judgmental in my next assertion, but I am guessing this was Dad's idea. I say this not because I understood any of their conversation (I haven't picked up a single word of Russian beyond Geoff Klock's famous "komputerlab"), but because Mom had on hotpants and her hair remained effortlessly and perfectly coifed the entire trip, and Dad looked like a shaved blond grizzly bear. Or that guy from Rocky 4. He was one of those been-in-the-Army-since-the-Army-was-Red kind of guys (literally). Camouflage. Incredibly intricate government-issue gear. Spent the entire trip reading a textbook about how, if one finds oneself in the middle of the Siberian wilderness with only a pen knife and extra pair of socks, to use said items to carve a tree into your perfect dream cabin, and an escape raft, a hangglider... You get the idea.

Despite the fact the the man's sheer bulk worried me a bit, he seemed to be a nice enough guy. Never bit me. Handy at opening things. Plus when the riff-raff wandered by (there wasn't much for guys to do one this train but drink enough vodka to point they thought it was a good idea to see if the American girls were interested in sleeping with them), Red was amazingly effective encouraging them to go ahead and fuck on off back to car 6. All and all, not a bad guy to have around.

The family was also wise enough to bring enough rations to feed the Red Army, though not quite the little boy, who consumed, on a daily basis, more calories than his father. I once saw him polish off an entire can of liver pate with mushrooms in a single sitting. He would sit at the little table, bang his survival spoon and scream "MORE FOOD! MORE FOOD!" until his mother found something for him to eat. I don't even want to get started on the riot that we set off by eating ice cream before dinner in front of him. Which brings us to our diet. Our "rations" were six packets of Raman noodles and a box of granola bars. So we were a little bit at the mercy what we could buy through the train windows during our infrequent stops. Like ice cream. Meat on metal skewers. Cheese blintzes. Strawberries. And lots and lots of deep fried cabbage and dough.

But we didn't starve and eventually arrived in Irkutsk, the Paris of Siberia. That is somewhat of a generous statement, but I am willing to buy it considering that we had already passed through the Las Vegas of Siberia, the Viennia of Siberia, the Milwuakee of Siberia, and the Flint, Michigan of Siberia. Okay, I made the last one up, but it makes sense if you see it.

And the train wasn't as bad as I am making it out to be. It was actually quite relaxing. I read a couple books, including a 700 page poorly written biography of Rasputin (subtitled "The Last Word"). Slept 12 hours a days. Ate fried dough and ice cream. Watched the Volga, the Urals, and endless endless Siberia drift by out the windows. Not bad for a vacation.


Anonymous said...

awww, you know we learned more skipping school and playing risk at the diner than if we hadnt- Would have never mentioned it cus you thrashed me good & proper- reading that made my day. have fun out there...and any time you want a rematch...

Vertigo said...

One of my dreams is to do the trans-Siberian Railway so, I really enjoyed your post and blog as well. :)