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Day Six - Restaurant Rituals
I awoke early today as the sun was shining brightly. Also, we are expected at Tyumen at 08.06 and as you settle into the routine of this train journey, the stations are big markers in the daily routine as they break up the monotonous view of Silver Birch, dachas and villages and the odd freight yard. Indeed, there is so much Silver Birch, Cousin Pete is most fed up! However, as we progress through Siberia, the trees are receeding and are replaced by a more open plain.
Tyumen was a quick stop to top up on supplies and water; every stop, there are railway workers who connect each carriage to hose pipes and fill the toilet tanks with fresh water. It's just like fueling some sort of mythical beast whose thirst must be quenched at each opportunity.
Off we go again and I join Cousin Pete and the large German party in the restaurant for coffee and today, appropriately, large German Sausages.We gradually start to get on with the catering staff, especially as I've started to use the phrase book a bit more and are more adventurous with basic phrases such as ""spa-si-ba" (thank you). Also, we are trying to learn a new Russian word each day, and the large Russian waitress is responding. Anyway, the food is quite tasty even if it is prepared by the chef who must have been descended from a Tartar: his huge belly and handlebar moustache certainly lend credence to our theory. His demeanour appears more akin to tackling Bison than the delicacies of chopping Parsley for our evening garnishes. Parsley is in most meals whatever appears on the menu, but I've yet to taste it in the coffee. - yet.
The waitress is a large lady with blonde hair and kindly eyes. She is smartly dressed in the blue uniform that adorn the train staff. Generally, they are quite relaxed and laid back, except when the Germans appear in force. They are quite a group and I always greet them wityh "guten morgen" or "guten abend" to get them going. This seems to upset the scrict tour guide who keeps a tight rein on his charges - a liitle too strict for our German middle aged schoolteachers, whoi appear to hav etaken something from the British school of resistance and are rebelling the rigid nature of the tours timetable:
Ha! ha! perhaps the Germans don't deserve the reputation we English like to label the Germans with, but then again, when they are in the restaurant, they do hog the resources and the Russians won't deal with us until they are out of the way. Also, the younger Germans seem to hog the toilet resources - today they managed an hour between them! This alarmed the Russian Stewardess so much, they forced the door! As it happened, it was a case of too much vodka!
Whilst waiting for the bathroom, we noticed some track maintenance going on. Large parts of the track are continously welded and only the points make the train sway wildly. The track is extremely well maintained and should be as the railway is the backbone of the country. The freight traffic alone is considerable with the triple headed coal trains having a length of up to half a mile or so. And there are a lot of them.
As we proceed to our next destination, we are now in an area where there are less trees and more swamps and habitation is fewer and further between. However, there is considerable money going into this country most of it quite well spent. And Russia has a lot of natural resources as we have witnessed on the track, endless coal, oil and wood trains flowing West.
Omsk and Borsch
This was a most interesting stop mainly because the Chinese guards invited us to have a look over their train, which we did accompanied by the two younger Germans. The Chinese train was much the same except it smelt of Chop Suey and was painted green. They even had the same samovar as ours. The staff let us take pictures with them, which was a surprise considering the standoff earlier in the journey. The Chinese train seems more crowded and unordered somehow.
We speak for a while with an elderly lady traveller whom, we ascertain, has come all the way from London by train and on her own! She said she was exhausted and lonely, escpecially so in Moscow where she had to wait some eight hours for the train in all that heat! She seemed genuinely pleased to speak to us and I knew exactly how she felt.
We also greeted our Russian Army friends - Mikhail and his girl, his mate who reminded me of Mutley and another girl, presumably Mutley's. They were loaded with beer for the afternoon so I doubtled whether we would see them later!
Earlier, we had enjoined ourselves to the train staff by assisting in rolling up napkins whilst we enjoyed tea. The bossman of the restaurant had sold us a "Poccha" train badge which we proudly told the Germans that we had joined the crew!
At lunch, Cousin Pete submitted to the inevitable and ordered "the Borsch".Yuk. A mixture of beetroot and cabbage (yuk,yuk) with left overs such as chicken stock thrown in as well. It rather looked like something concocted for Dr.Who by the special effects department - something akin to a primodial soup where Daleks come from.
I settled for "kuritza" which is chicken. This reminded me of the scene from 2010 when John Lithgow is crossing to the Discovery and his Russian companion is teaching him how to say the word, as Lithgow is petrified. And who wouldn't be - with raging Io beneath them. My kuritza was good, desite the fact it had been flatened in the freezer and had a rather two-dimensional aspect to it.
It's getting much colder now as the next stop, Novosibirsk, proved as we needed coats and hats. here we are a third of the way through and about half way in our overall journey from Berlin to Vladivostok. Four more days on the train. We've regained the SIlver Birch trees and not lost the freight trains.
We arrive at Novobirisk in rather a state of confusion. You see, all 16 Germans went for dinner at 5:00 PM.Why? Most unlike the Germans to be early. It transpired that we hadn't been keeping up with the timezone shifts. So when the Germans went for dinner it was really 8:00 PM and when we rocked up a hour later the chef was nearly all packed up! We should have been wise to it as it was getting dark a lot earlier. Bit of a clue there as were obstensibly following the same latitude, which we worked out over a dinner of Pork (me) and Kuritza (Pete). Also over dinner we also had quite a chat about working in Britain over the past thirty years and nearly missed our next stop! can't do that!
Once again we ran into Yevegeny who put us right about the time and after this chat we decided that two clocks were required; one for Moscow time for the train and one for local time for the timezones - and the restaurant! Another thing was the fact that today we only had 21 hours in it! Weird! Overnight we shifted another timezone of the 12 that Russia spans. Time for a beer and another blanket whilst we contemplate that.It's still quite cold, so cold in fact that Cousin Pete has to lend me a benny hat to stop me from freezing! And there is no train heating on! Brrh!