Yekaterinburg, Russian Federation
Both Ciaran and I were booked on the 22:17 train, he to Novosibirsk (a day or so) and me to Irkutsk (three nights). Katya having postponed on us yesterday in favour of sorting stuff out at university, was determined to give us a tour today and so met us at Paul’s bakery. The technique for coffee shops here seems to be to serve people very slowly, making coffee with care and attention. The queue moving slowly allowed us to decide which food we would point to; Ciaran’s extra Russian allowed him to order porridge, though not to interpret which options were available nor which he would get. I pointed at a sandwich and struggled with a drink; none of the cold ones were on show. Still, hot water did the trick.
After midday we wandered. After the Beatles’ and Qwerty monuments-incongruities both-we headed for the 53 floor skyscraper from where you get a panoramic view of the city. There’s even a free audio guide, part informational, part puff piece for the city. A road, 6km long! A place newly weds come to leave indulgences and fasten locks to the railings. Great views in the sun, it’s a city with a green belt, and Katya could point out the museums and other major buildings we could see. It’s an industrial city with universities specialising in chemistry and mining. From there we were undecided, but found a park and Ciaran could show, under challenge, his Russian cursive script. We mooched by the waterfront and ducked into a cafe that had ‘the best pies in all Yekaterinburg’ and they were mighty fine. They need a tradition like the pie shop in Reading, though, where the lady narrates a list of available pies at the start, saving you from asking for rabbit-niet-and salmon-niet. We also saw Katya’s favourite theatre, another old wooden building, a theatre of the avant-garde, named for the director, the inside a kaleidoscope of curiosities. We stopped at the globe, but its age, patchy covering and angle defeated our efforts to find much more than Beijing. Their programme, at least for August, provided a different show every night, that night Tutankhamen, £8. I’d be all over it on my own town.
We were running out of time, but hit the supermarket. It was huge, but I’m not sure I would have found it on my own. It was in a centre, open a door, follow a narrow corridor left and right and then you’re in. We were at least now stocked up for the journey, and had another “English! Here!” moment in the queue. So nice to smile at people and have them smile back-it happened rarely if ever in Moscow, and if they say ‘people get friendlier as you head east’ then they have been proven right so far. We said a farewell and went to get out bags. At the station I swapped my coupon for a real ticket, which was easy, and Ciaran showed that if you can ask for a ticket from here to there (Novosibirsk to Irkutsk, in this case) and then have when etc written out on your phone, then you really can just buy a ticket at the station.
At the cafe we found a French girl who was heading east to Japan but by the ferry-no cock ups on the time left on her visa-and some earplugs in a chemist’s. My second class compartment is comfortable, more so than the first train. The first was train no. 110, this no.70, and they apparently are more modern with lower numbers. I thought that mostly applied to very low numbers, with 001-4, or something, being the best. This one may just be a luckily more modern one, or it is going further than my first-beyond Irkutsk, certainly, so three days or so-and so is better quality. I was let down by my body again, tired through the day then too excited to sleep once on the train. With two full days to pass, though, it hardly matters if I snooze in the day, and I slept pretty well once I’d accustomed myself to the rocking and rolling. I was drifting into sleep and remembering our lift home in Alex’s shiny Opel, brain combining that with Ciaran’s ‘another example of Russians burning rubber through the city’ when the train lurched into movement from a stop, which brain turned into dream car coming to a sudden stop which came as a huge shock.
But if that’s the worst of it, this will do just fine.