Back to the train

Back to the train
Yekaterinburg, Russian Federation

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.

People stand in front of a wall mural, showing gates and houses. A meta Beatles silhouette is off to the side
Ciaran and Katya at the Beatles bit.

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.

Large size QWERTY keyboard on a grassy bank by a river. Each key is about a foot square.
Qwerty.
Curve-roofed pagoda by the city pond, with a crowd of students watching other individual students marry themselves
Students marrying themselves.

But if that’s the worst of it, this will do just fine.

Guests of honour

Guests of honour
Yekaterinburg, Russian Federation

Yekaterinburg, Russian Federation

Ciaran and I slept in. Boy oh boy, how we slept in. Dull, you might say, but for the record-awake at 5 with the light, back to sleep and, good grief, it’s 11.30. I still slotted in a run, too many road crossings for it to be vintage, and a stomach ache which made it a little bit of a slog, but in it went. Katya had offered to show us around but as we were about to set out she postponed until the evening so we were free to wander undirected.

The Church of Blood, white with golden decoration
Church of Blood.

From where we stayed, near Geologiskaya metro stop, Vainera street stretched the length of the high street and it seemed natural to follow it. The first street we had to cross to stay on track had had no obvious subway when we crossed it the day before, nor when I ran, though we spotted now. Right in front of us, what on earth we’d done till then I don’t know. The city centre is very manageable, and Russians were out and about in number, enjoying the cafes, the sun and the parks. There are skyscrapers dotted about-Yekaterinburg is in the top 100 cities for number of skyscrapers, apparently.

Raised mural of city founders, grey and shiny in colour
City Founders.

We found the church of blood, on the site of the house where the Romanovs were killed. Ornate, icons all over, and portraits of the sainted Romanovs at one end. No pews, and the altar is hidden behind doors, so the whole thing seems smaller than you’d expect. There’s an exhibition of the Romanovs and, um, some other things-without Russian we couldn’t work out the significance of the few pictures of other dead people. I suspected a ‘victims of terror’ tableau, but that may just be my cynicism. From there we mooched, failing to find the park but finding a spot to sit and read. Both fans of the city by now, after dossing down in the hostel for an hour, we met Katy and Katya back at the same restaurant as the night before. Katya has excellent English (and Italian), with five language diplomas and is a sponge for knowledge, just starting a PhD in linguistics. She guided us to old Yekaterinburg, which still has wooden houses in the centre, surrounded by more modern buildings including the grass fronted Hyatt hotel. I’d seen towns/villages filled with wooden houses from the train, bigger cities move on from there to more modern structures, but that gives the wooden ones great charm to go with their incongruity.

Carved floor covering, each square a different country. France, India, Germany all legible
Distances as far from London as Beijing.

Ciaran is also urbane – he and Katya made quite the couple, I was left to hold only age over them, not wisdom. Ciaran reminds me of Eugene, another who could describe the things he’s done and leaving you scratching your head over how he has fitted it into his years-Azerbaijan, Georgia, speaking French, roots Irish, working in Bosnia, primary school teacher bound for the FCO. I drift quite well, I might insert at this point.

Wooden house fronts in Yekaterinburg
Katy, Anton, Katya.

After our tour we found dinner. Uzbek, I think, since that’s what we’d aimed to find the evening before when, thankfully, we’d actually ended up in some Georgian/Russian fusion type place and met out new friends. Great, much chat about language and culture (covers a multitude of conversation, that one-high to low). We were interrupted by a man who couldn’t look us in the eye and from whom we waited in vain for a point. “I just wanted to say-you are from England?” and he dashed off back upstairs. Laughter followed, and some faces watching us from the mezzanine. He returned in a while, with a friend, who also “wanted to meet the English” and they all said goodbye in a friendly way, before he dashed back in to spill out “England! … Scotland! My favourite whisky-Ballantynes! Ballantynes!”

Statue of Lenin on a raised platform, in a public square
Lenin.

It was to become a theme, not repeated overmuch, but repeated – English!? Here!? Fabulous! We can’t be the first, though perhaps we went to slightly unusual places by virtue of having a guide.

Old wooden house in front of modern apartment blocks
Old and new.

That night we were joined in the dorm by a Russian couple and their daughter. They had been there, and asleep, when we popped back at 7. I’d assumed, seeing the bloke on the top bunk, that these were the two Australians we’d been told were arriving, and they were asleep after a hard day. When we got in and went to sleep, then, I was surprised when I heard cat noises in the middle of the night, and a bit freaked out when I looked over to see the little girl standing up and looking around. Not quite as freaked out as Ciaran, who had the bunk next to them, with a nightlight shining in his face which woke him up, at least once to find small girl staring. Still, we had no snorers and it was a comfortable place to stay in a lovely city.

View over the city. Trees foreground, apartments, a tall tower and modern skyscraper in the distance
View from Omnomnom hostel.

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