With a trip to the banya, a bottle of champagne, and a bucketfull of hyperbolic predictions of the future behind us, we over-enthusiastically and not without great spectacle boarded the train. Our train.
We woke up to wet pillows and curtains and belongings frozen to the glass. The combination of cold-outside and jungle-inside produced quite the palpable effect on our fabric possessions. The view was always surreal – either foggy, iced-over, or blurry. Us on the inside, distant, frozen fantasy outside.
There was a sharp contrast with the very real inside. Platzcart – the cheapest of the cheap and the best of the best, as far as we were concerned. See previous post on smells for better understanding of this pungently real interior. Sticky-hot inside the carriages, and…
…and popsicle-frozen between them. That first shot is of the gap, both on the left and right sides, between the carriages. Great for ensnaring ankles of unworthy foreigners.
Irkutsk 2012! Someone’s on the same page as us!
On planes, everyone silently wonders where the toilet contents go and inevitably chuckles about the ridiculous thought of them simply being dumped out. Weeeell… their unspoken dreams have come true these Russian train. Press the pedal, fertilize the train tracks. Win win.
Sometimes we went to the restaurant wagon for a beer and a distraction.
Clearly, there was a get-two-distractions-for-the-price-of-one deal going on in the “Radical Hair Designs” department.
Home, sweet home, though, and we were always happy to return to our seats to our fun Uzbek boys. Between round after round of participatory team checkers, bouts of hilarious Uzbek language “practice”, and grandiose heights of miscommunication, we always had a good time.
Our train snaked and wormed and caterpillered and fluttered towards its various destinations.
For two hours or so, we drove past Baikal. For those two hours, Randi and I reached around all the folks with good window views. We should have made it into a lesson on prepositions: we reached up, under, over, between, through, onto, on top of, against, behind, between, beyond… Under platzkart conditions, the concept of personal space had to be left outside when you boarded.
We arrived to Irkutsk at night and went out dancing. We were psyched to get some movement in. In fact, downright ecstatic. The next day was spent wandering around the city. Since we only had til 4pm, we couldn’t swing a trip to see Baikal in person – a 2 hour-ride both ways just wasn’t feasable. We promised each other and ourselves to return and do a proper job of sightseeing. Lots of architecture – traditional, old Russian, so fairy-tale lovely (taking pictures of this style earned us a hefty scolding by Russian Business Man. Why are you taking pictures of our old stuff? Take pictures of the new stuff! We futilely tried to explain that we legitimately liked the older colors, the shapes and carvings, and in other buildings, the intricate designs. In the end, though, as could have been predicted, neither of us changed either of our minds, and we parted dissatisfied. Alas.
There was a lot of classical architecture, too, which instantly evoked Petersburg. Our provincial hearts beat with excitement.
And, of course, the obligatory Lenin.
And some architecture that combines the best of the old world and the new: Lenin and Starbucks. Great accessory to tie all those mismatching architecture patterns together.
The walk back to our hostel, while beautiful, was tinged with disappointment. We wanted very much to stay longer, get to know the city more personally, maybe take it out for a drink sometime. Our restless souls called onward (translation: we couldn’t afford to buy new tickets) and we had no choice but to leave, but the goodbye was bittersweet!
It made it easier, though, that the sunset was dazzling.