So, back to our traveling homes. In Irkutsk, we felt like snails that had the pleasure of being slugs for a day: carefree and unburdened. Boarding the train for a second time, we had our reservations, but we were still thrilled to see what the new conditions (read: neighbors) would be this time.
This leg of the journey was significantly less eventful, but we made major progress on our knitting, significantly upped our tolerance for boiling hot tea, and mastered the art of surreptitiously putting on/taking off pants on the top bunk (lying flat).
We continued to pass fairy-tale-cozy villages. Our neighbor asked why we were taking pictures: “Why? Haven’t you ever seen these before?” Just as we had to justify our liking of old Russian architecture in Irkutsk, we had to do the same here. “It’s just idyllic. It’s hard not to idealize a self-sustainable lifestyle like that, where at the end of the day, you can rest and enjoy the fruits of your own labor.” I was happy that she explained a lot of the hardships of living in the middle of nowhere, in a thumbprint-sized village, because my fantasizing-idealizing was spiraling into a hyperbolic daydream of Tolstoy’s blissfully happy peasants with Disney-optimistic endings.
Another train-induced accomplishment was our growing expertise with horrible puns. Not that that has anything to do with this lovely photo of Randi and her always-applicable Master and Margarita shirt.
Our wise and faithful guard-dog of a train conductor, protecting our carriage (wagon?) with her heart and soul, and, when necessary, smashing the dangling ice chunks off the bottom as if she were playing a high-stakes game of Whack-a-Mole.
We arrived at a very pleasant hostel in Novosibirsk and headed for the hills – i.e. restroom – immediately. Apparently, this toilet was a hit.
ICE PARK! Tons and tons of large and extravagant and extraordinary and extroverted and extrabig ice sculptures. There were sculptures of Peter the Great, ice dachas where you could sit and chill (har har) in, and SLIDES.
Aaaaand then back on the train, folks! Ha, this final leg was significantly less comfortable, which made it significantly more outrageous. The culprit: we both had top bunks, and our bottom-bunk buddies were… far from buddies. Our first ones were actually sweet and pleasant, but they were traveling with a very young baby, whose charms got old fast, especially at night. Here’s Randianne, reaching for the marshmallows to plug our ears up. Just kidding, we just ate the marshmallows in our hot-chocolate. Anyway, the beds you see are the top bunks; the floor is miles (kilometers) beneath our practically gravity-impermeable Randiannstronaut.
The second set of neighbors wined just about as much as the baby did. We were sitting down when they boarded, and one immediately bellowed, SHUSH, YOU FOOLS ARE BEING TOO LOUD. YOUR BLABBERING IS GIVING ME A HEADACHE! We were banished to the lie-flat zone of our upper bunks. We got a little carried away with our reactions to the slobbering wolverines in the pit below us, and as a result did everything in our power to garner sympathy from those around us. We recited in our most pompous voices all the Russian poetry we had to memorize for class, listed off all the proverbs we knew, listed off famous Russian достопримечательности (sightseeing places) (racking up Russian Soul Points with unheard-of speed), and then asked our conductor, who had taken a liking to us, if the bottom space was common space or if we had to stay up here (hoping to get authority on our side. Didn’t work though, unfortunately). Then we resorted to impudence. Really, though, we were just being more impish than impudent. We spoke in incomprehensible English followed by loud, conniving laughter, drank beer and ate dill-and-pickle flavored chips in bed (not at all lady-like behavior), and demonstrated our terrible discomfort by sitting in contorted positions.
Eventually, we gave up and just went to the restaurant car, which was an entirely satisfying decision until drunkards started bothering us. In the first two legs of the journey, drunkards were always funny, saying absurd things and giving us lots to laugh about/at. At this point, though, we’d had our fill, and these guys were just rude and relentless. It was a hard choice to make, being harassed by them in the restaurant or being cramped in our bunks. We lost our patience and went back to our bunks (and had a funny interaction on the way back. A guy who had been at the restaurant tells us, in defense of his motherland, They’re not Russian. I’m Russian. Then he leaves! Ha, concise and memorable!)
On the last day, this is all that was happening.
Ok, so the last two were on a metro in Moscow, but still.
There was a lot of this:
and by the end of the trip, we felt like this:
But, 3 scarves, 20 new Uzbek words, 589282394732987439847 bags of tea, and an uncountable number of bad puns later, we arrived in Moscow. We saw the huge variety of landscapes Russia had to offer, passed through sprawling cities and shrinking villages, chatted with circus men, a meteorologist, babushkas, athletes (“sportsmens”), truck drivers, train workers (a good job, a very comfortable salary, they said!), a young mother, soldiers, and of course, our Uzbek shift workers / team chess masters. We saw great Lenin sculptures as well as an equally-talked-about bear sculpture at the train station. Our bodies now tolerate any temperature from -30 to +30 C without having to change clothes and we did not, as we thought we would, die of muscular dystrophy.