The Passengers on the Rossiya – Day 1

Maarten and Brigitte in their compartment

The next day I wake up around 9 am. I’m now 800km and one time zone away from Moscow. By 10am, most of the train carriage is up.

Your ticket on the Trans-Siberian only gets you a bunk – not a whole compartment, and the No. 2 Rossiya is a popular¬† route with few empty bunks. And since it takes seven days to complete its journey to Vladivostok, you’d better accept that you’re going to have to interact with your fellow passengers, even if you don’t speak the same language as them.

Next door, the English I heard earlier turns out to be a Dutch couple, Maarten and Brigitte.¬† The reason they’re speaking English is to communicate with the couple they’re sharing a cabin with,¬† Svetlana and Peter – young Russian newlyweds. Peter is a boxer who doesn’t say much, but while you certainly get the sense you wouldn’t want to cross him, he has a remarkably easygoing demeanor. His English is limited, but his wife speaks English fairly well. I spend a good portion of my first day on the train dropping in to this compartment from time to time.

Meanwhile, in my own compartment, there’s the young family of three, returning from a beach vacation somewhere on the Baltic sea. I learn that Yulia’s husband Aleks works for the railroad, but if Yulia told me what she did for a living, I’ve forgotten it. Yulia, as it turns out, speaks a little English, and she asks me about where I’m from. I take the opportunity to show her some pictures of Chicago I brought with me. My shot of the Bean in the snow is of interest to her: “winter!” she says.

I tell Yulia that I am trying to get to Lake Baikal. She tries to tell me something about it, but she doesn’t know quite the right word. She asks if she can draw it in my notebook. Turns out I’m supposed to look out for aliens – Baikal is apparently mildly famous for UFO sightings.

Unable to communicate the concept of aliens, Yulia had to resort to drawing in my journal. The rest of the scrawl is my own.

But Yulia’s favorite topic is definitely my family – or lack thereof. One of the pictures I show her is of me and my parents at Christmas dinner. She points to one of the empty chairs and tells me “wife.” I shake my head. She is undeterred: “and one, two, three, many children.” I tell her no more than two kids, which is easier than explaining the concept of “I’m not sure I’ll ever have kids,” which is tough to swallow even for most Americans. I ask her how many she plans on having, and she reveals with a smile that she is expecting her second in November. “I am hoping for a boy,” she tells me. After a moment, she points up towards the top bunk where her husband has been watching the absurd WWII drama all day, and corrects herself: “we are hoping for a boy.”

Still, socializing can only take up so much of your day. The rest of the time is passed reading, napping, eating, drinking, and staring out the window at a place I’ve never seen and may never see again. I’ve got my camera with me, as well as a Flip video and and iPod touch for video, and as I switch equipment on the top bunk, the Flip manages to fall through the narrow space between the wall and my mattress, narrowly missing Yulia sitting on the bunk underneath me. As she returns it, she scolds me: “You kill me with this.”


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