Friday, August 9, 2013

Second Leg: Yekaterinburg to Novosibirsk

Taiga, through a rainy window.
After a considerable amount of searching about, I've finally unearthed an internet cafe in Novosibirsk. My train to Irkutsk doesn't roll out until eleven tonight, so I've got some time to kill. There don't seem to be any other tourists here, and none of the locals I've encountered speak more than basic English. This has given occasion for some pretty amusing pantomime sequences during the past 24 hours. At restaurants, I'll ask for a menu in English, more likely than not in vain. A good deal of chuckling ensues; I helplessly flip back and forth between the Cyrillic menu and the Lonely Planet language index, while the waitresses huddle. Eventually something recognizable is offered, and I reconcile myself to my culinary fate, ruing my failure to get the Rosetta Stone discs like everyone suggested.

Afternoon stop
The second leg of the train journey went more quickly than the first. My cabin mates during the latest stretch on the train included a father and son, the latter of whom was probably about 8 years old and the apple of his father's eye. They spent most of the time playing video games together. In the bunk above mine was a leggy young woman whom I at first assumed was the mother, but due to her total lack of interaction with the other two, I eventually figured out that she was unrelated (confirmed by warm reunion with gentleman friend at the Novosibirsk train station). Her activities were confined to applying makeup and toying with her cellphone. In fact, everyone seemed most interested in keeping to themselves, so it seemed a good idea to follow their example. Despite the squawk of unending disco and pop that was piped into each cabin, I buried myself in a collection of Russian magic tales. My favorite involved a young malachite worker. Until visiting a geology museum in Yekaterinburg, I had forgetten that this stone, one of my favorites, is plentiful in the Urals. In any case, the worker, Danilushko, becomes so obsessed by his craft that he forsakes his wife to carve amongst a shadowy group of masters under the auspices of the "mistress of the mountain". His wife misses him so much that she takes up his old trade, seemingly guided by fate. Eventually, her loyalty moves the mistress of the mountain to allow the husband escape his obsession and return home.

Yum - in earnest, this time.
For most of the journey, we passed through a sort of taiga-savannah landscape. Marshy grasses, with yellow, white, and indigo flowers, surrounded clumps of birch. The name Pasquaney might apply better here than to the shores of Lake Newfound. The train stopped infrequently, and some of the more remote stations that we passed were simply referred to by their distance in kilometers from Moscow. Still, the line in the opposite direction was very busy due to a steady steam of freight trains bringing coal to the heavy manufacturing plants of the Urals. In the afternoon, we stopped at a town called Babinsk, where several babushkas prowled the platform, selling dried fish, fur hats, and various fresh fruits and vegetables. A cup of raspberries cost me 100 rubles.

Wow, that is a long block!
Very inviting.
Small adjustments.
I'm looking forward to moving onto Irkutsk and the companionship of the hostel where I'll be staying. Novosibirsk has little in the way of conventional tourist attractions, though it does have plenty of enormous Soviet apartment blocks that give it a dingier, slightly more austere quality than Moscow or Yekaterinburg - which is why I arranged to stay here in the first place. One does get a sense, from the little details that are just visible on balconies and inside windows, that the interiors are very lovingly looked after. Human will adapt to the most spartan of circumstances. But beyond this whiff of the USSR, there's not much to do. I've now been a while without a real conversation, and I expect I'll run into some other international types on Lake Baikal. Between now and then, however, I have two nights on the train. The first thing to do after boarding is to make your bed with sheets and a mattress provided by the provodnitsa - the lady (they work in shifts of two, actually) who takes care of each carriage, generally ruling with an iron fist but keeping things far cleaner than anything Amtrak offers. At 11:30, it may be difficult to enter a compartment discreetly. I spent some of the morning at a produce stall (they seem to be everywhere, while supermarkets are comparatively scarce) by my hotel, stocking back up on apples, cucumbers, and tomatoes to get me through the next day, along with the supplies I still have from Moscow. These trips are sort of like going on a series of brief camping trips with strangers, only there's no need to worry about the elements.

Produce for sale in Yekaterinburg.
I'll get to Irkutsk in two days and will be staying there and in a town called Listvyanka on the lake for a total of three nights. Tschuss!

No comments: