July 20. Train stories #2.

The fat singing man in the restaurant waggon. I don’t know if I can describe him, but I want to try. I am looking for some variation on the theme of being on the train, and hence start walking up and down the mighty machine. I reach the last waggon on one end and take a picture of the rails. Near the other end is the restaurant waggon, and the only person in there is the obese widely smiling unshaved man in blue. I approach him and he notices me. He begins to sum up what’s on the menu and before I know I’ve ordered borschscht. I like it, and I try to make friends by saying that I prefer the Ukrainian version which would work on the man since this is a Ukrainian train.
“Half-half” he explains. “Are you traveling alone?”
It’s a question that I’m asked very often in Russia, much more often than in South America. I nod and say something about spontaneous travel. The man interrupts me by waving around with his big hands and humming Mendelssohn’s wedding march. He stands up and embarks on a diverse musical journey.
“Louis Armstrong!” his hands mimic a trumpet, a wonderful world, summertime. He is almost dancing now, between the tables in the restaurant waggon and I look at him with surprise and a sense of joyful complicity. That man, doing that thing between cups of borschscht and unpolished silverwear on the train tables and old wooden crates full of cabbage and onions to be delivered somewhere along the way, he has filled the train with life and, after he gives me “five minutki” more to sit in his restauration waggon, sent back a fulfilled passenger to his bunk bed.

Two young women have entered the train. They wear big sunglasses that give them insect-like appearance. We have a short conversation in which one of the cute women tells me she has just bought twelve pairs of shoes in China and she wants a Dalmatian puppy.

July 20. Train stories #2. was originally published on Meandering home

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July 19. Train stories #1.

I feel comfortable on the train, playing in my head with reminiscences of my earlier Russian trainrides. The platzkart, the hot water tap, the linen, the short conversations in broken Russian, the angry looking young men, the smiling women – it is all the same here in the far east. The train rolls through endless empty green fields on its way to Chabarovsk. It’s a beautiful day. I open the Italian coffee I brought. At the moment I pinch through the vacuum foil with the tip of my scissors and it releases a short sigh, a child in one of the compartments cries. You know I always associated coffee with devil’s piss and believe every myth as long as caffeine intake is secured. I cut a slit into the coffee package, a large life-giving slit, and toss some coffee in a plastic mug I prepared with my knife from a bottle. It’s real coffee of course, not the soluble rabbit dung they sell for convenience. I avoid that whenever possible. I’m talking real coffee, real Italian coffee distributed to the Ukraine, Russia, Moldova and Kazachstan. I pour hot water on it. The train attendant gives me a glass mug, I get upgraded. Back on my seat, the coffee tastes like it should. The child is silent, playing with his mother and uttering only satisfied toddler wawls. A woman is making the puzzles in a newspaper; most people are sleeping when we arrive in Verino.

Movie of the day: transsiberian.
I really watch this movie sitting on the transsiberian train myself. It is great to see the waggons on my computer screen sitting in a real one, and when a murderer appears in the movie, it gets an extra dimension. I liked the acting by Woody Harrelson and Ben Kingsley. The photography of Russia is beautiful and close to reality. The plot has the right level of complexity to make the movie entertaining. Its climax is a bit exaggerated, but not out of control. If you have a sense of nostalgia for trains and road-movies, I guess you’ll like this one.

Why don’t I talk to the pimply girl and do I talk to her more beautiful sister? I confess. And I will make up for it.

July 19. Train stories #1.

I feel comfortable on the train, playing in my head with reminiscences of my earlier Russian trainrides. The platzkart, the hot water tap, the linen, the short conversations in broken Russian, the angry looking young men, the smiling women – it is all the same here in the far east. The train rolls through endless empty green fields on its way to Chabarovsk. It’s a beautiful day. I open the Italian coffee I brought. At the moment I pinch through the vacuum foil with the tip of my scissors and it releases a short sigh, a child in one of the compartments cries. You know I always associated coffee with devil’s piss and believe every myth as long as caffeine intake is secured. I cut a slit into the coffee package, a large life-giving slit, and toss some coffee in a plastic mug I prepared with my knife from a bottle. It’s real coffee of course, not the soluble rabbit dung they sell for convenience. I avoid that whenever possible. I’m talking real coffee, real Italian coffee distributed to the Ukraine, Russia, Moldova and Kazachstan. I pour hot water on it. The train attendant gives me a glass mug, I get upgraded. Back on my seat, the coffee tastes like it should. The child is silent, playing with his mother and uttering only satisfied toddler wawls. A woman is making the puzzles in a newspaper; most people are sleeping when we arrive in Verino.

Movie of the day: transsiberian.
I really watch this movie sitting on the transsiberian train myself. It is great to see the waggons on my computer screen sitting in a real one, and when a murderer appears in the movie, it gets an extra dimension. I liked the acting by Woody Harrelson and Ben Kingsley. The photography of Russia is beautiful and close to reality. The plot has the right level of complexity to make the movie entertaining. Its climax is a bit exaggerated, but not out of control. If you have a sense of nostalgia for trains and road-movies, I guess you’ll like this one.

Why don’t I talk to the pimply girl and do I talk to her more beautiful sister? I confess. And I will make up for it.

July 19. Train stories #1. was originally published on Meandering home

July 18.

Vladivostok. The romantic feeling of being in a faraway place, even though it has been all too easy to get here. Getting off the ferry takes a while, and I sit in the corner brushing up my Russian with a set of notes I took in november, the last time I was in Russia. Passport and visa were checked. The passengers were let off the ferry by means of a metal staircase. Waiting at the immigration. Finally, I was good to go, got some rubles from a machine and asked for downtown Vladivostok. “Well, here.” Everything is here: ferry terminal – train station. The latter is a beautiful building I fall in love with. Don’t forget to take pictures. Have a coffee at the pyramid. Coffee in the second floor was supposed to be better – but the machine was broken. No internet, no contact to my couchsurfer. I watch a movie on my laptop: Siberia and hear an old man telling this through my headphones: the Russian police is very dangerous. An American was detained for 28 days because his name was misspelled on his visa. He had to pay 5000 USD and when he refused they cut off two of his best toes. I have far better experience with the Russian police so far I have to tell you. But to spice this story up, I also have to tell you that my name is misspelled on my visa. The first time the cyrillic transcription looked totally different. So I can have some fun. I heard you can walk with a few toes missing. Fingers is a different thing. Would they cut off fingers, I would probably travel to other countries. Anyway, I can’t wait to get on the transsib and sniff the real experience instead of the televised substitute.

And I don’t have to wait long. I will take the train to Irkutsk tonight, it will go for about 70 hours and I will feel happy when I see the East Siberian landscape, to say it with an alltosmooth travelguide way. At the station I meet Vladimir, who is going to show me around his city. He used to be a psychotherapist but switched to photography. He is headed for Moscow to meet his “master” – not in psychoanalysis but in photography that is. I am sure he can take good pictures without killing his “master”.

Vladimir shows me a beautiful hill from where we have a good view of Vladivostok. We take some photographs. He wonders why I wear just sandals all the way but calls me brave rather than crazy. Then he takes me to a cosy bar with a widescreen television set, it is a so-called movie-bar and on the wide screen run documenaries about popstars and dj’s. They serve expensive wine from Argentina, Cafayate. I feel proud I visited Argentinian wine regions; am I one of those guys now who have been “everywhere” and never miss any opportunity to brag about it? There are a few blond Russian women, but “they are all married”, my new friend says. Anna at the bar, for example, is drinking wine with honey and has a voice that is as sweet as her drink, but Anna at the bar has to leave early. There is a dj who lived in Australia and NYC, excelling in English and making things a lot easier for me. The video screen shows the blue man group, and a feature on dj Franki Wild who is going totally deaf – a very touching documentary. Vladimir leaves to visit his mother, and I hang around some more. A group of friendly students walks me back to the station. I give them my email address as always, though I doubt they’ll remember me if they ever visit Europe. Then I board the train and sleep on the bunkbed I like so much.

July 18.

Vladivostok. The romantic feeling of being in a faraway place, even though it has been all too easy to get here. Getting off the ferry takes a while, and I sit in the corner brushing up my Russian with a set of notes I took in november, the last time I was in Russia. Passport and visa were checked. The passengers were let off the ferry by means of a metal staircase. Waiting at the immigration. Finally, I was good to go, got some rubles from a machine and asked for downtown Vladivostok. “Well, here.” Everything is here: ferry terminal – train station. The latter is a beautiful building I fall in love with. Don’t forget to take pictures. Have a coffee at the pyramid. Coffee in the second floor was supposed to be better – but the machine was broken. No internet, no contact to my couchsurfer. I watch a movie on my laptop: Siberia and hear an old man telling this through my headphones: the Russian police is very dangerous. An American was detained for 28 days because his name was misspelled on his visa. He had to pay 5000 USD and when he refused they cut off two of his best toes. I have far better experience with the Russian police so far I have to tell you. But to spice this story up, I also have to tell you that my name is misspelled on my visa. The first time the cyrillic transcription looked totally different. So I can have some fun. I heard you can walk with a few toes missing. Fingers is a different thing. Would they cut off fingers, I would probably travel to other countries. Anyway, I can’t wait to get on the transsib and sniff the real experience instead of the televised substitute.

And I don’t have to wait long. I will take the train to Irkutsk tonight, it will go for about 70 hours and I will feel happy when I see the East Siberian landscape, to say it with an alltosmooth travelguide way. At the station I meet Vladimir, who is going to show me around his city. He used to be a psychotherapist but switched to photography. He is headed for Moscow to meet his “master” – not in psychoanalysis but in photography that is. I am sure he can take good pictures without killing his “master”.

Vladimir shows me a beautiful hill from where we have a good view of Vladivostok. We take some photographs. He wonders why I wear just sandals all the way but calls me brave rather than crazy. Then he takes me to a cosy bar with a widescreen television set, it is a so-called movie-bar and on the wide screen run documenaries about popstars and dj’s. They serve expensive wine from Argentina, Cafayate. I feel proud I visited Argentinian wine regions; am I one of those guys now who have been “everywhere” and never miss any opportunity to brag about it? There are a few blond Russian women, but “they are all married”, my new friend says. Anna at the bar, for example, is drinking wine with honey and has a voice that is as sweet as her drink, but Anna at the bar has to leave early. There is a dj who lived in Australia and NYC, excelling in English and making things a lot easier for me. The video screen shows the blue man group, and a feature on dj Franki Wild who is going totally deaf – a very touching documentary. Vladimir leaves to visit his mother, and I hang around some more. A group of friendly students walks me back to the station. I give them my email address as always, though I doubt they’ll remember me if they ever visit Europe. Then I board the train and sleep on the bunkbed I like so much.

July 18. was originally published on Meandering home

July 18.

Vladivostok. The romantic feeling of being in a faraway place, even though it has been all too easy to get here. Getting off the ferry takes a while, and I sit in the corner brushing up my Russian with a set of notes I took in november, the last time I was in Russia. Passport and visa were checked. The passengers were let off the ferry by means of a metal staircase. Waiting at the immigration. Finally, I was good to go, got some rubles from a machine and asked for downtown Vladivostok. “Well, here.” Everything is here: ferry terminal – train station. The latter is a beautiful building I fall in love with. Don’t forget to take pictures. Have a coffee at the pyramid. Coffee in the second floor was supposed to be better – but the machine was broken. No internet, no contact to my couchsurfer. I watch a movie on my laptop: Siberia and hear an old man telling this through my headphones: the Russian police is very dangerous. An American was detained for 28 days because his name was misspelled on his visa. He had to pay 5000 USD and when he refused they cut off two of his best toes. I have far better experience with the Russian police so far I have to tell you. But to spice this story up, I also have to tell you that my name is misspelled on my visa. The first time the cyrillic transcription looked totally different. So I can have some fun. I heard you can walk with a few toes missing. Fingers is a different thing. Would they cut off fingers, I would probably travel to other countries. Anyway, I can’t wait to get on the transsib and sniff the real experience instead of the televised substitute.

And I don’t have to wait long. I will take the train to Irkutsk tonight, it will go for about 70 hours and I will feel happy when I see the East Siberian landscape, to say it with an alltosmooth travelguide way. At the station I meet Vladimir, who is going to show me around his city. He used to be a psychotherapist but switched to photography. He is headed for Moscow to meet his “master” – not in psychoanalysis but in photography that is. I am sure he can take good pictures without killing his “master”.

Vladimir shows me a beautiful hill from where we have a good view of Vladivostok. We take some photographs. He wonders why I wear just sandals all the way but calls me brave rather than crazy. Then he takes me to a cosy bar with a widescreen television set, it is a so-called movie-bar and on the wide screen run documenaries about popstars and dj’s. They serve expensive wine from Argentina, Cafayate. I feel proud I visited Argentinian wine regions; am I one of those guys now who have been “everywhere” and never miss any opportunity to brag about it? There are a few blond Russian women, but “they are all married”, my new friend says. Anna at the bar, for example, is drinking wine with honey and has a voice that is as sweet as her drink, but Anna at the bar has to leave early. There is a dj who lived in Australia and NYC, excelling in English and making things a lot easier for me. The video screen shows the blue man group, and a feature on dj Franki Wild who is going totally deaf – a very touching documentary. Vladimir leaves to visit his mother, and I hang around some more. A group of friendly students walks me back to the station. I give them my email address as always, though I doubt they’ll remember me if they ever visit Europe. Then I board the train and sleep on the bunkbed I like so much.