The second leg of the train ride: Yekaterinburg -> Irkutsk

Getting into the train we stocked up on snacks and supplies as we were about to endure / enjoy a 54h trainride from Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk. This time crossing a large chunk of Siberia.

Eager to see who we were going to share our 4 bed compartment with I rushed into the train to see a 13 year old daughter, Katja, and her mother, Olga, sitting very nicely, having cleaned up the one bottom bunk for us. We had the two top bunks but could use the one bottom bunk for sitting during the day. In the beginning I had hoped for the bottom bunk for easy in out access but as time passed I realised that top bunk was better as it gave much more flexibility as to when you could go to sleep. Just climb up anytime a day and take a nap. With the bottom bunk you would have to kick whoever was sitting there away first.

At the first station we got out to see who was around and we quickly spotted a non russian looking group of guys standing around – and quite as suspected they weren’t. They were german. Stefan, Matti and Michael

As we didnt speak russian we attracted alot of attention when we spoke – mostly positive, in fact without being too sure, i think it was only positive. Two russian kids (Pasha and Ilya) also said “good day” (in english, mind you) to us and we politely said “dobry den” (good day) back to them. The germans had a different experience. They said that people didnt seem to like them when they said they were german… so during the trainride with us they decided that they would henceforth be known as dutch people as they get a much better response. Apparently the russians still dont really like germans.

So the scene was set for some all out good russian/german times. In my secret mind I had hoped a little bit for a crazy russian guy that drinks too much to share a bottle of vodka with and all that but as it turns out – having a quiet roommate is very nice – then you can go to the restaurant van for partying. The 3 germans were not so lucky – they had a drunk russian in their room. He did nothing but sleep eat and drink – he didnt shower and smelled like a combination of horse poop and sweat. It was bad.

The first night though we played alot of cards with the 3 germans and 2 guys from uzbekistan and drank beer and vodka and all was good. The uzbekistanis (!?) tought us a game of Durag (means fool) that apparently everybody plays. Kinda like everybody in denmark plays “røvhul”. We did this in the germans kupe although apparently you are not allowed to. The door was open and we did this for 6 hours wihtout anyone minding so how could we know it wasnt ok!? 🙂 This was just another case of russian: “it is illegal…….. but ok!” Also, the russian was up in his bed sleeping the whole time while we had this party. He only woke up once to say “VODA!” (which means water) which we quickly gave him and then he kept on sleeping. As it turns out – he was a frequent visitor of the restaurant van.

The loser of durag had to wear the fools hat (the bathing had from our banya visit in moscow) and here Nikolaj is wearing it while the german Matti looks angry (russian people always look angry in pictures):

Matti looking angry and Nikolaj wearing the durag hat
Matti looking angry and Nikolaj wearing the durag hat

The second day after we got up we talked a little to the germans and played some uno with our roommates. The little girl spoke good german so i could explain her the rules of uno without too much hassle. It was great. Later in the day we went to the restaurant van as we figured it wasnt a good idea to drink in either the germans or our room this time (by the way i say room – it really is a “kupe” but who cares :))

We met a bunch of russians meeting our prejudices about russians. 3 rowdy looking types were sitting at two tables while a fourth was sleeping at the table. They each had a bottle of vodka and a shotglas -and of course food – because as you might remember: If you drink in russia without food then you are just an alcoholic. One might argue that 3 people with a bottle of vodka EACH are getting there… but “when in Rome…”. So we ordered a bottle of vodka – this time for 1400 rubles, on the last train it was 700 rubles but apparently they were all out of those (the menu said 700 but “niet”). One of the russians put in a few hundred rubles and joined us in our quest for killing all the vodka in the world.

He was very unhappy that we didnt order food so we did and then we started drinking. The guy that was sleeping woke up and joined us. All was good. The bottle was quickly gone. One of the guys stuck with us and we stuck with him although we were warned that he was “russiya mafia”. He told us he was Ukrainian. He also told us (by mimicking) that he had been to jail for 10 years, showed us some scars and some full body tattoos. We snapped some pictures and here are two of them:

Crazy Ukrainian mobster
Crazy Ukrainian mobster
Looking angry as thats how you do it
Looking angry as thats how you do it

After we got back in the restaurant van though he started being very aggresive in wanting to buy our stuff. He pointed at our watches and sunglasses and wanted to buy them for money and for his own sunglasses but we refused a couple of times. He also really wanted to play durag for money and we said niet niet niet. In the end it got a little too much and we pretended to go back to sleep. The waitress had to help us in the end and told him to let us go – which we then did. We never saw him again. But from then on out two police were sitting in the restaurant van all the time – maybe that’s why he stayed away.

We could definately feel a transition of people since we entered siberia – it was all a little more rugged.

When the van closed we bought 4 beers “to go” although you cant legally drink them anywhere and went to one of those hallways between the train carriages and started drinking. The conductor came out and saw us drink but as we had caught her smoke (which is also not ok) she didnt really mind. We had a common understanding that things were okay 🙂 Two russians came out and we talked to them – one of them was a policeman and he was very proud that he had not smoked for 9 years.

After that we went to bed and slept like babies. Especially me. I had gotten used to the train life that I just keep on sleeping. I had fallen into a trance where all you do is sleep – maybe 12 hours everyday. It was great and very relaxing except for the fact that I was always tired! Everytime there was a little break in stuff to do I took a little break in the top bunk (remember how i mentioned how that gives you flexibility).

Well, when I woke up the third day it was also our last and the two russian boys, ilya and pasha joined us for uno which they seemed to enjoy very much. I learned the colours of Uno: red, blue, green, red in russian and they learned them in english. We also played with Katja, while Olga (the mother) was watching.

Here they are:

From the left: Pasha, Ilya, Katja, Olga
From the left: Pasha, Ilya, Katja, Olga

Safely arriving to Irkutsk we said goodbye to a surprinsingly large number of russians that seemed to know us: The roommates, the nextdoor neighbours, a random guy that knew us, the two russian kids, their father, their mother, the germans, the conductor, the uzbekistans next door, the policeman from the hallway, his brother, two fishermen from the restaurant van and a few others. We felt kinda included and I was actually a little sad to be leaving “already” 🙂

We found our way to our hostel in about 10 mins – we do russian trams like pros now – and got in:

The outside of the hostel... not very easy to find :)
The outside of the hostel… not very easy to find 🙂

Inside, our next door host Olga (as the hostel was booked we stayed at a homestay next door) came to pick us up and after some quick food we went to bed.

The cat of intense staring!
The cat of intense staring!

Today (the morning the next day) we will go see Irkutsk and maybe take a day trip to listvyanka. Tomorrow we’ll meet up for a full day tour to lake baikal with one of the germans we met in moscow (hopefully if all works out) but I’m getting ahead of myself – we’ll get to that!

For now: Toodles and have fun everybody!

Banya in Yekaterinburg

Conceiving the idea

This is a short post about a banya that we went to in yekaterinburg. For those of you not fully grasping the russian language – it is a bathroom.

They take many shapes and forms but according to our hosts in yekaterinburg, the one we tried in moscow (with a shared room etc) is only something you find in big cities. A real banya is different. To prove this, the hostess, Kate, found us a banya outside the city which was a “real” banya and she even convinvced one of the other people (a russian called Dim), to take us there and show us how it was done. Both because we have no idea how things work there and also because it was a little hard to get there apparently. In either case, how nice of her!! The hostel was omnomnom hostel in yekaterinburg. Props to that place.

Getting to the Banya

Well as it indeed was hard to get there we opted for the taxi as it was apparently only 200 rub (30DKK – 4 EUR) if you are with a local and you dont mind riding in the back of an unnamed, anonymous, old lada with a psychopath behind the wheel… luckily we dont

We got in the cab but after like 10 mins we had to stop because apparently the drivers wife was about to give birth and as such – the taxi driver had to leave… like now. We got out and waited for another cab (praising us lucky to have a local with us who could explain this and get a new cab)

The rest of the trip in the cab went fine except for the fact that nobody knew where it was and we drove around for a little while speaking russian but we finally got it. again GOOD thing we had a local to help with all that.

Finally there

Inside we opted for the only room available – which was actually a two story appartment with an adjacent sauna, “cool off room”, and wc. It also included a pool table a bed, a couch, tv, dvd, music, and free roomservice. Well. Nice 🙂

From there on out we just had a good two hours. Apparently what you do is heat up the sauna, order food and beer (and women apparently was very common and only like 1000 rub – we didnt do it though) and wait. When the sauna is warm one person goes on his stomach and is repeatedly beat with a warm leaf stick thingie that burns like a thousand suns and you are sprayed with 80 degrees water and after this hell is over you jump into a cold pool of water (20 degrees is cold) and go out and relax with beer and food. I know it sounds bad but it really isnt. Afterwards you are extremely relaxed and feel great – definately worth the time (and money – including the cab rides it was about 3000 rub = 450dkk for all three of us).

We heard some russian music, dim showed us pictures and told us about himself, we ate and had a good 2 hours. Afterwards we took a cab home, saw some cool mirror / fear theme parks and went for a beer. Dim invited us to his home region if we wanted and also, he said him and his mother might be coming to copehagen next summer… by car! interesting. Looking forward to that so much.

 

Chilling in the Banya with Dim:)
Chilling in the Banya with Dim:)
Outside the banya, relaxed and smiling
Outside the banya, relaxed and smiling

 

Dim the crazy russian about to jump into the "cold-tub"
Dim the crazy russian about to jump into the “cold-tub”
The "cold-tub"
The “cold-tub”

Russian cities and trains

Well, where to begin! The last time i wrote was 4 days ago and as you might know by now. We don’t sit still!

The day in Moscow (25th july) went fast – we saw alot of monuments, took a free walking tour, ate some russian food, met some other tourists and even decided to meet up with one of them in Irkutsk as he (a german) also arrived when we did.

two of the nice people we met. Philip and Anke. There was also a german called mirko
two of the nice people we met. Philip and Anke. There was also a nice german called mirko

There is one thing i would like to mention from Moscow though – we visited the oldest banya (bath house) in Moscow and it was great!

From the outside it looks like a restaurant and it even says pectorah (restaurant) on the outside… which is kinda true. You then go in and people in towels are walking around. We were met by an english speaking russian who told us about the classes of the bath from highest to lowest and we opted for middle (1800 rubles each). When we got in, I for one was quite surprised. It actuallyt was a restaurant! We got a seat each and we were assigned a waiter. Everybody could order food and drinks and all kinds of massages and leaf treatments and whatnot. All while sitting naked in your towel. You then interrupt your food to go in the sauna to warm up and then go straight into some colder pools (20c) to cool down. Go back to the restaurant part, eat, drink, repeat.

We spent an hour there as we were in a hurry and quickly decided to try this again! Inside I believe that russian mob gangsters and rich businessmen were doing business. There were private cabins and lots of servers – even on second class. Finally we also bought a hat.. mostly as a souvenir but everyone wore one inside.

casual sightseeing
casual sightseeing
casual sightseeing
casual sightseeing

At 00:35 we boarded train 100 to Vladivostock!

in front of the sign saying "moscow staying" displaying train 100 going across the country
in front of the sign saying “moscow station” displaying train 100 going across the country to vladivostock

We were riding third class. which meant 60 people crammed in small space. We knew nothing and noone spoke English. It was great! There is loads to speak of here, even though nothing really happened. Except for the evening where we met some crazy russians that gave us food and vodka in full excess. Read more about this  on my travel companions travel diary:

http://www.mobilytrip.com/journals/92xzPJ8yK9FBhKEvjpVqpGSs9

Let me instead just show you some pictures we snapped:

russians, food and vodka
russians, food and vodka
me and the restaurant staff
me and the restaurant staff
at one of the "stations" with everybody outside and babushkas selling stuff
at one of the “stations” with everybody outside and babushkas selling stuff
train living
train living

 

the toilet
the toilet
the samovar. always containing hot water
the samovar. always containing hot water

 

view from the train
view from the train
more crazy russians. this guy on the right was in the army fighting in ukraine. I borrowed his hat
more crazy russians. this guy on the right was in the army fighting in ukraine. I borrowed his hat
sign at the station in moscow (it says 100 - vladivostock)
sign at the station in moscow (it says 100 – vladivostock)
the train in moscow
the train in moscow

Well there you have it. A picture explains more than a thousand words! 🙂

We met some russians on the train. They were all going from moscow (where they live) on the trans-siberian railroad to several russian cities and the first of them being yekaterinburg. At the same time as us 🙂

First arriving in Yekaterinburg it was a very weird feeling. Dear reader i don’t know if you’ve tried to be in a city where you understand nothing and know nothing and noone speaks your language. It’s a strange yet somehow appealing feeling. You find yourself out of your comfort zone and you succumb to basic communication. Pointing and general miming. We read from our guide book that the station is about 2km from the city centre and also that a hostel named Omnomnom was  a good place to go. We also had a map of the city centre.

We went to a tram/bus station and quickly discovered that a map or a plan of the public transportation was nowhere to be found – let alone in english and decided to go with plan b. Find a nice looking babushka and point at the map saying your best russian “lenina” (for lenina street). Luckily she understood us and helped us get on the right tram. Things went smooth from there and with the help of our map and a couple of friendly strangers we found our hostel AND it wasnt booked! Although well hidden in a residential complex. We then dropped our bags and started wandering the city.

A side note is that they where 3 women working on the tram: 1 to drive, 1 to speak in the loudspeaker system and 1 to sell you tickets… and the tickets were about half a euro a pop. I can’t believe they get paid very well with such cheap tickets and 3 people working just one tram but thats another story.

With us wandering the city of yekaterinburg (more detailed descriptions in my travel companions before  mentioned travel log) we noticed a few things. For example: they have starCUPS not bucks – although the logos look similar

stracups?
stracups?

And had some coffee at a great place called travellers coffee

funny sign
funny sign

We saw some race thing that was going on in town that day:

race show in yekaterinburg
race show in yekaterinburg

We also tried to go to something called “the amazing maze” but never managed to do so and generally looked at signs all day trying to read russian.

This all took maybe half the day (until 6 pm).

At 6pm we ran into the russians i talked about earlier that we met on the train. Two sisters and their boyfriends 🙂 They were going to see some “tent rocks” in a forrest somewhere and we decided to join. When we got there the rocks were nice and we snapped some pictures (well I didn’t as my phone was dead). We then continued deeper into the forrest by a huge lake where alot of partying were going on since it was offical navy celebration day. After that we went to a bar called Ben Halls pub which had live music and loots of pretty people – especially the girls:) All in all a very plesant evening with the russians. We enjoyed their company very much and hope it didn’t feel like we leeched in on their party 🙂

The next day i slept for like 10 hours and at the time of this writing we dont know what to do for the rest of the day – but a good bet is to go with one of the other russians staying here to another banya (bathroom) outside town. This time with local help to tell us what you’re supposed to do 🙂

4 days crammed into one post. I could easily spend 4 times as much. For example I haven’t told you about the soviet demonstration that met us in yekateringburg or the hostel and the people living there who apparently likes to sing 🙂

Tomorrow morning begins the longest leg of our journey. 54 hours on the train from Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk.