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The Accidental Round the World Trip


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#61 v v

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 10:06 PM

Day 11 - Thursday 9 March across Siberia   ~   Train Day 5 ......   continued

 

Ulan-Ude really feels like a major halt for the Trans Siberian, no longer than a few other cities but just has a feel about it. This is helped by the amount of people leaving the train, newcomers boarding and the amount just milling around.

I saw a photo opportunity here but couldn't get a view along the platform, lucky there was a convenient gantry near to the car door. Climbed this a little and have the photo below. A shouted rebuke from our Prov which eventually turned into a small smile but more seriously the Colonel walked over and admonished me sternly in German, I punched him playfully in the arm but he only scowled.

 

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Here are platform photos of Ulan-Ude, the most curious surely is the shapely young lady who decided to exercise for 15 minutes on the platform with her special Hula Hoop. Most of the men were fascinated and for some reason there was always a railway official standing close to her at all times, no idea why. By the way, she came from the forbidden rear carriage.

My purpose was to get to the rear end of the train to photo the green train with the red star at the front, but had to walk to the end of the platform and beyond it. There was some commotion over the station loudspeaker but don't think it was for me?

Last photo is the travel worn author standing beside our car, it has the entire route map of the Trans Siberian Express across the carriage side.

 

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Helena our Prov with her helper, they were inseparable for 3 or 4 days. The helper had the important job of carrying the conductor's flags

 

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We're all called back to the train, much movement inside our car as people stow luggage and find their spot. We find Ruth sitting alone in the car, Artur has gone. He had said goodbye to Ruth but none of us had expected he was leaving, such is train life here in Russia. So we three have more space again, but wonder if there will be any further new room mates with just under 2 days to go?

 

Out of the window the snow has almost gone yet just a week before it had been the coldest area on the entire Trans Sib route, suppose this is extreme continental climate in action.

 

Made an arrangement with Helena to use an empty compartment this evening so I could write and read into the night after the car settles down. Rosie and Ruth are early risers and I am not, it's not fair on them if I keep my bunk light on. So Helena has helped by letting me use an empty compartment she has prepared for upcoming passengers, she has been so good to all of us in the car.

 

Our next major stop is Chita, we hear there's a large military base there where the Colonel and Majors will leave us at around 01:00 tomorrow morning. It has been good having them on the train as there was always a smile even though they mainly kept themselves to themselves. Rosie and I had brought a 3 Litre wine box from France, it is a strong Syrah from the Rhone valley, a nice Chateauneuf du Pape. We decided to give this to these officers as they obviously enjoyed being sociable within their obvious constraints, so late afternoon it was presented to them. They asked if we would drink it with them but declined, told them it was a British tradition not to drink any wine given as a gift. An hour or so later Rosie pops along to offer a little dark chocolate to go with the wine, but they roar with laughter shaking the empty wine box.

 

That evening get off at Khilok for a few minutes, there is nothing to see and the air is very very cold. Laugh some more with the Military and wish them well, they leave the train in a few hours at Chita. Before we re-enter the train I try to ask for the Russian word for the number one, fast as you like they say  "Putin"  at which we all roar with laughter.

 

Rosie and Ruth decide to sleep, I move notebook, book and reading glasses down to the next compartment but one, we are all happy. The book is Philip Roth's ' The Plot Against America '. Never read anything by Mr Roth before but am enamoured by his writing style, and completely taken aback as to how some aspects described in the early sections of this book - written about 15 years previously - appear to be a handbook for the Trump campaign, huge co-incidence. After reading further it comes across as a love story between a close knit family with all the highs and lows many families experience.

 

Settle down for a quiet evening, then Helena pops her head in to ask if I'm ok. Now a whole compartment to myself, this is another new aspect of train life for me.


Edited by v v, 19 March 2017 - 04:18 AM.


#62 caravanman

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Posted 19 March 2017 - 06:15 AM

Enjoying each posting immensly! Re your novel, Lindberg was thought to have had a hand in his own son's dissapearance, wonder if Trump has any dark secrets... ;)

 

Ed.



#63 v v

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Posted 19 March 2017 - 07:12 AM

Day 12 - Friday 10 March into East Russia   ~   Train Day 6

 

​It's 00:55 Thursday morning, we are pulling into Chita, quite a few military get off, others get on. As usual I sit with the compartment door open and hear people moving down the corridor. First the Colonel passes with a big smile and says auf Wiedersehen, next up is the athlete Major, he comes in the compartment drops his kit bags and hugs me, wow. Then he does it again and speaks only in Russian, then the third time and there are tears running down his face, I can only say "next time" but don't know why. Picks his bags up and goes, then comes back for one last hug! Last, the smiling Major comes in but only 2 sets of hugs, he too has tears in his eyes. He says we can be friends after (I assume when he leaves the military. No.4 Major is gone, but he has left his passion for the wild parts of Siberia with me.

These Russians are very proud to be Russian, but are very human too.

 

Read more of Mr Roth and go to bed, but on the way to our compartment can see another batch of mid 30's military have taken the previous officers compartment, oh dear what next.  

 

Ruth tells us it was - 14 oC last night, we sit in the compartment in T shirts and lightweight clothes so would never know. Outside the terrain is scrubby, looks difficult for anything to grow here. It's no surprise that permafrost covers this area and only the toughest plants can grow.

Frozen rivers are used as roads, we've never seen that before but it's starting to look commonplace. Tracks on the snow covered rivers are from all types of vehicles and footprints too.

There are large log piles beside homes that are occupied, a lot more pine and conifer here than before but would like to know what they prefer to burn. The snow has disappeared on the southern slopes but it's very cold indeed.

 

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We decide to go get a late breakfast from the dining car (we'll I did and Rosie come along for company) but the breakfast menu is now finished. Did ask for my version of an American breakfast and got sort of close to what I want. Made the mistake of not specifying how the eggs were to be cooked, big mistake. But as I was paying was determined to eat them...
Across the aisle were a couple of 20 something young Russian men drinking beer, very open and friendly. A little English, a tiny amount of Russian and we learn they are Maxim and Dimitri who live and work in Chita. Maxim has his own florist business, and Dimitri with the beard is a civil engineer working for a large company. They don't meet many (any?) foreigners in Chita and are very curious about us, and full of fun (or is that the beer?). They offer to buy us drinks but it's only 11:00am and as both are not beer drinkers it's too much for us, but we said maybe later.

 

Maxim and Dimitri

 

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They are off on a mission to buy a car in Vladivostok, 3000 kms from their home in Chita. They will buy a used car there and drive it back to Chita in 2 days, one sleeps, the other drives. I offer my services as a 3rd driver as it sounds like an adventure, unexpectantly they say it's a good idea. They start to make plans on how I can catch Rosie and Ruth up in Taiwan, they think I'll be useful and it would be fun.

Reluctantly I have to tell them that it's not possible and I didn't expect them to say yes, but in another time I would help them at the drop of a hat. We make an exit, not sure who is most disappointed, them or me.


Edited by v v, 21 March 2017 - 10:00 AM.


#64 v v

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Posted 19 March 2017 - 11:54 AM

Very enjoyable read, and excellent photos too. I like the night shots and the interesting perspectives, you have a great eye! I guess you have a pretty decent camera?

 

Looking forward to the next instalment,

 

Ed.

 

Hello Ed, it's a Sony DSC-HX300, 2 -3 years old. I think they are called a bridge camera as they are not a compact and not a full blown DSLR.

 

We own a very spiffy semi professional camera for work purposes, but it's bulky, heavy and you need maybe 3 lenses to give you a range for all occasions. The last time we used it for travel we ended up using our tablet more than the camera as it was so cumbersome. A month or two later a couple who live full time in their camper stayed at our place in France, they were using the forerunner to this camera. What impressed most was the weight or lack of it, plus had seen their photos in a blog and was impressed.

This camera has limitations but for travel they are not many. Funny but it doesn't like heavily clouded days but will be pretty good at night. The zoom is unusable beyond about 50% unless on a robust tripod.

If I take the identical photo with our Canon and try to give the shot some thought, the Canon will be twice as good, or brilliant if I get it right by accident. With the Sony we leave everything on full auto and get what you see.

 

On day 2 of this journey a fault code started flashing on the screen, it shows the electronic stabilization program has stopped working as anything beyond a mild zoom requires enormous bracing to get a half decent shot, but it's not as good as usual.  A Sony Center in Moskva confirmed the fault but were not a repair center, so hoped that Kaohsiung Sony Repair Center would be able to carry out repairs, but there was not enough time as they were busy. We may try in LA this week or wait till we are back in London.

 

Hope this answers you question, and thanks for the encouragement.


Edited by v v, 19 March 2017 - 11:57 AM.


#65 caravanman

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Posted 20 March 2017 - 08:08 AM

Certainly the pictures are very good, compared to my usual efforts, maybe the skill is yours, more than the camera.

 

I was interested in the photo of the provodnic with the "helper" carrying the flags. It looks as though the flags are held furled together by a cable tie?

 

I remember seeing a documentry about Indian railways, where platform trainees were told that the two flags always had to be ready for action. "The red flag must always be held in the right hand, it is the most important of the two, and there is less chance of dropping or fumbling with right hand if needing to use in emergency" Not sure how left handed folk got on... :D

 

I can't quite get my head around the idea that you will be in L.A. as soon as next week... seems so far from Russia!

 

Ed.



#66 v v

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Posted 21 March 2017 - 02:37 AM

Los Angeles - 00:10 Tuesday 21 March

 

We were met at LAX airport by our friend Milton, shuttle then car back to his home in the San Fernando Valley  

 

Ed, I think the female is Provodnitsa and the male is Provodnik. It was probably an elastic band as Helena was very correct with all she did, but if Helena ever comes to visit us we'll ask. Never saw flags being used as they may be for an emergency only? Think they only came out for the benefit of the small girl but not 100%.

 

7 days on the Trans Sib didn't tire us as much a day spent going through airports and 15 1/2 hours flying, still this is my usual moan. The flying was just about ok, not good for your body though I bet, but all the fuss going through 3 airports in 24 hours is to be avoided.

 

Funny, but entry in the US was surprisingly very simple even though another level of checking has been added since 6 months ago. Got a smile from the passport border control man who told us his job at LAX airport was straight forward compared to working on the Mexican border. Also got a smile and a joke from the customs officer too, all in all a good experience but the smiles and jokes are new experiences for us going through US border controls.

 

But you're right Ed, it is amazing to think this time last week we had only just left Russian Vladivostok, spent a week in very eastern Taiwan, and arrived here in another totally different culture of American LA, it is hard to take in and possibly it will take weeks to appreciate.

 

We're now very tired so will take it easy tomorrow, no more trains or buses until the Sunset Limited this Friday evening coming.


Edited by v v, 21 March 2017 - 02:42 AM.


#67 v v

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Posted 21 March 2017 - 04:05 AM

A couple of Trans Siberian Rossiya 002 interior photos, a couple of engines plus more Babushkas

 

The Restaurant Car

 

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A 'Kupe' 2nd Class compartment awaiting passengers

 

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Engines

 

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Babushkas trying to make a little money

 

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Edited by v v, 21 March 2017 - 04:06 AM.


#68 v v

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Posted Today, 03:01 AM

Day 12 - Friday 10 March into East Russia   ~   Train Day 6 ......   continued

 

​Get back to our compartment and find we have our 3rd new room-mate, a 26 year old Russian naval officer old called Anatoly, he's a good looking extremely fit young man and Rosie didn't mind at all!

He speaks almost no English but we learn he is a 2nd Lieutenant based at the moment in Vladivostok but comes from inland eastern Russia. We are all fascinated how he appears to just with one bound get up or down from the upper bunk, he smiles when he realises we are watching in amazement. Mostly he sleeps for the 36 hours or so before we reach Vlad, but does try to join in with us at odd moments, especially when there is a phone signal and translators can be used.

 

Yesterday one of the two car toilets was blocked, but Helena was quickly on to it and called in a maintenance man from another car. Today it blocked again, this time along a bucket of water, a plunger and a what appeared to be a pink hot water bottle with a hose attached? were used, it didn't block again.

 

Helena is starting to look very tired, and says to us "sleep, I need sleep". It's no wonder as she is into day 6 of a more or less 24 hour a day job, and boy this woman works hard.

 

We have made a dinner date with Sharon the traveller and travel writer from New York City, we are meeting up in the restaurant car at 6pm. We spend 2+ hours over dinner, Sharon is fascinating to us all as we are all frequent travellers. She answers questions about her life in travel and writing, and if I have it right broadcasting too. Ruth asks almost as many questions as I do, this lady is very good company. We mention AU to her, she notes it down for future research.

Toward the end of the meal Dimitri and Maxim arrive back in the restaurant car for a few more beers, another couple of Russian men come in a few minutes later, it's starting to get busy and sees the staff animated at last. D and M have a young girl with them, about 10 years old, she is the daughter of a friend of theirs from Chita and she wants to meet the English speaking people she has heard about.

 

Sharon soon leaves us, she writes up notes at the end of her day and is always awake before daybreak, so it's early to bed for her. As Sharon leaves so a tall slim young lady with a big smile arrives, it later turns out to be Anastasia the 10 year old's mum. Now this really did happen.

She walks straight up to our booth - 'Nastasia is sitting between Rosie and I - she slides onto the end of the seat next to me, puts her arm around me, even bigger smile and Dimitri takes a photo of the 4 of us, I really thought my luck had changed but who is she?

 

They are all friends from Chita and she is a Firefighter going to Vladivostok to treat Nastasia to a water park at the coast, just hope it was indoors. This charming happy lady is the best looking Firefighter I've ever seen.

 

We all talk in the now familiar fragmented way and the good evening just gets better, train life can be so special. Nastasia is Harry Potter crazy and loves talking to Rosie (Rosie was a Primary teacher for more than 30 years and has a way with children). She calls Harry Potter 'Gary Potter' and after a couple of attempts to correct her Rosie knows better and also renames Harry. Nastasia is also a very good English speaker for her age, she can't get enough of hearing Rosie talk. Nastasia became the unofficial train translator.

 

Our Chita friends with Rosie and Ruth

 

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After an hour or so we 3 are ready to leave, they have our phone numbers and we have theirs. We pay and bid our farewell to the restaurant car crew as it's the last time we'll eat there, and shake hands all round. I also shake the hand of the 2 unknown Russian men who have been sitting there drinking...  mistake.

 

One is a bear of a man and invites me to drink with them, I explain that it's important to accompany Rosie and Ruth back to our car. The second man is bigger than the bear, has the sort of chiselled features the Soviets would have used on the heroic sculptures they created of strong men leading the way forward, and a handshake that could do serious damage.

 

We escape and get back to our compartment. Sit there chatting a little and the bear comes along, as usual our door is open, decides he will invite himself in and sits on a lower bed. I explain in German as that appears to be his best 2nd language that we are all off to sleep and although he is welcome we are all tired especially the ladies. Nope, that doesn't work, a drunk that doesn't look like he is drunk.

I ask if he will talk with me in the corridor, just so Rosie and Ruth don't have to cope with him. Ruth who can be feisty tells him to leave too and that does it. We gravitate down to the end of the car away from sleeping people and he sees Helena's open door, in he goes, this is getting worse as I look like his accomplice. 2 minutes later Helena orders him out and he goes, I say sorry and she scowls.

We stand in the doorway between cars and he produces from somewhere on his person 3 cans of beer, he thrusts one at me and says "drink". Really don't want to drink but take the can not opening it, this is not feeling like a good situation as the only real help in this car is Helena at 4' 11".

 

He explains he is an Army Colonel coming from Chita and going to a city a 1/2 day before Vladivostok. It's either his home or where he is based. He glowers and growls a lot because I wont drink, so it's open the can to appease him. He has pulled out a Russian Army tee shirt and says it's for me, then pulls the tab on one of his cans of beer and downs the contents on one go, wipes his face and says "I'm a man". Within seconds does exactly the same with the second can, now "I'm a real man", oh dear.

I start to sip very slowly and attempt a little humour, can't find a way out of this situation. Saying 'I'm not much of a man' falls on deaf ears and he's getting louder. Helena comes out and shouts at us to keep quiet but she didn't have the answer of how to get rid of him.

 

He's watching if I am drinking all the beer, then says in very good English in a low growl, " it would be very easy to kill you ", at this point I'm watching him closely and paying a lot of attention to what he says and does. No longer sure if this man is very drunk, angry or just lonely but didn't want to hang around to find out. Said I have to pee which he thought was reasonable, he stepped aside as the toilets are at the other end of the car. Thought of diving into our compartment on the way through but thought it could then involve the girls, bad idea. Longer time in the bathroom than needed and hope he has got bored, tired or wandered off as drunks do, great he's gone, phew.

Walk smartly down the corridor and almost there, he comes out blocking the corridor, between me and our compartment. He's holding his uniform jacket with lots of insignia all over it, points at a patch and says, "Russian Army", I nod and think will this ever end. He then rips the velcro'd insignia from the arm and gives it to me "Russian Army good!", I nod and mutter "very good" and think please don't insist I take it but of course he does. I tell him I'll treasure it and plan to hand it back in the morning. Can I be arrested for having a part of a serving Russian Colonels uniform? but that is less important than finding the escape route which he supplies. He needs to pee too which is no surprise. He goes one way and I dive into our compartment, lock the door and sit there waiting to see if he gets the idea, and yes he's gone.

 

Unfortunately the above is all true.


Edited by v v, Today, 03:34 AM.


#69 caravanman

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Posted Today, 08:02 AM

Gosh, what an ordeal so soon after a great time at dinner. It reminds me in a small way of when I worked as a taxi driver... I hated picking up boorish drunks ! Glad you escaped at last.

 

Ed.






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