Day 21 – Train from Nizhny Novgorod to Tyumen
We arrived at the train station this morning at 4:15am in the pitch dark, the train station populated by the previous night’s revellers and early morning travellers. With plenty of time to board, we visited the only café open for business at that hour, to feast on a selection of pre-made crepes heated in the microwave by one surly cashier. A psychologist we met in the banya in Moscow had told us that Russians smile in their soul, and keep their outside smiles for their friends and loved ones. The cashier has proven our friend right. We selected crepes which appeared the freshest, and upon the first bite were happy to discover that we fell upon some ham and cheese. Classic.
Leaving at 5:09am today (October 3), our train is due to arrive in the city of Tyumen on the morning of October 4 at 7:20am, a total of 26.5 hours and our first foray into the true Trans Siberian Railway. As I write this, it is nearing 5:00pm and we have completed almost half the journey. Our second-class tickets (kupe) give us two beds in a cabin for 4. Leaving from Nizhny Novgorod this morning, we boarded the train with Elena (another Elena!), a military accountant and mother of 1 who was travelling 6 hours east to the city of Kirov for a 2-week training course. With very basic English, far better than our Russian, we managed to share some tea and biscuits and talk about our travels, families, work and Russia in general. She left us around lunchtime and we have had the cabin to ourselves since then – a lucky circumstance as the range of body odours floating through the hallways makes us hope we keep the compartment to ourselves until morning.
As Elena picked up her suitcase, Jason asked if she needed help carrying it off the train. Elena replied, “Russian woman – like horse!”
Since leaving Moscow, we have stayed in Suzdal for two nights, and Nizhny Novgorod for two. The guidebooks call Suzdal the diamond of Moscow’s ‘golden ring’ – the series of historical towns located in a circle around Moscow’s countryside – and after meandering along its packed earthen roads lined with colorful wooden huts and wandering through its flowering fields, we couldn’t agree more. We stayed in one of these wooden homes, built by hand over a period of 30 years by the owner, Vladimir, who greeted us on his front lawn when we arrived from the bus stop with our backpacks. Now living on his own, Vlad cooked us breakfast on our first morning there, a golden stack of pancakes with lingonberry jam and sour cream, along with butter-flavoured cheese, slabs of bacon, and some tea made with fresh herbs from his garden. Nearly every little house in Suzdal has its own garden as well as a small greenhouse for subsistence farming. The town itself is cut through by a lazy river and is surrounded by open fields and forests of birch trees turning yellow as the fall presses on. After visiting a series of capital cities, it felt amazing to breathe the fresh air and feel the quiet of the countryside.
After a day and a half of enjoying Nizhny’s pedestrianized main street, kremlin, boardwalk promenade and hilly parks reminiscent of Montreal’s Mount Royal, we have stocked up on provisions and are heading east. Next stop: Tobolsk!
(Pictures to come when internet is more reliable…)