I finally made it to my first real leg of the tour yesterday evening. A taxi picked me up with two hours to go (the traffic is dreadful – traffic jam followed by a collective drag race to the next traffic jam, I’m glad I’m on a train for the rest of the journey), and we got to the station with enough time for me to sniff out a bottle of white wine for the journey, thank heavens. Must keep the fruit intake up. My cabin is very spacious (the gauge is much wider in Russia – so typical) and air conditioned, which is a boon as the weather is sweltering. The bed is basically a futon, pretty comfortable. I was immediately assailed by a jocular babushka (old lady – they basically run the place in Russia and are the provodnitsa or hostess on the train) with some low quality souvenirs to buy, which I duly did as she is part of the train staff and will be with me for the next 28 hours to Yekaterinburg. We pulled out of Kazansky Vokzal (the Russian for station, so called as the Tsarist engineers were so taken with Vauxhall Bridge when over on work experience) with much industrial clanking and pottered through the suburbs of Moscow. I was going to see whether I would be bewitched or insufferably bored.
Well, it has been firmly the former. I am travelling with the cabin to myself, so I spent the early evening watching the suburbs blend quickly into the fare that would be my constant backdrop for the next 15 hours – vast birch forests broken by small hamlets of low wooden houses surrounded by tiny gardens (lawn mowing is obviously optional here) and the odd inhabitant out picking berries or something. It doesn’t feel like it will have changed in 100 years, save for the occasional hardy machine dotted about that matched the inhabitants in flintiness. Not sure how they get by, as there didn’t appear to be too much agriculture going on apart from some small holdings. The houses have seasoned wooded walls with corrugated iron roofs. My dinner consisted of some pork with a cheese and mushroom sauce which, whilst not pushing towards a Michelin Star, was perfectly good, washed down with some dutch lager. As my daughter said when she received the snapchat picture of the restaurant car, it looks like an american diner. I rather regretted staying and having a glass of vodka with the train staff as a nightcap (they confidently assured me that this would have a transformative effect on my rusty Russian). Hmm. Still rubbish at Russian, except now with a bit of a headache this morning.