Fustrations, on the rails and off

Trip Start Jul 11, 2005
Trip End Apr 04, 2006

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Flag of Russian Federation  ,
Friday, February 24, 2006

A year shall come of Russia's blackest dread; Then will the crown fall from the royal head, The throne of tsars will perish in the mud, The flood of many will be death and blood.

- David Remnick, Resurrection: The Struggle for a New Russia (1997)

Yekaterinburg, Siberia, Russia
Prague time +4hrs
Days to get to Prague - 13

Cue the fustrations
Moving on we got the train out of Tobolsk at 9:30 in the evening and after an uneventful overnight journey we arrived in Yekaterinburg at 8:15 in the morning. Again our first port of call having disembarked the train was the station ticket office. With the help of a charming local lady we managed to purchase onward 3rd class berths for the 12:45 train to Moscow. See, 3rd class isn't that bad. If it was we wouldn't be going back for seconds. Anyway, we had about 4 hours before the train left and we banked on that being sufficient time to stash our bags and have a quick look around Yekaterinburg. But que the frustrations. Following the abundant baggage storage signs we seemed to spend an entirety looping the impressive station, going from one area to another looking for luggage storage. But still we couldn't find it. Well, that's not entirely true. We did find 2 areas; one wanted a ridiculous fee for the privilege of allowing our bags sit on a shelf for 3 hours. The other didn't want money, just some piece of paper we couldn't provide. We had a receipt showing we paid for what we believed to be baggage storage but that didn't cut it. We are still not sure what that receipt entitled us to. When all was said and done this was probably the only time in our Russian trip that the language barrier stumped us and even the Henkster couldn't resolve this one. So with patience at a minimum and not too much of that spare 4 hours left I decided to pass the remaining time until the train departed for Moscow by waiting in the station. During that time I had a shower (Henk didn't as he refused to pay the 45 ruble asking price), edged ever closer to finishing the Da Vinci Code and looked over our bags while Henk took a quick look at Yekaterinburg from outside the train station.

Historic Yekaterinburg
Yekaterinburg is a major city, Russia's 5th largest, situated 1,667 km (1,036 miles) east of Moscow and is the administrative center of the Sverdlovsk Oblast. It is located on the eastern slopes of the Ural Mountains that separate Europe from Asia. Its claim to fame is as the hometown of Boris Yeltsin, The Russian Federations first democratically elected president after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. But its better know Russia wide as the place where the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, and his family were executed by Bolsheviks (Russian communists). The family were taken captive as a result of the Vladimir Lenin lead 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, itself a result of general discontent with the Nicholas lead monarchy, a monarchy of Nicholas' descendants that had been ruling Russia with since 1613. His deformed body and those of his family (wife, Alexandra, and children Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Tsarevich Alexei) were dumped in abandoned mine shaft on the outskirts of the city. They were discovered in May 1979 and the remains exhumed in July 1991. The bodies of two of the imperial children were never found fuelling the conspiracy theorists idea that somewhere out there may be a living descendant of the last ruling Tsar of Russia.

Russian drunks & lazy Gymnasts
So having waited 4 hours for the train to Moscow we were forced to wait a bit longer. The 12:45 scheduled departure time came and went and we eventually boarded at 13:20. Having waited the previous 4 hours and not knowing when the train would arrive (if at all) made the delay seem longer than it actually was. And once we did get board the frustrations continued. Shall I tell you first about the Russians I pissed off by trying to claim their berths? No. Okay then, what about the drunk who continually wanted to shake my hand as a way to show how hard he could squeeze it? Or how about the Russian gymnast who wanted to leave her bed, which doubled as my assigned seat during daylight hours, assembled all day meaning I had nowhere to sit? Or maybe the eye infection I developed on route? Yep, it was a frustrating evening for me and aside from a break in the journey in Perm (which saw me in Europe for the first time since October and Henk for the first time ever) I spent most of it in my bunk where I finished the Da Vinci Code and slept. No such issues for Mr. Sociable. He was busy being Henk with a Russian he liked the look of. I don't think he noticed the two military guys travelling with her. Henk blinkers.

Just deserts?
I woke up at about 1:30am to discover I had a bad eye infection, one that was to stay with me for a few days. Pisser. But that was nothing compared to the aforementioned drunk. His name was Vasha. I knew that because he had introduced himself, in broken English, numerous times to me earlier that evening. That was each and every time he wanted to shake my hand. He was a big guy, the sort of guy who wouldn't look out of place in a military uniform defending Mother Russia. I'm sure he would have been nice to converse with had he been in a state to do so. But he wasn't and by 1:30 in the morning he had obviously had an 'altercation' with something or someone as he was sporting a nice big shiner on his left eye. I could only speculate as to what happened to him. Maybe he tried the hand squeezing thing with someone a bit less tolerant, or bigger, than me? Whatever happened seemed to quieten him down a bit and I found it hard to feel sorry for the present state he found himself in. He reminded me of the drunk we encountered on the train from Weihai to Beijing. Remember him? I guess the morale of the story is that one could pick a better place to get pissed than on a extended train journey.

The reward ahead
When I woke the next morning my eye infection seemed to have worsened, we were still some 7 hours from Moscow and I had no book to read, save for my guidebook. But that was okay. Vasha was gone and at least now I could sit where I was supposed to. And hey, at the end of all this we'd be in Moscow. That was gonna be fun and worth the recent frustrations to get here. Right?
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