She Who Must Be Obeyed

Trip Start May 28, 2008
Trip End Aug 26, 2008

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Flag of Russian Federation  , Siberia,
Thursday, July 17, 2008

She Who Must Be Obeyed.

The last of our Baikal was shared with English and American guests over conversation in Irkutsk, so we had to pick up a new vodka for this journey - our longest train ride of the trip at 4 days and 3 nights. We went for Arsenal, another Baikal vodka with a bullet and red star giving a great soviet kitsch look to the bottle. It was left untouched until late on day two, when I got bored enough to drink 9 shots and insist we go visit the dining car for dinner and cards. I promised to be on my best behavior, and didn't fare too badly considering. I managed to navigate down a half dozen train cars, order dinner, pay correctly in Rubles, buy a postcard, and even was able to "shoot the moon" in a game of Hearts - taking every heart and the queen of spades to stick everyone else with 26 unwanted points. Happy to report no hangover the next day... maybe it's the Romanian or Bavarian in my blood?

The Lonely Planet guide for Russia refers the Provonista, or female Russian train attendant, as "She Who Must Be Obeyed". Damn straight! These iron ladies rule the Trans-Siberian trains with a firm hand, keeping things neat and tidy - including her passengers. She takes tickets, checks passports, issues linens, keeps hot water for tea and noodles in the boiler, stocks the restrooms, scrubs the train (if she's in the mood), and controls when and if the electrical outlets on board are active (depending on battery levels). If you speak Russian, they will lend you silverware, dishes, and have reportedly even been known to share some home cooking.

If you are an nglish-speaking American family, with no Russian phrasebook (despite a valiant effort in Irkutsk bookshops), and no idea of the rules then you can expect the occasional scolding or exasperated look as she does her best to help your dumb ass.

There are few stops on this train, and although we did stock up on provisions at market before departure, it is nice to drop in at a station and pick up a cold drink or some ice cream. Gailen woke me up early on the morning of day three to tell me we were in station for 15 minutes so I ran out bleary-eyed with wallet in hand and picked up some breakfast ice-cream treats for the kids. I also bought my third variety of sparkling mineral water, since I seem incapable of figuring out the Cyrillic for non-carbonated still water. Twist. Fizz. Doh!

I found myself enjoying sunrise in Omsk, but received a finger scolding from our older train attendant when I returned. I wasn't the only one to exit, but I guess a 15-minute stop isn't long enough for this retarded passenger.

The piped-in mix of American pop, R&B, and hip-hop mixed with Russian pop and European electronic has made for an unusual soundtrack for the ride. We turned it down in our compartment and in the hallway, but a few of our neighbors think it is amazing and have their compartments shaking to full volume. The iPod and speakers in my little iPhone have had quite a workout here in compartment VI.

Late on day three, Gailen got himself into a Russian card game with other teens on the train. Boredom set in for Laura, as we lacked a good book (her Pharmacology textbook didn't fit the bill) and I was unable to keep her entertained for any length of time. Oh what we have to look forward to on day four!

- Demian
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