During the night our cabin companion, Alexander, had gone AWOL, returning at around lunchtime to cut up a dead fish on our shared table. He ate this with glee and kept a conversation going with Rick the entire time. Rick had no idea what he was saying and Megan, faking she was asleep, was no help. We then realised he'd been drinking a heap of vodka with the Army Coast Guard guys from the other end of the carriage
. After scoffing down some bread, he staggered out the door, acting like a crazy drunk Russian guy. I'm sure you can picture what we mean.
Into the evening, just as we were about to tuck into the travelers staple, cup-o-noodles, there was a knock on our door. In came the paralytic Alexander and his six Army Coast Guard buddies. One of them, Victor, could speak a little bit of English so we found out they were on their way to Moscow, then onto the Black Sea for a training course. He then gave Rick a cool lighter pen and Megan was given a sailors striped singlet, just like the ones you see Russian sailors wearing in the movies. We didn't have much to give them, but scrounged up some Australian coins and a few Australian flag stickers. They stayed for a few hours chatting away about all kinds of things, showing us photos of home and their girlfriends etc. Overall they were really friendly fun guys.
Arriving a Yekaterinberg we grabbed a taxi to Bolshoi Ural Hotel. When we asked the lady behind the desk whether our onward train tickets had been delivered she gave us one of those "And do I give a sh_t" looks and shook her head. We figured this was going to be typical Soviet service. Getting the ancient and somewhat dangerous lift (the doors kept slamming shut and didn't stop) up to our floor where we woke up the "Lady with the keys"
. They have one of these on every floor, in charge of the rooms on the floor. With our key in hand we checked out our room. It was a small room with two single beds, TV and a bathroom that had a very distinct odor. We didn't have any water so went down to level two to the bar where we could buy some. Waiting to get served at the bar was interesting. Four people were on duty behind the bar, all talking amongst themselves or to the only other people in the place, two fat Russian ladies. A couple of the bar maids did make eye contact on numerous occasions but it was quite clear they would serve us when they were good an ready. Another fine example of Russian service! After about 15 minutes of waiting we eventually got served and headed back to the room with our sparking mineral water (still bottled water is hard to find in Russia). We have discovered the joy of brushing our teeth with mineral water. The tooth paste fizzes in your mouth getting into all the nooks and crannies and leaving your mouth feeling really fresh. After a long overdue shower (3 days on the road) we crashed into bed.
With another day to go on the Irkutsk to Yekaterinberg leg of our Trans-Siberian train journey left to go we're were starting to get a little bit of cabin fever. The radio in the carriage was playing, on repeat, Russian polka music. There is only so much "dat, dat, dat, hey! dat, dat, dat, hey!" and "da svidaniya, da svidaniya, da svidaniya, hey! da svidaniya, da svidaniya, da svidaniya, hey!" we could handle. It was like we were in purgatory and for our sins we had to listen to endless Russian polka classics. Were we in hell?