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December 29, 2014

Amazar

I finished up last night visiting Taeguan in the plaskart wagon after dinner. It’s another world – a hot, hot place where people speak in hushed tones, drink vodka and live together with very little personal space. It looked clean and tidy though.

Eating in the restaurant remains a little unpredictable. There can be random shortages of key foods, so you need to work out how best to play it. No great drama with my chicken dinner, other than a small fire that set off the alarm when Chef tries to make me some fried potatoes (which turn out like horrible oily burned crisps). Repeat – unpredictable.. The quiet word in the corridor is that pancakes with caviar or salmon will be possible after 11.00 am local time tomorrow. I have expressed an interest, as I’m quite excited about that.

After some lengthy questioning (a key skill is to be able to ask the same question in different ways, several times) I have now also discovered that train 002 happens to have a small parcel of red wine from Azerbaijan onboard. It has a unique flavour – very smooth, not so much alcohol (10%) and a deep dark earthy fruit flavour. It’s almost like amber or even incense on the finish.. Sorry I can’t describe it better, but I recommend you try it if you get the chance!

I have also laid down a bottle of cheap Spanish medium sweet wine in my private carriage “cellar”. I’m hoping it might be a good food match for the Christmas pudding that I have here. That is of course, if I can get it cooked..

I wake the following morning to a new landscape. We are now back in tree country with massive forests as far as the eye can see. I suspect that yesterday we climbed onto a plateau and have now descended again. The young son of the restaurant manager declares to me that it’s a “beautiful forest”. It’s probably just as well he likes forests as he lives in Krasnoyarsk, a place that defines the meaning of the expression of being “in the middle of nowhere”.
Today is a day of no real daytime stops – Amazar at 05.55 for 18 minutes, Magdagachi at 14.53 for just 15 minutes, and Belogorsk at 21.37 for 30 minutes. Time to read a book and watch the world go by.

I arrive at the restaurant carriage at the appointed time to enquire about the caviar situation. The deal has apparently taken place overnight at Skovorodin. The curtains are still drawn like its a well guarded secret. The woman in the short skirt has a dress on from a 1970’s Bond film. Apparently its “game on” for the pancakes. They taste simply heavenly. Price – 290 Roubles or £2.90.. Just as I’m finishing breakfast the ice cream lady from Russian Railways passes through – in her time zone it might be the perfect time for one, but it’s not on my breakfast agenda.

When I return to my home (carriage no 7) I see that Larissa is up, but not on duty yet. She is doing some knitting whilst watching a Russian soap opera on her laptop. My Trans-Siberian days have a certain rhythm in the morning and the evening, but with no stops sometimes a hole in the afternoon of part boredom and part loneliness. That is when I like to write this blog and make plans. Isolation allows clear thought, but it can at moments be a bit overwhelming.

I try to make the most of our only real daylight stop today at Magdagachi. Larissa isn’t on duty so I hang out at the end of the train with the plaskart people, mainly heavy smokers. Here is a view of the train that I don’t recommend unless you can see plenty of people on the platform!

The day finishes in Belogorsk. After being cooped up, half an hour to trade in black market cigarettes, admire the statue of Lenin and talk about the weather. On this point my wine cellar is as close to freezing as I dare let it go (-21 C) so I have repatriated it to carriage temperature. My Kalashnikov can stay out there though!

The Ukrainan guys leave the train here. They have been very friendly and I have no idea how their interactions have been with Russians on the journey.

I’m reminded of a couple of important Siberian safety and survival tips this evening. Firstly, always be careful when walking across the railway lines, as another train might stop in front of yours. If it is a kilometre long goods train you will have no way back and be forever stranded in freezing Siberia. Secondly, when you wash your hands and there are no paper towels left, do not on any account travel between carriages, as you will leave your skin stuck to the metal surfaces of the handles. I hope that helps!

It’s my final night on board the train. This time in 24 hours I shall hopefully reach Vladivostok – hopefully in time to make the connection for the next leg of my trip by ship to South Korea. Good night!