Once the Roissya 2 departs Moscow for Vladivostok there it does little lollygagging. Apart from the prescribed 2, 15, 26 or 30 minute breaks that come every 3 hours or so the train doesn’t stop to rest, or recuperate. After quickly discounting the 2 minute stops as nothing more than a slow drive by the station, you quickly begin to plan your day around your other breaks. 15 minutes gives you time to get an ice-cream, walk around the station, take a few pictures and return to your cabin before the conductor scolds you. In small Siberian towns, 30 minutes is enough to walk to the town’s Soviet memorial, see the church, interrogate the local vibe, all with time enough to chew some dried fish as you meander back toward the train.
The towns have gotten stranger and stranger since we left Moscow, and 6500 kilometers from the capital, most towns are merely just a collection of wooden shacks with homemade fences that hold in a small vegetable garden, some goats and an old automobile frame. What’s more, many of these towns don’t even have names. They are merely referred to by the number of miles of which they are away from Moscow. While the landscapes have become slightly more dramatic, the change in fact has been quite gradual. Apart from the uniqueness of the towns, it would be hard to discern that we are really thousands of miles from Moscow.
The towns do offer a interesting contrast however. Moscow, the capital of the country is imbued with all of the luxuries of a modern metropolis. These towns here however seem that despite the trains the speed by once a day, that they haven’t changed much in 100 years. Ocasionally a military outpost will spring up like a sore thumb and you wonder where the nukes might be. Just to think that 25 years ago an American making this journey would be treasonous. On occasion an older person might look at you as if you are truly here to steal state secrets…but the folks who do, rarely look capable of being in possession of anything truly interesting. Unless of course the secret of were where they acquired their Nike tracksuit.
For shame! Enough of these digressions, oh dear reader how you indulge me so… you really shouldn’t. The Siberian cities (some semi-Siberian) that have left an impression on me during the first part of my journey are as follows.
Nizhiny-Novgorod- Just a few hours outside Moscow, we arrived at Nizhiny-Novgorod just before sunset. It is not a particularly unique town in anyway. It resembles many of its industrial neighbors in the eastern most reaches of the European part of Russia. It seems as if Russians enjoy saying the name Nizhiny-Novgorod as much as I do… I heard them mumbling it under their breaths for many hours after we had left, always smiling just a little. It was the first city where I realized the aforementioned Russian sunset is not an anomaly.
Yekaterinburg- To all my fellow Snowpeircer Fans out there this town will be something of a surprise. I too was excited to learn that Yekatarina was not just a name made up by Bong Joon Ho and rather a real place…a real place with lots of people. That’s right! It’s the third largest city in Russia, so big in fact it gets its own US Consulate. I walked off the train into the rather large and grand train terminal. It has a enormous and delicate crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling, that seemed to be turned off and thus the terminal was quite dark and a bit chilling.
More soon dear reader. I am hungry and must satiate this desire.