I woke up to the cloudy skies of Siberia. We had crossed the Ekaterinburg Pass somewhere in the late evening, leaving the ‘European’ section of Russia and entering into Siberia. I woke up only briefly for the 1am stop, just enough to hear the rattling of the suites filling up with passengers who would all disembark at the 6am morning stop in Tyumen leaving the carriage once again mostly empty. With Nina’s translation help the day prior, we found out the carriage manager carries a small selection of items to purchase, which included ground coffee. Adding some hot water, Nina and I were able to enjoy a nice warm cup of freshly ‘brewed’ coffee along with some pastries she had brought with to start the day
The morning creeped by slowly, the carriage was quiet, the skies were cloudy, and Siberia was covered in a thin white blanket of snow. The train passed by small villages with wood slats and wood roofs mixed in with fields of grains and frozen over lakes. Nina and I chatted more about the scenery, Russia, the migration of Germans to Siberia, her family, my travels, and so forth. Google Translate did a spectacular job translating my English to Russian, however, was of no help whatsoever translating Russian to English. The first issue was the English keyboard, it did not switch to a Russian keyboard nor could I find how to do that without being connected to the Internet. She tried with the English keyboard but Google was of no help, spitting out for me the exact word she had typed as though I magically learned Russian.
Not being able to translate what she said meant every conversation was like a Mensa exam. Evaluating each word, trying first to figure out the context, then if the word sounded like anything I’ve heard before – English, Spanish, Latin, scanning… – then deciphering from gestures. Hmm… Carta, sounds like cartography, is it a map? Yes! At times when it was clear I was not getting it, she would try to draw and did some lovely pictures of cows in dome houses when I asked why we didn’t see any cows – they all live inside because it’s so darn cold. She said it gets to -35 Celsius which is insanely cold. She said they still have to go to work / school in those temperatures. She taught me that they heat their houses with water, much like downtown Denver, which seemed brilliant for the climate.
It’s interesting how in a normal conversation they say we only listen 50%. I’d like to think I strive really hard to have a higher ratio as I tend to be a super focused person at listening with a deep desire to understand exactly what was said, though in this conversation no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many iterations of things I put into Google translate to see if I could reverse engineer what was being communicated, I’m sure there was so much lost in translation. So much more I would have loved to have heard, to have understood.
Nina’s stop in Omsk was scheduled for around 1:30pm, which is when I learned that all of the trains are on Moscow time, regardless of where in Russia they are. The train depots showed Moscow time, the stops were on Moscow time. Why that matters? Well we will cross 7 time zones between here and Ulan Bator, which means, we will progressively be calling 6pm at night something sliding into 1am. Absolutely wild. It also means I scheduled my tour in Mongolia to begin 7 hours before I actually arrive. Oops. Let’s hope for WiFi at some point in this journey to let them know. Otherwise, the adventure in Mongolia will be even more of an adventure!
Two hours before Nina’s stop, she got completely ready – dressed, packed, make-up, everything. You could tell she was excited to be back home, to see her loved ones. I could relate to her ultra early preparation as well as her sentimentality. We were like two birds of a feather. In some ways I think we were both a little sad the journey together was over, though hers was overridden by the joy of being home. We took photos, exchanged emails, hugged, and committed to writing. She was excited that once home she could use a functioning version of Google Translate and we could actually have a conversation. I was excited for that too!
The rest of the afternoon was quiet. The couple with the dog still remained and we gained one more couple with a baby on the other side of the carriage. Everyone was quiet and kept to themselves. The gentleman with the dog spoke a small amount of English so helped translate a few things and let me pet their dog a few more times. Although it would have been a good opportunity to finally leave the carriage and explore the train, I decided to relax and get some reflection time in. As I watched the tall skinny trees pass by, I had this feeling that I wanted this moment to last longer. It was just so good. The realization this feeling can last two more days just seems like such a wonderful thing. How often do we get to be present in a moment we adore completely AND it gets to continue for days. It’s like heaven.
It’s embarking on 48 hours on the train and the only thing ‘feeling’ it is my hair. My hair thinks it is preparing for a dreadlocks competition when we arrive in Mongolia. I think tomorrow I may have to break down and try to wash it in the little metal sink with the freezing cold water that you have to push the button the entire time to get water to come out. Could be an interesting fiasco, but we shall see! Being solo in my suite, I decided to keep the doors open to feel like I was apart of the bigger picture, but cocoon up and listen to my music and catch up on writing. Life is good.
The sun set around 3pm since we are on Moscow time. In reality, we are three time zones ahead so everyone not on the train would believe it to be 6pm, however, here in our frozen reality the sun set at 3pm. Earlier in the day I decided I’d pre-order dinner on the train. I’d been listening to a book on tape about a gentleman who takes a bunch of notable train rides around the world and he often mentions the food, so I figured I’d planned on buying one meal, why not tonight while I am solo when it will be easier to navigate. I didn’t want to bother with the dining car so I ordered it to come to me at 6pm, though it didn’t register at the time that meant I could be eating at 9pm with the time difference – haha!
It did occur to me as I was choosing to eat alone and not leaving my carriage, that the three bucket list items I chose to conquer on this round the world journey are all ones of isolation – private igloo in the Arctic Circle, private suite on the Trans Siberian Rail, private yurt in rural Mongolia. I guess if anyone questioned I was an Introvert, the flag is waiving high and proud! I will say there is nothing like solitude to recharge, to provide retrospection, to process, to rebalance. I hear people say they are afraid to be alone, or afraid of silence, or afraid to face their thoughts. I’ve never fully understood that…to me, it’s only in alone time when I’m in total silence doing absolutely nothing that I can re-balance. Unless I’m dating another introvert and we’re doing nothing together, completely content in the moment, I can re-balance then too.
Dinner turned out to be one of those translation mishaps. Having only brought a small amount of Russian Rubles on this journey, knowing once it terminates I won’t need them and I brought all my food, the cost of my one dinner ‘out’ was of upmost concern. Everything on this train is cash – we are in Siberia. The good news, my salmon steak with potatoes and cucumber and a slice of bread came at 6pm in the time zone in which I ordered it, which luckily meant 4pm Moscow time/7pm our current time, not 6pm Moscow time/9pm our current time – whew! Needless to say, they charged me extra for the veggies, for the slice of bread, and for the tip (that part I understood) so the total came out twice as much as I’d planned. Eep! There is no more spending during the next three train days. Ugh. Lesson learned the hard way!
I do feel like I need to dispel some myths I’m sure some of my fellow Americans have about how Siberia must be full of indigenous Eskimo looking people hidden in igloos under piles and piles of snow. First, the cities in fact look like normal cities. The villages look like normal villages (of course we have so few villages in the US, mainly in the Midwest). The people look like normal people. I’ve actually been surprised how I look like an Eastern European / Russian. I totally blend in, except if they look closely at my jaw line – as when I look at theirs, I know they are Russian so I suspect when they look at mine they know I’m not. Otherwise I could totally fit it as long as I kept my mouth shut! That American accent can be spotted anywhere!
Tonight was a lovely dose of leaving the lights off, playing Sarah McLaughlin (she goes everywhere with me!), and soaking in every once of the fact that I am in Siberia. It was about this time last year when I flew over Siberia on the polar route from Beijing to New York staring out the window at the few lights below thinking how much I’d love to finally go there, so I’m feeling so incredibly blessed to be here right now. It’s a dream come true. A low haze of flickering lights danced on the North horizon as I dozed off into my slumber making me wonder if it was a glimmer of the northern lights.