5655 km in a Nutshell


The Russian portion of the Trans-Mongolian Railway covers over 5600km and 5 time zones.  To ride straight through would take nearly a week.  The journey took us through vast stretches of untouched Siberian wilderness where it would sometimes be hours between any signs of human settlement.  After visiting this area of the world I find it difficult to argue that the earth is getting too crowded.  After our longest leg (50 hours) I was glad that we chose to make several stops along the way.  We met some people who made the trip straight through and they had the look and smell of drunken derelicts.  The particularly long stretches of track made us appreciate the little things in life…taking a shower after 50 hours, eating food that is not just made by adding hot water or being able to piss without the ground swaying under our feet became absolute treats.







We stayed in 4-berth cabins so we normally had 2 additional roommates.  Everyone would practice their English skills on us and if they could not speak it they would find someone on the train that could in order to translate.  We were repeatedly asked to compare and contrast the U.S. and Russia.  One girl happily told us that she loved American music and followed up with, “Do you like Russian music in America?”  Not being able to recall a single Russian artist I said, “Sometimes, but we love Russian vodka.”

Another cabin mate of ours, Vladimir, was an older gentleman who was on the train for 5 days after a trip to visit his grandkids.  He was amazingly nice yet had body odor that had the same effect on my eyes as a sliced onion.  He shared some beer with me that tasted like a microwaved Colt 45 and insisted on showing us hundreds of pics of his beach holiday where he wore a banana hammock that would have been tiny on Nug.







One time after tiring of noodle bowls we broke down and went to the restaurant car.  We were the only ones and the rubbery “chicken” confirmed our suspicions as to why.  I asked the attendant for the “best Russian beer”.  He came back with a Budweiser.  I looked at him skeptically but he was dead serious.  “This is best beer from Russia!” he proudly stated.  He waited while I took a swig.  “How good is that, huh?”  I smiled and gave him the thumbs up.  “Great recco,” I stated.

As we ended our Russian train journey in St. Petersburg I could not believe how much more European the city felt compared to our entrance to the country in the east.  The Russian people we met along the way were so much more helpful and friendly than I had expected especially after our run in with the female Ivan Drago several weeks prior.

Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

The Unwelcome Visitor


Several hours west of the Russian border we had an unwelcome visitor…food poisoning.  Apparently the market at the border crossing infused us with something sinister.  Nug and I both succumbed.  Being a bigger glutton I must have eaten more of the tainted vittles because I was hit much harder.

Pre-food poisoning happiness

On my way to the bathroom for the 2nd time I was horrified to find the door locked.  Trains on the Trans-Siberian system lock the bathroom doors 15 minutes before and after any stops to stymie stowaways.  I scrambled to find a bag and violently wretched into it as we entered a station.  People on the platform looked mortified and a male train attendant laced me in Russian as I cringed demoralized in a corner.  He had happened to catch me smack dab in the middle of my previous performance and was none too happy that time either.  The female Ivan Drago grabbed my arm.  “Zyou mus see za doctor here at zhe station!”  My attempts to resist were futile.  I found myself in a dingy, faded all white room with a bright white light that flickered on and off constantly.  I was poked and prodded and had my temperature taken…38.5 Celsius…crap that’s 101 Fahrenheit  I thought.  The questions came fast and furious in Russian and were translated clumsily by the attendant.  “Howz meeny times zyou make za voh-mit?  Where zyou come from?  Whaz zyou eat?  How zlong zyou sick?  Howz meeny times zyou make za toilet? (accompanied by a sign of squatting and imitating an explosion from her backside which would have had me in hysterics if I had not been so scared)

The male train attendant and several nurses began to argue loudly and point at me.  “What’s happening?!” Nug interjected.  The female Ivan Drago pointed at me, “Zyou mee-ust stay here and go to zhee emergency room!”  I started to argue and was beat down with “Zyou will znot argue weeth zhis!”  The doctor made 4 or 5 phone calls and 2 uniformed army officers entered the room.  “Whaz zee problem?” they growled.  At this point all 6 of them argued heatedly and took turns pointing at me.  “I’m okay,” I lied, “It was from a sandwich I had earlier.  I have to keep going to Irkutsk.”  The doctor started shoving numerous pills at me and ordering me to take them.  “NO, allergic,” I said as I pushed them away.  “Zyou have no choice.  Must take is good for you.  Zyou no take zhen we mee-ust give zyou zhe shot.”  One of the army goons flashed his gold teeth and used his finger to simulate a shot in his neck.  I was sick again and held as best as I could while lying that I had to pee.  I barely closed the door behind me.  Heated arguing commenced as I disposed of my stomach contents as quietly as I could.  I am normally an exaggerated, theatrical  vomiter so this was a major accomplishment.

As I returned to the argument I could see that Nug was working magic and was somehow turning the tide.  We swore that I was getting better and took a stand that we would not stay in this tiny backwater town.  The burly guys finally left and I had to sign some paperwork saying that I refused to go to the emergency room at my own peril.  In Irkutsk I would not be allowed off the train until another doctor inspected me to insure that I was not a carrier monkey of some Mongolian bird flu.  The night ride to Irkutsk was miserable.  I was in the bathroom every 30 minutes for the next 6 hours but eventually it subsided.  We pulled into the station, I passed the medical exam and before I knew it we were on the shores of beautiful Lake Baikal, the world’s largest lake.  Only then did I finally sigh with relief.

Lake Baikal sunset

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