Monday, 21 April 2008

trading places...

After a 4 hour stint waiting at the train station, it was well past midnight when we finally got on our next train,bound for Novosibirsk. And what a train! Our carriage was filled with Mongolian shuttle traders. Every nook and cranny of space was crammed full with STUFF- jeans, jackets, glittery jeans,more jackets, tracksuits and whole batch of Frankie says RELAX style t-shirts with 'Boxing match between you & me' emblazened across the front of them. In the aisle were various half mannequins sporting jackets or jeans. They were a very friendly and hospitable lot and immmediately started carting a shipload of the stuff from our berth into other berths to make room for us. This was a Mongolian train en route to Ulan Bator- and even the Providnitsa was very easy going- a different feel to our previous journeys.
The next morning we awoke to a conveyor belt of people travelling past our berth with massive bundles of clothes over their backs. At the first stop of the morning,the traders didn't even wait till the moving train had stopped,but jumped ship like army parachutists where they were literally mobbed by the Russians waiting for them on the platform. And this was at 8am! The trade was swift and the bargaining hard. Even the Providnitsas are in on the action, selling clocks and blankets. Crazee. Can't imagine this at Montrose station.
On board the Mongolian traders live like one extended family,cooking and looking after each other. The girls in our carriage start preparing somemeat dumplings. The minced meat has been defrosting during the night (no tinned mince here, Delia!!) and one of them starts finely chopping it and adding garlic. Another girl is making dough and a third is preparing a stove and pot for the dumplings. Great teamwork with lots of gossiping too, so it seems. One then makes the dough into balls,the second flattens them into small pancakes and the third deftly forms little dumpling parcels with the meat in the middle. Kathy and I are then steamed alive with the noodles,as the door is shut and the dumpling are put on the stove. They smell are amazing. We make do with pot noodles...

When we arrive at Novosibirsk it is fr-fr-freezing, -8C. It is also very late,so we succumb to a the nearest (and slightly over budget) hotel we find. On the plus point they have a massive breakfast bar in the morning - with all the strange things there were in Yekaterinburg but also cereal and boiled eggs-hurrah!
The next day a lovely German man with a salt and pepper beard approached us on the street. He was a fluent English speaker and chuckled knowingly under his beard as we told him our tales of Russia and Russians so far- especially the not smiling bit. He told us that there is an old Russian proverb, "Russian service is not aggressive." And with that sage advice he disappeared- like something out of the computer game Zelda. Maybe we shall meet him again.
Everyone seems much friendlier in Novosibirsk. We even braved the small yellow buses and metro to get to the Western Siberia Train Musem (lots of cool trains and old Soviet cars- see the photos on Flickr)- we hope Emily will be proud of us! Novosibirsk didn't exist before 1891. It grew as the railway expanded. By 1900 there were 15000 people here and now there are nearly 1.5 million. A lot faster than the growth of my pathetic beard. Kathy reliably informs me it is past the 'frizzy wizzy'stage, nearly at the 'grizzly wizzly' stage, but a long way off from being 'beardy weirdy'. So there you are.
The best experience of Novosibirsk was the banya (Russian sauna). The owner claimed he was a former USSR ski champion (I belive him,Kathy not so sure) and was very excitedto give us our own private banya for two hours. We bought some birch leaves from the vendors outside,and spent the next 2 hours sweating buckets,whipping each other (with the birch leaves - exfoliation apparently - sadistic? every so slightly) and then diving into the icy plunge pool. Perfect way to pass a Sunday afternoon.
By the time we were leaving Novosibirsk the temperature has risen to 10C andmost of the snow had melted. Spring is pressing hard on our coat tails.Time to move on. Cue littlest hobo soundtrack...

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