Travelling in Russia

Poczatek naszego pociagu The Russian railway got my respect.It is a huge complex system, and is almost like a seperate nation. I almost felt like bowing down to the majesty of the network. The trains were so clean and punctual - a state we do not expect on the Polish railways for a very long time to come.
However, I do not want to exaggerate, and I have to admit that some of the trains were better than others. The worst ones, known as obszczije, had wagons with just a single communal compartment. We had to be intimate with about forty other people, and the smell is such that until you get used to it, all everybody could think of is getting away from this stinking prison on wheels. Unsurprisingly, we were in "top-class". This meant that we had to part with the huge sum of a few dollars for our not inconsiderable distance of 4000km. Our carriages were splited into compartments for four people - wider than Polish compartments because of the wider gauge of the Russian railways. Also, In all the carriages was a water heater, and a conductor prowaditelnik. He (or rathet she) was a slanty-eyed woman who did not stop smiling until we reached our destination.

Our journey seemed to take place in a seperate, unconnected world to that outside the windows, which we just caught momentary glimpses of as we flew past villages and streams, mountains and trees. It was almost as if these things just came into existence for a brief second - for our benefit - before once more disappearing to where they had been. These glimpses were very relaxing. They helped to clear the mind and purify the soul, and I am sure that if watched for long enough they would have a comatosing effect.

I am convinced that if either Hitler or Napolean had ever travelled on the Trans-Siberian Railway, they would have reconsidered their belief that they could conquer Russia. Travelling non-stop for four days and nights would only take you half way through this region, such is its enormous scale. This slumbering giant, although built on shaky foundations, can be incredibly powerful in times of need. Such a trip changed my whole perspective of Russia, our neighbour on a global scale.

However, now I do not wish to wax lyrical about the Russian railway systems any more. Others have done this in a better and more attractive way. I will never forget the platforms buzzing with people selling kartoszki, liepioszki, malako, wsiakije drugije pradukty. Also, the forests, cottages and thousands of telegraph poles slowly but relentlessly slipping into the bog. These bogs seemed to be endless - stretching the length and bredth of Russia.

When we finally arrived in Irkutsk, an ancient town situated on the Angara river, we found that we did not want to disembark really. Now the outside world seemed to us like a strange new universe. However, this was only a momentary feeling and we continued on our journey.

Russia is a very strange country, as Churchill said in his famous speech about wrapping and packing. Also, Andriej Konczalkowski, film director, said that the fact that Russians look the same as other Europeans confuses people, and they would be less surprised about the different culture if they had a different appearence.

Those Russians who were not in important office, we found very pleasant, especially those who lived in the countryside, away from the towns and suburbs. When you go to Russia, it is best to appear as a native, not as an inostrancow (a stranger), because the Russians, in common with the inhabitants of other far Eastern countries take every chance they get to milk foreigners of their money when it comes to buying goods or obtaining accommodation. So, we spent most of our trip pretending to be Ukranians.

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This page was finally created on 31st of October 1995