Speeding through Siberia

I woke up this morning to the squeak of a dry erase marker outside the rattling door of our train cabin. According to the white board, we are now 3 time zones east of Moscow, and should adjust our sleeping schedules accordingly to avoid jet lag (or whatever you would call the long-distance train equivalent of jetlag) when we arrive in Ulaan Baatar.

It’s day three on the Trans-Siberian Railway and we’re starting to develop something that resembles a routine.

It starts with some tea and bread, followed by a day’s worth of reading and discussion on Genghis Kahn, imperialism, and globalism for our Asia in Motion course, taught by the one and only Professor Karl Fields. Karl has assigned over 400 pages of reading since boarding the train. We love him but can agree that this workload is overwhelming.

Once small groups (or Soviets, as Karl calls them) disperse in the evening, it’s borscht time. The dining car is about 10 train cars away, so you have to really want a hot dinner to make the trek. There is a dictionary-sized menu, but the majority of its items are listed as unavailable. The waiter looks like Stanley Tucci crafting a new role as a Russian dining car attendant.

After dinner, it’s back to the berths with the berth mates for card games and some quality vodka. When in Russia, you know?

Berth #4, my own personal berth, is inarguably the best. It’s a small cabin with two bunk beds, a table, and a rattling ceiling that only starts to rattle when you comment about how it’s nice that the ceiling hasn’t rattled in a while.

Every night, the berth has done a sweet round of rose/bud/thorn, where we go around saying a highlight of our day, a bummer of our day, and something we are looking forward to. At some point this tends to spiral into obnoxious hysterical laughter and the cabin next door shuts us up by banging on the wall. It’s possible that these late nights are responsible for our tendency to sleep in the next day.

Then the whole thing is repeated.

At this point, I’m more prone to getting motion sickness from sitting in the still train than from moving. We’re allowed to step off the train for fresh air at certain stops, but these stops have been fairly infrequent, and never longer than 30 minutes.

This train has treated us well so far. That said, as glad as I am that we got to ride thousands of miles through countless quaint Russian towns and witness the incredible vastness of Lake Baikal, I’m really looking forward to sleeping on a stationary bed in Mongolia.

Next stop: Ulaan Baatar.

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