On our way!
One of my lifelong dreams has been to visit Lake Baikal. In late March, we got our chance!
Right away, let me explain some of the realities of living abroad. Trying to travel almost 2,400 miles across the country is a daunting experience, especially with less than fluent speaking abilities. Not to mention, we had major issues with our credit cards. As responsible travelers, we informed our credit card companies that we would be traveling abroad, the countries we would be visiting, and the duration of our trips. Apparently, this is not always enough. While trying to buy plane tickets, our cards payed for our first plane tickets, then were repeatedly declined in our attempts to buy the second. By the time we figured out a way to get them all paid for, there were no longer seats available of the flight from Vladivostok to Khabarovsk. We honestly thought this was the end of our Siberian adventure. Fortunately, our Russian mama Svetlana helped us navigate the Russian websites and find an alternative…the train.
Definitely a new experience, we were excited about the prospect of taking a different form of transportation. Buying tickets was not the easiest feat with our budding Russian skills. A very helpful (and saintly patient) ticket woman named Ксеня (Ksenia) helped us to figure out what we needed to buy. We did eventually manage to get three tickets next to each other for the train to Khabarovsk. Showing up and actually locating the train? Completely another story. The ticket location and the actual terminal are two different places. After a trip into the wrong building, we finally found the correct station.
Yasha and his шапка
Upper bunks? Where Polya and I slept.
Once aboard the train, we prepared for our 12 hour ride to Khabarovsk. Beds were made by unrolling mattresses on the various platforms. Polya and I were in one compartment on the upper beds while Yasha was in the compartment next door, also on an upper bunk. As the passengers trickled in, we started to notice there were a lot of younger people, early teens, around our section. As we found out, there was a school group on their way home from a visit to the universities in Vladivostok. Teachers from a school outside of Khabarovsk had taken their 17-year-old students for college visits, and, because they also taught 12-13 years olds, those kids came along as well. Imagine. Three foreigners on a train with twenty Russian students. It definitely made for some good conversation.
The kids very much wanted to speak English with us. I was utterly impressed with their ability to communicate! At age twelve, these kids were speaking better English that we were speaking Russian. We befriended a young man, Nikita, 17 years old, who was extremely helpful. He explained many things about the train, Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, and had a lot of questions of his own about America. One of Nikita’s teachers was interested in our views on the situation in Ukraine, although we did not speak about it much. Nikita took the conversation in another direction, explaining to us what was happening along the train tracks. Every so often, there would be brush fires along the tracks. Being an easy-to-panic American, I asked if this was an issue, to have so many fires going on in the countryside with no apparent fire people putting them out. Nikita explained that these were controlled fires done every year to burn up the brush, all to avoid uncontrolled brush fires in the warmer months. It makes perfect sense. Once that was explained, it was a beautiful site to see, especially during the evening hours. The kids taught Polya how to make bracelets with little plastic rubber bands. The сыр balls (cheese balls) we purchased were a hit with the kids. As the night wore on, we connected even more with everyone’s mutual love of music. Polya played her eclectic foreign playlists and we even attempted to learn to play a Russian card game. It did not go over well, I still do not understand what the rules. But at least we tried!
Learning a new skill
Our dear friends from Korea gave us a gift for our trip!
Russian country side
Storage compartment underneath one of the beds
Around 11:00 pm we finally went to sleep. I have to admit, that was one of the worst nights of sleep I have ever had. Horrible. After finally managing to climb up into my bunk (which was quite a trial), I tossed and turned all night. I had thought the motion of the train would be soothing. Alas, it did not work out that way.
Finally, we arrived in Khabarovsk at 7:00am, exhausted and ready to explore. More on our exploration to come…