Breakfast in the restaurant carriage for the first time this morning. Start of day two of this trip from Tyumen to Severobaikalsk. Sometime during the early morning we crossed from Western Siberia to Eastern Siberia.
In the restaurant car they’re not quite ready yet. I help the woman rolling out the restaurant aisle carpet to pull it straight from my end. She has an horrendous chest cough and tells me between barks that they open at 05:00 Moscow time. The clock on the wall says 04:15 like all train and station clocks do across Russia. Local time though is now four hours ahead. Since boarding this train I’ve moved through two different time zones, each an hour head. Another woman without a cough but a bark worse than her bite comes to serve me after 04:30 Moscow time. She’s an enormous lady with a posterior like a bus and as she turns away to shout my order of meaty soup with pickle juice to the scruffy looking cook at the end of the carriage, she nearly knocks me in the head.
When I came in she was shouting at the cook and looked quite angry. But maybe that was just her way. For all I know she could have been describing a lovely holiday she had just been on.
It’s been pretty much flat across the route taken so far. But this morning I woke to a more gently undulating landscape, with dark hills of thick pine and beech. Occasional open fields look abandoned with what looks like forest regrowth scattered around the margins. What I presume to be vetch is flowering patchily across open fields in its bursts of crimson glory. The chest cough lady tells me it’s called chai, which is tea in Russian. Staring out the window, a lovely change from the dormitory atmosphere, I am wondering who owns the land across this vast country.
After the delicious soup I ask for something more. Most of what I point to on the menu isn’t available. Bus bark lady leans over and helps me with a kind smile. I order some Siberian salmon caviar on bread and she promptly turns and shouts that one through to the cook. It comes with glacial slabs of deep yellow butter on white crusty bread. The lustrous orange caviar sits atop the butter slabs like mountains of sparkling gems.
After breakfast the woman with the bark worse than her bite sits facing me at the end of the carriage, having occasional shouted conversations with the chef while doing her make up with thick black eyeliner and bituminous ebony mascara applied with a deft left hand.
A ploughed paddock of dark black soil appears. And then some low green crops. Then as the landscape falls away to the north from the train tracks I spy a large orderly landscape of big cropped paddocks and tree lots. Then we’re back into closed beech forest and suddenly an abandoned Lada sedan overgrown with bracken.
It’s overcast and foggy out. Train’s pulling in to a station. Time to stretch the legs.