I've now crossed 5 time zones since I left Moscow almost 10 days ago, travelled over 5000km and have reached over half way to Beijing. I'm officially in Siberia and don't I know it! A cold Siberian wind is blowing and its sleeting. On route I have visited Perm, Yekaterinburg, Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk.
Perm is an industrial city which grew rapidly in the Second World War ( referred to as the Great Patriotic War in Russia after they transferred factories East as the Germans invaded). It was a restricted city in the Soviet era which meant travel to and from it was very difficult. Now it, and Yekaterinburg in particular, feel pretty European, but the further you get into Russia the less European the cities look or feel.
Next quiz question( to add to those in the first blogs; answer to the first quiz question at the end) - besides the killing of the last Tsar and family in Yekaterinburg in 1918 what other two things is the city famous for? Well the first is that its the old stomping ground of Boris Yeltsin ex Russian president, while the second is that it straddles European Russia and Asian Russia. I was there on Easter Day( the Russian orthodox church has a different calendar from ours) and I visited the Cathedral built on the site of the murder of the Tsar and his family. A service was going on so I joined the congregation. Everybody stands up and moves around, with lots of coming and going. The priest chants and the congregation spend their time responding to the priest and crossing themselves.
It all felt quite informal.
Krasnoyarsk is the largest Siberian city. I was there when cities in Russia hold victory parades to celebrate the end of the Great Patriotic War(GPW) on 9 May. You probably saw pictures on TV of the parade in Moscow but every city holds a parade, although not as large as the Moscow one. I joined the crowd watching the parade, listened to the speeches( but understood nothing) and walked with them to the memorial for the dead. The Russians lost huge numbers in the GPW so for them it is a really big deal. The next day I was in one of their nature reserves where bear and sable live, not that I saw any but the sheer vastness of the Siberian taiga means the chances of such an encounter are remote. ( The best I did was to see chipmunks and a hawk). And from Krasnoyarsk I travelled to Irkutsk, which is close to Lake Baikal, the largest fresh water lake in the world. Parts of it freeze over for much of the year and there was still ice on it when I visited. You are meant to swim in it to prolong your life. I passed on that!
Travel by Russian train is relatively straight forward. You can guarantee that they will arrive on time, even when the journey stretches over days. They don't move at a great speed but they do get you to your destination according to the timetable. The Trans-Siberian railway is very important economically to the country as they move huge quantities of freight and raw materials on it, so they make sure it works and that it stays open whatever the weather! The staff are generally helpful, in fact they gave me the VIP treatment at Yekaterinburg. I couldn't find my train on the display board and when I tried to ask nobody spoke English. But after much pointing, sign language, gesticulation and general commotion they sat me down and then arranged an escort to the platform and to the carriage when the train arrived. BR beat that! The provodnitsa for each carriage is the one who must be obeyed. ( A new name for June? the provodnitsa!) She( they are generally women) hands out bedding, keeps the carriage clean, gives you glasses to drink tea from and sells snacks. Actually they do a pretty good job and everything seems to be well organised. But I stopped eating in the restaurant carriage, nobody bothers. All the Russians bring their own food( pot noodle is a favourite) and eat in the carriages , washed down with lashings of tea. The Russians completely out drink us as far as tea is concerned; coffee comes a poor second.
Shortly I'm heading for Mongolia and then onto Beijing. I may try to add another blog before I leave Russia in a couple of days time with my reflections on Russia but if not then the next blog will be about life in Mongolia.
A couple more quiz questions before I finish. What does Kremlin mean? And what is the meaning of red in red square? Answers next time.
PS the answer to the first quiz question was Madrid. The photo was taken at the Bernabeu stadium ( photo now replaced with me leaving St Pancras on this trip).