The winter tour
The story of my Trans-Siberian journey could be told in numbers over: 3 weeks, 300 Buddhists, 13,000 kilometres , -30 degrees outside, +30 degrees inside; From Irish Wild Atlantic Way to standing on frozen Pacific Ocean; Banna – Dublin Airport 306km, Dublin – Riga by plane – over 2000km, Riga – St Petersburg 582km, Moscow, Samara, Omsk, Tomsk, Ulan-Ude, Vladivostok.
We were getting of the train for lectures and parties, some sightseeing and back on the train. The longest stretch was 66 hours journey – 3 nights.
Maybe the better way to tell that story would be to describe the indescribable. At Hermitage I was an embarrassment to my new friend. I was like a child at Christmas – loudly inhaling the wonder, running from one painting to another, setting off the alarm and standing completely still in front of the most beautiful statue I’ve ever seen. There were lots of amazing moments, like when you realise that it’s 6 am and you’re still dancing in a Moscow night and early morning club; the relief you get when from -40 you get indoors; the taste of tea and donuts after freezing wind; sliding on ice; exploring Buddhist temples in Ulan – Ude – colourful little village in the middle of a snow dessert, looking at a pack of the most relaxed dogs in the universe, spinning prayer wheels, and leaving few rubles for good karma.
I think the best way to tell the story is through the people I met. The story would be nothing without its characters and there were countless of kind strangers who helped a stranger who didn’t gavaryu pa ruskee (speak Russian).
Nadia hosted five of us in a small apartment with carpets on walls and holy icons. She kept a small dog by the radiator and even with little English she was able to convey how proud she was of her adopted son, now in a military school.
Olga, Alexiey and Sasha were an amazing, young family. In their modern, but modest apartment they prepared a feast. When I praised the husband for all the cooking and baking, he said that he also “sews, dances and sings”. When we came back from the party at 8 am he was already preparing breakfast and some provisions for the journey ahead. He took us to the Red Square and few other places and all day he was carrying my big backpack. To my despair he didn’t decide to leave his wife for me.
Most of the nights we spent on a train. After the first night, I knew who the troublemakers are and how to pick the right bed and right company. Ian was from Finland – a gentle giant – 2 metres tall in slow motion.
‘I’ll show you my children,’ he said and took off his trousers. He had shorts on and in them the wallet and in it photos of his kids.
I also made new Polish friends – three of them spoke Russian. Ela was studying there and knew how to get things done with their ridiculous bureaucracy. Eva after 30 years of practising Buddhism, when faced with a sunset over the Vladivostok harbour still called for Jesus. Mariusz found the perfect little bakery and we were eating fresh pastries to cope with the cold.
I needed some paper for my visa and was told to talk to Sergey.
‘I’m in Russia for 2 hours and I met 5 Sergeys already’. To deal with the huge amount of them I tried giving them nicknames. There was for example Sergey Extra Clean, cause he spent hours in a hostel bathroom. I was later made aware how inaccurate my opinion of him was. Ian told me that Sergey was actually extra dirty in there.
There was also Sergey my hero, without whom I’d be still wandering around Moscow underground or froze to death trying to get a taxi in Samara. He had no English, but I believe I conveyed my gratitude with ‘Spasiba’ and telepathy.
I don’t think I can really write that story. Maybe it’s just not possible put these experiences on paper, so I’m dreaming of repeating the journey. Would you come with me?