We arrive in Barabinsk in bright morning sunshine with blue skies and a fresh breeze. There’s also an impressive welcoming committee for us selling furs, lace, bread, warm food and racks of different types of smoked fish. The station has been refurbished with shiny clean lines everywhere. There are small coloured-roof houses behind the station and a small reservoir or lake beside it.
I’ve bought two sorts of doughnut for breakfast. Or at least that’s what I think I’ve bought. What I actually bought were cold mashed potatoes fried in batter and some sort of fried bread, fried in, or otherwise prepared with, fish products. V doesn’t eat fish. I don’t eat unidentified greasy fish products. Instead for breakfast we have the tomatoes and strawberry cucumbers I bought from the man in Tyumen, and ice cream that one of the train staff fortuitously has come round with just as we were eyeing the battered mash with eyes of desperation.
The terrain changes slightly as we pull out of Barabinsk. On a long journey through so much of the same terrain you notice small changes. The ground becomes quite marshy and the skinny trees move everso slightly further apart. Small pools of water gather by the track side. All that noticing has made me tired and I nap until we are almost into the Siberian capital of Novosibirsk.
I just wake in time to catch a glimpse of the impressive city centre as we pull into the most beautiful green station. I check the time of the stop with the Provodnitsa as usual and skip down into the underpass to have a look at the main station building and its surrounds. On the way back I make a final attempt to secure edible carbohydrates, with or without protein, and end up with bagels covered in caraway seeds and a more than passable chicken and onion pastie.
I catch up with the trainspotters/birdwatchers on the platform. The trainspotters in the party are still pretty upbeat, excited yesterday to spot a second hand Spanish train on the tracks. The bird-watchers too seem happy with the hawks and other birds they have had a chance to watch. I’m not surprised that a fantastic selection of trains have apparently been spotted but I must have looked slightly disbelieving when they recounted the birds they had logged. The last bird I saw was a tiny little thing jittering round our feet at Yaraslavskaya in search of fallen pieces of corn off the cob.
The slow conversation with Y has picked up too. He shows us video clips on his phone of him ice skating (impressively before taking an even more impressive tumble), and then of the allegedly 6kg fish he caught. Then we admire his BMW bike and a snap of him looking a particularly cool cat. His son has downloaded episodes of South Park and Family Guy for him to watch on the journey and we have a full and frank discussion about the relative merits of each – or as full and frank as you can with almost zero knowledge of each other’s language.
From Moscow to here I’ve either not been noticing properly, or there has been markedly little variation out the train window. The same houses, same trees, same powerlines, flowers… occasional things to #notice like a new river crossing or a new type of ornate carving appearing on the window frames in a wooden-built village. Y descends from his upper bunk to clarify the relative position of England’s leading football teams and then to rank the Moscow teams for my benefit – Spartak, CSKA, and Locomotive in that order, if you’re interested.
We’re getting hungry. We decide to venture to the restaurant car for a hot meal. We’ve both read on the internet how this carriage is the heart and soul of life on the train but when we get there we find it empty apart from three staff and a couple of guys drinking cans of lager. The waitress is wearing a black uniform, an unreasonably high set of stiletto heels, and look of the greatest indifference on her face. When she has finished flirting with one of the lager-drinking men she brings over the menu.
The menu itself is only an interesting description of what might be available to eat on a different day. V and I both settled for Borsch, which when it comes is certainly edible and of a beetroot complexion, but doesn’t seem to have anything in it that is still recognisably beetroot. S chooses a chicken and mushroom salad and receives a teacup-sized bowl containing small strips of chicken with a dollop of mayonnaise and some fennel on the top. We also decide to consume some vodka…
Which may have contributed to a minor disagreement over the time. I am trying to keep in real world time, putting my phone clock forward an hour each day so that I reach Japan without jet lag, and going to bed and getting up according to that schedule. V is staying on train time, Moscow time, because that’s what time all the station stops are recorded in. Both systems make perfect sense, until you are deciding what time to go to bed.
The last stop of the day is Krasnoyarsk. It’s an impressive station with the obligatory historical locomotive on display. There is money here too. There are no pedlars of goods at this time of night but the kiosks are open. The time differentials are beginning to tell now. It is ten to eleven train time but ten to three in the world outside the train station, and the sky is already lightening. A small party of French people board the train. I go back into our compartment with a new selection of drinks and thinks to nibble. After steadfastly rejecting every offer of food and drink so far, Y finally accepts a Malteser. I feel we have reached a moment of trust.