Train Companions on the Trans-Siberian Express, they come in all shapes and sizes. Of course we already had Sasha, the always drunk Russian who accompanied us for 37 hours in a 4 square meters box. LINK But there are others that deserve a mention in the Great Train Companions book if that really existed.
On the trip to Irkutsk a dark-haired lady with a short snappy hairstyle gets on. Almost immediately she prepares her bed and she is sleeping, from eight o’clock until our stop the next morning. I’ve never heard a woman snore so loud. This snoring Russian woman sure has skills.
Our other companion on this trip is a somewhat chubby Russian with an ‘I love Thailand’ t-shirt. He received it as a gift from a friend; we figure that out with some sign language. A quiet boy, not bothering anyone. Only thing is that this Thailand-lover just cannot stay away from the little pieces of callus from his toes. Enthusiastically peeling, the floor, after a short time, is covered with small white pieces of skin of his three smallest toes. Hmmm.
But it’s not all doom and gloom in the train compartment. There is the lovely British couple from Newcastle who tells us all about their travel life, and have been many trips, with accompanying photo footage. And a Russian somewhere on the route in Russia, who also happens to be called Sasha. Around breakfast time, he enthusiastically begins to grab around in his small food bag and insists that we try his traditional Russian fried rolls with some kind of egg salad, even though the man himself needs to live off this for days with the limited amount of food he has with him.
You have the handsome father with his adorable son in Siberia going to visit family in the village where the grandparents live, five hours away by train. The father coincidentally works for a real Dutch company, he says proudly. What a coincidence! However, both the company name as business location does not sound familiar, but we are patiently listening to his story. After some Googling it appears later that he confused Poland with the Netherlands.
You have the businessman in suit, neatly sleeping in his bed and waking up unwrinkled the next morning. The two friendly Danish ladies who have been friends for 43 years and almost just as long are traveling together. One of them broke her foot a month before the Trans-Siberian adventure and now hops around Russia, Mongolia and China with a plastered foot, however that doesn’t spoil their fun.
We also meet a Mongolian girl that enters the train in a H&M dress wearing heels, looking neat with a huge suitcase. A born and bred city girl, apparently. Mongolia does not only consist of nomads in traditional robes. She apologizes for her English. Yet she speaks it much better than our other Spanish companion. Which, to our regret for her students, turns out to be an English teacher.
The Mongolian girl says she is studying medicine in Irkutsk, Russia, and she is traveling back home for the holiday. Gradually she teaches us the first sentences to make ourselves understood in Mongolian. Ideal because even the phonetic wordlist from our Lonely Planet appears to be wrong now and then.
She hates the train and asks us why we do not just fly into Mongolia. “We do it because of the experience”, we reply. We see how she politely, surprised and somewhat mockingly tries to suppress a laugh. “But why do you travel by train?, there are also buses that drive for shorter hours on”. She pulls a startled face. “Oh no, Russian bus drivers are crazy. And Mongolians are even worse! I want to get home alive.”
Ah, that explains the patience of all those local train travellers we encounter along the way. Although the Express goes forward at a slow pace through the landscapes (which is only starting to get interesting a few days traveling away from Moscow, the first part consists mainly of birch trees), it is always a better alternative than the bus.
And so we continue to move on. Each stop is a possible start or stop and because of this a coming and going of potential train companions. A day of people watching on the terrace in Amsterdam, where you still can enjoy the passing by of a nice mix of caricatures, can not be compared with this. I prefer the train, you can write a book about it. Or at least a blog…