We stumbled off of the train gasping for fresh air sans body odor of unshowered military boys and found ourselves in our first big city in Russia: Irkutsk. I hadn’t expected such a sprawling city in the middle of Siberia, and we were excited to see what it had to offer. We had booked a room at the slightly pricier Angara Hotel for the first night so we could unwind a bit. This ended up being a mistake, because besides paying $150 for the room, the amenities were scarce, our appliances were broken and the staff was totally and utterly useless. I mean, they couldn’t give a shit at all about anything (apparently this is the Russian way, confirmed by quite a few Russians), including helping us. But we were able to get some rest, do some laundry (we have laundry bar soap and my trusty rope from Korea’s eMart that we use as a clothesline) and we were recharged for the next few days in the city.
The next day, we walked through town to the Irkutsk train station, where we walked from the end of one line to another at the ticket sales area because the concept of lining up in an orderly fashion is a foreign concept here and if you give the slightest indication of hesitation, the Russians will cut in front of you. Our godsend was a friendly police officer who spent a good 15 minutes with us, trying to help us buy our tickets on a machine.
For many foreigners, riding the Trans-Siberian rail across the vast Russian countryside is a once-in-a-lifetime travel adventure. Most of us have romanticized visions of sitting in a cozy and comfortable train car while idly staring at the passing scenery. If you’re really a dreamer you might even have fantasies of meeting a kindly Russian who speaks accented but perfect English and she’ll be an absolutely perfect cabin mate for the next seven days. She’ll be easy on the eyes, smell nice and even share her black caviar, homemade blinis, and vodka with you. And, of course, she’ll have an advanced degree in Russian history and enlighten you with her vast knowledge of her country. Before you know it, you’re at the end of your 7-day, 9,289km trip and you and Tatiana exchange emails and promise to keep in touch.
Keep dreaming, silly foreigner.