7 Aug 2008
|We have arrived in Asia. Our stay in Europe was brief, but eventful. Now Asia.
The train ride was a piece of cake. We got on the train around 11PM in Nizhny Novgorod. We had a very nice day of walking around in the rain and taking pictures, in the rain, of the Kremlin. We also bought our very first souvenirs from our trip: authentic Russian umbrellas. It is about time that Kara bought me an umbrella because she broke my last one after using it once. (Kara says that she disputes this incontrovertible fact.) The Russian umbrellas are made out of solid iron and weigh 50 pounds each, but they don't fold in the wind.
The train ride was very relaxing. We went to bed pretty quickly, or rather, we tried to go to bed quickly. We made our beds with sheets provided to us. Kara had the lower bunk, I had the upper bunk, and then a nice lady and gentleman had the other bunks (lower and upper) across from us. The gentleman got off the next morning very early and the rest of the ride we were in the car with the woman who was also going to Ekaterinberg. She was very helpful and even told us that a meal in the dining car was included with our ticket so Kara and I had a delicious three course meal on the train.
For the rest of the day, we pretty much read our books (Kara has now memorized the guide books because she has read every page at least 5 times), watched the scenery go by, and took lots of naps. The train has mugs that we can use for tea or delicious instant coffee. We looked for, but didn't spot the obelisk that marks the boundary between Europe and Asia. Asia doesn't feel that much different than Europe although we are only about 50 kilometers into Asia. We calculated that we are now about 1100 miles from Moscow. Only 8000 more kilometers to go until Vladivostok.
Apparently, Russians love dill. Just about every meal we have had has included dill. We have had at least three meals of Shashlik (pretty much charcoal grilled meat on a skewer) which is delicious. And I have had cured salmon just about every morning. I even braved the fish soup that was served aboard the train yesterday. It was also delicious. The food here has been a very pleasant surprise, although we have not yet ordered any caviar. The beer was also very good, very large, and cheaper than the mineral water.
Ekaterinburg is completely different from Nizhny Novgorod. Nizhny Novgorod had a very nice promenade (think downtown mall in Charlottesville with more Russian) and a very beautiful Kremlin. Ekaterinburg is much more industrial and so far as we have been able to see, it does not have any real tourist areas. We went to see the Romanov memorial. There is a very beautiful church where the Romanovs (the last Tsar of Russia and his family) were murdered by the Soviets. There is a very neat juxtaposition everywhere of very old Russian culture with churches and history dating back a thousand years, and then Soviet culture. Ekaterinburg has a shrine to the Romanovs which was built in 1993 (Lenin had then murdered in the first place), and a memorial to the Afghanistan War and a military museum which was unfortunately closed. The military museum has artifacts from the U2 crash in 1960.
Last night was our last hotel for three nights. And we slept in style. The hotel, shaped to look like a hammer and sickle from the air, looks like a decrepit falling down building from the outside, but from the inside there were hardwood floors, a brand new bathroom with water that smelled funny, and a 9 inch TV that had sporadic BBC news. If I have to hear more stupid BBC reports about the Olympics any time, it will be too soon.
For the next three nights, we will be sleeping on the train and spending the days in cities along the way. We have read that there really isn't anything to see so it is better to spend the days in the cities, and just sleep on the trains. That shouldn't be too much of a problem. Sleeping on the train was very comfortable except for the extremely loud snoring man who was in our room for the first part of the ride on our train. Fortunately, the earplugs that Kara and I brought came in handy.
About the only complaint that we have about the train is that the bathrooms on the train were, um, well, rustic. Unclean is another way to describe them. Also, it has pretty much been raining, drizzling, or otherwise cloudy since we arrived. A little sun would be nice.
We will try to post more messages from other towns along the way. Post Offices here in Russia have computers with internet attached to them which is very convenient. Hope all is well in the USA. Do Svedanya.