Kazan, Agryz, Druzhinino….the cities hurtle by. Well not exactly hurtle. They hurtle at night, but during the day it is a more leisurely pace. The countryside is beautiful. It’s spring, so everything is very green and lush, and there are lots of trees, evergreens, poplars, aspens. There is so much open land as well. And so much water. They say Canada has the most fresh water in the world, but after seeing Russia I am wondering if this is so and especially considering that Lake Baikal is the largest, deepest fresh water lake in the world.
I am amazed at the amount of rail traffic. But perhaps I shouldn’t be. It is obvious they don’t have highways crisscrossing this land like we do at home. We caught glimpses of highways or paved roads closer to the larger cities, but in between there wasn’t much. There are passenger trains carrying locals and tourists, and the rest carry mega amounts of natural resources – processed lumber, oil, logs, coal, gravel and containers. It seems like every few minutes another train whizzes past us going in the opposite direction.
We pass and cross rivers, and streams, creeks and lakes and lots of boggy areas. There seems to be water everywhere. I see very few roads, and those that we can see from the train are dirt. We see even fewer cars. I am not sure if one lived in one of the little villages we are passing, how one would get to somewhere else. Perhaps by train. We see very few animals. Very few people for that matter. Virtually no dogs, the only one I saw chased our train one day, and so far I have seen just the odd cow, horse or goat. There is some industry near the larger towns, and I saw numerous lumber mills.
As abundant as the cities like St. Petersburg and Moscow seem to be, these small villages look very poor. Many look like abandoned shacks. I learn that people are leaving these areas to move to the bigger cities and you can understand why – a better way of life and the chance to earn money. They seem so isolated. I wonder if they have water and indoor plumbing. I ask and I am told that some villages do, but most do not. They do however, all seem to have a garden. At this time of the year, dark soil, freshly planted with – I’m not sure. Maybe beets since they serve so much borscht. They also have huge wood piles. Obviously they heat their homes with wood. I can imagine the winter, the area blanketed with snow, a wisp of smoke rising out of the chimneys and that wonderful smell of burning wood in the crisp air. Brings back memories of growing up in Ottawa. As a matter of fact this vast land reminds me somehow of Canada.
Days on the train go by surprisingly fast. We visit back and forth. We read. We share food. We sleep, and we watch the country slide past our window. Everyone sort of does their own thing for breakfast. Yogurt, instant porridge (oatmeal). I liked cheese and crackers and salami with my yogurt or fruit and always a nice hot cup of tea. We tried the dining room once, and the food was good. Borscht soup is always available. But when we tried to return to our car, we couldn’t get back. We thought since it is a private car they keep the door between the cars locked. It turned out it wasn’t locked but broken and no one seemed to be able to fix it. We had to wait in the dining car until we got to a station with a long enough stop that we could jump off that car and run back to our own.
At many of the stations there are little Russian ladies selling homemade food. Everything from sausages to fruit and hard boiled eggs. Persuhkas stuffed with potato or meat or herbs. They were my favourite and you could eat them cold. They had what looked like hamburger patties, but no one knew what kind of meat it was….. maybe horse?? Been there, done that. So we stayed away from them. There were also cakes and sweets. Some of our group brought ramen noodles, and I discovered a Russian product that is like instant mashed potatoes in a small container with meat or onion that was very good. Just add hot water. It wasn’t exactly Michelin star food, but we were all fine and not hungry.
We arrived in Yekaterinburg at eight o’clock at night. Checked into our hotel and then headed out to a recommended restaurant. They were booked and we had no reservation, so we found a small local cafe and had the best meal. Freshly made dumplings and soup – borscht of course, and salads. Then off to get a good night’s rest for our visit to Yekaterinburg and the last days of the Russian Imperial Family.