has sent in this entry from his Gonzotourism
blog. Forget romantic train journeys - it seems those in Russia are tales of extremes.
"Some of you who know me may know that I have had a small jaunt down to Asia via the Trans-Mongolian express in the past year-ish. I am not from a military background unlike my travel buddies, the Captain who has an uncanny knack of finding food in any climate and can procure baked goods from old ladies while under heavy fire. Also with us was the Major, of the 1st Flaming Celt legion, with years of experience fighting atop mountains of all sizes. I was willing to pitch in where I could, but mainly provided moral boosting entertainment in the form of songs, trivia and my incredible anecdotes.
"This post concerns the trains we travelled on during our time in the Russian Federation. We entered Russia by coach to arrive in St. Petersburg and from there to Moscow we took a train in the carriage class known as Platzkart. Communism has no room for designations such as “1st, 2nd and 3rd” class, but platzkart is the equivalent of 3rd. We’re not proud and we certainly needed the cheapest ways to be getting about. We were booked onto a night train so that we could sleep while we performed the rather unproductive task of travelling and could be fresh and awake for when we arrived in the great capital. For those who don’t know, Platzkart is where you take a sleeper train carriage, remove the doors from the compartments and put folding bunk beds down the corridor. Okay, well there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just like a dorm room on wheels.
"The doors at either end open occasionally to allow smokers to have a puff as we are starting to set off. There seems to be something wrong with the ventilation though as smoke wafts in every time someone comes in or goes out. There is a group of kids in their early teens sitting in matching shell suits after they make their beds and stow their sports bags. They strip down to matching t-shirts and shorts. I’ve been treating the Russian written language like a substitution cypher since it’s very phonetic and each letter corresponds to a specific sound. It’s been easy to work out, although I’m not exactly fast at it. I read the t-shirts “akido” and “judo” are two words that jump out after I transliterate a bit. Some junior team going to or from a martial arts tournament? They’re all chatting away to each other and we are all feeling pretty warm by now. There’s not exactly much ventilation here and we’re all pulling off our thermals and wondering why each bed has an amazingly thick blanket on it in this kind of heat. Granted that outside there are large snow drifts and it’s certainly well below freezing, but seriously. The Captain makes a move to open one of the windows to let a little air in. 'Oh no!' cries one of the akido team 'But it is so cold!'
"That’s right people, a Russian Junior Akido Team thinks that anything less than baking hot is “cold”. There are LCD displays at each end of the carriage proudly displaying 29°C. The journey took about 11 hours and at 09:30 when we were ready to arrive, it felt a bit stuffy. None of my compatriots or I decided to get underneath the thick blankets opting instead to get into our sleeping bag liners which are just light cotton sacks shaped to fit inside our sleeping bags. We were a little moist by this point and looking forward to getting out in the nice snow. We hadn’t really slept because of the heat and humidity and the odd puffs of smoke drifting in so we were a bit cranky and wanting to get off. A display sign on a building we slowly passed was showing the time and -21°C as the outside temperature. Yeah, a full 50°C difference. Hold on wait, slowly passing a building? We were going at a fair old rate during the night, so we’re pulling into the station? It’s nearly over?
"One unbearable hour later we pull into the station and get to breathe some fresh air. Now we have to find the hostel. Buh."