Moscow >> Yekaterinburg
I found myself on a top bunk of a compartment with what seemed to be a family of three. Middle-aged parents (including Dad, who talked the whole time) with a son in his early twenties. It was pretty small but made efficient use of space so I could stow my bag, lie back and listen to the iPod. The toilet at the end of the carriage was a bit scary but serviceable. I couldn't work out how to get the tap to work so assumed it was broken. I had walked past five toilets in three carriages trying to clean my teeth before one of the attendants finally showed me how to do it.
After twenty-four hours when we stopped at Perm, I peered from my bunk and was surprised to see that Dad had upped and gone, taking all of his belongings with him. I enquired to the other two who found my assumption to be very funny (and, as he was a fat, hairy old fella who sat around in just his shorts most of the time, probably slightly insulting). It turned out that none of them knew each other. 'Mum' was Nina, a geologist travelling to the Urals to study the rare minerals. She spoke no English. 'Son' was Maximo, a soldier on his way to Yekaterinburg for work who spoke a little English. 'Dad' had been replaced by Lena, a music teacher on her way back home to her family after visiting a friend for the weekend. Her English was good enough that, with the aid of her translations and some drawings, we were able to all have a rough conversation for most of the remaining six hours.
Maximo was impressed that I had bought an Iron Maiden album recently but I had to confess that I didn't own anything by Cradle of Filth. Lena was a fan of The Pet Shop Boys and we sang along to My October Symphony together. Nina was very enthusiastic about the Brother Cadfael detective novels and had seen a couple of dubbed drmatisations.
We were talking about what Russians and westerners think about all the usual suspects; Stalin, Lenin, Bush, Putin, Abramovich etc. The Lenin question seemed to spark a heated debate between the two ladies to which Maximo was just grinning mischieviously. When they finished, or at least came up for air, I asked what they had been saying. They said they had both been agreeing with each other, so who knows what all the tension was about.
When we said our goodbyes as all of us bar Nina departed at Yekaterinburg, Lena walked me through the underpass as far as her bus stop and pointed me in the direction of the hotel she had suggested (as I didn't have one booked). Twenty minutes of marching with the backpack later, I found what I assumed to be the building. There were several different estabalishments in the building so I paused outside to study the cyrillic signs to see which of them, if any, was the hotel I was after. As I did so, I thought I heard my name being called, but of course I didn't because that wouldn't be possible. Then I heard it again and this time Lena trotted out from behind a group of people looking slightly out of breath. After I had left her, she had apparently been worried that I would get lost by myself, which didn't say much for her faith in me given that, essentially, all I had to do was walk down one long, straight road. She had been following me for a mile trying to catch up. She pointed at the door to the hotel, but by then her phone was ringing so it was goodbye and she was off again. A very surreal twenty seconds but a greatly-appreciated gesture nonetheless.