Yekaterinburg >> Irkutsk
'Don't Leave The Light On Baby' - Belle & Sebastian
With the two English guys, Daniel and Eryk, settling into the lower bunks and me making myself at home on one of the upper bunks, I think we were all quietly pleased to be cabin mates with each other. Foreigners may be more interesting, but at half-past one in the morning the idea of sharing for the next fifty hours with other relaxed people from our own country was a reassuring one. And then Pavel turned up...
Slightly drunk and always incapable of talking any quieter than a normal person can shout he cheerfully marched in to our cabin, barking out conversation, to claim the final bunk. At no point during the entire journey did he ever seem to fathom that none of us spoke any more Russian words than he did English. And yet, in the archetypal British way, he would just repeat everything over and over, each time louder, slower and more irritated than the last until eventually tutting angrily and swiping his hand dismissively in front of his face in disgust.
He was a fairly big guy, the spit of Hampshire heating tycoon Ian Gilson from a side view, and amusingly clumsy when it came to climbing onto his bunk or swiping at mosquitoes. He was also very OCD.
Shortly after the train pulled out he insisted, for no reason that was clear to us, that the two guys in the lower bunks had to leave the cabin so he could change his trousers and put the sheets on his bed. I made a point of simply making up my own bed whilst sitting on it but in fairness, when we packed up to leave him at the end of our ride, he (equally needlessly) got out of his own bed at five in the morning and waited patiently in the corridor for them to pack up so as not to get in their way.
I think he was bemused by our uneducated ways and was constantly trying to correct us with great annoyance. The lower bunks have secure boxes underneath them for you bags to go in and he kept trying to insist that the other two use them accordingly. There was simply no telling him that they preferred their bags unsecured where they could get at their stuff easily. He berated me on the platform for having bare feet when I got off for a walkaround during a prolonged stop and then berated me again the next day for having my sandals on inside the cabin. Apparently he was very annoyed when Daniel placed his own socks on his own pillow for a couple of minutes whilst sorting his clothes out one morning, insisting that a pillow was for sleeping on and not for something as disgusting as footwear.
Whereas the my previous Russian train had had windows that opened to allow air in, this one did not as it was air-conditioned. Except, it was broken so the strong sunshine throughout made the carriage like a greenhouse, especially for those of us on the top bunk. All cabins have a built in radio playing a single crappy music station. On one occasion each day, Pavel walked into our cabin, turned the radio on, then walked out not to return for at least another hour. We didn't dare turn it off.
At night Pavel read books that, judging from the covers, were designed for teenagers. He furrowed his brow gripped by whatever trash they contained until four AM on the first night. On the second night, at quarter to five he asked why I wasn't going to sleep. I pointed at the cabin light right above my head and he seemed to take the hint, turning it out five minutes later. On the final night, when we had to be up at five to get ready to disembark, I rather obviously lay in a variety of positions grimacing covering my eyes with my arms or hands until, after a mere half an hour, he turned the light out at a quarter past three. This was shortly after he had woken everyone up with a noisy conversation asking me how much my tickets had cost me. However much I pointed at the other pair, seemingly sleeping, and whispered that I didn't remember the cost, he just assumed I meant I didn't understand his question so repeated it louder.
All of which generally killed the conversation between the rest of us. There were many opportunities to take pictures of the landscape etc as we rode along. Often it was very difficult to know what had worked until I got the pictures back to a PC and often, when seeing a great opportunity, the moment had gone by the time I had switched the camera on and got my target into focus. I kept trying to take one of the rest of the train as we went around a bend but this didn't look as good as it could because we were in a middle carriage. At one point Daniel and I walked down to the very back, getting pushed out of a couple of carriages by the attendents on the way, to try to get a view of more carriages in one shot. They were history students on a Summer break from university in London, aiming to get to Kuala Lumpa by train within about two months. Eryk was reading a book about the killing of the Romanovs in Yekaterinburg along the way and occasionally gave us updates (unfortunately revealing the surprise ending). What little conversation we had was very interesting so it was a shame that the circumstances didn't allow more chat.
No one shed any tears when the three of us got off in Irkutsk whilst Pavel stayed on, going all the way to Vladivostock I think. I think he knew we hated him, but I shook his hand anyway. He didn't mean any harm and probably thought he'd been the perfect host, he just wasn't very bright. As I write this now, he's probably telling someone about the awful English guys he had to share with.