We are once again on a train; this time from Krasnoyarsk, where we spent a delightful two days without mishap or mischief (i.e. not much worth including here). Our destination is Yekaterinburg, a city near the Ural mountains. We boarded at 11.30am on May 16 and, as I awake on May 17, I already have plenty of material for this post.
I will set the scene: it is roughly 3pm on a Monday afternoon, Ophelia and I, having waited to build up an appetite, decide to head to the neighbouring restaurant car for a “feed” (shout out to my Aussie peeps)
We are greeted by a formidable-looking matron-type with East German shotputter build and cropped, poorly-dyed blonde hair. Ignorant of her real name, she will henceforth be referred to as “Olga”.
Not deeming us worthy of actual speech, Olga combines a grunt with a directional nod to indicate that we should be seated. No sooner have we sat down than a thick-set Russian man sporting bicep tattoos comes over from his table and sits beside us. He is animated but unintelligible and we quickly realise when he exhales that he is several hours into a heavy session.
He points at the menu and asks several questions. Having learned the phrase for “I don’t understand” in Russian the previous day, I use it in context. He understands, nods, then continues to ask me questions in Russian. I respond with my stock phrase. If the quote that “insanity is constantly repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results (or something like that)” is to be believed, this man is certifiable.
We establish first names – he is Alexander. Then from his slightly disturbing mime of shooting a machine gun whilst saying “Chechnya” and “Afghanistan” we infer that he is a soldier on his way home.
He is looking intently at my watch and seems to have taken a liking to it. Whilst I choose not to understand, his next attempts at communication were awkwardly clear: my watch looked expensive, he could not afford it, would I give it to him.
At this stage, Ophelia and I are exchanging “run like the wind!” looks and start looking for excuses to leave. While all this is going on, Olga has brought me the Apple juice I had ordered. Thanks very much, Olga! This is a red rag to a testosterone-charged bull. Alexander pushes his beer in front of me and says words to the effect of “If you are man, you drink!”
There is no photo evidence for any of this as I had managed to slide my phone to Ophelia under the table in case he felt similarly about that as he did about my watch.
Realising that Chamberlain-esque appeasement was not an option, I decide to meet force with force. Ok, Alex, game on! I order beers for us both and Ophelia is able to make good her escape, promising to return to check I am still alive in half an hour.
The beers last just long enough for Alex to clear the table for the clichéd, Rocky IV-style arm-wrestle. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth later and we declare it a draw and go in for the “bro” handshake. I have impressed him with my alpha-ness. 1-1 at half time.
He disappears for a minute and returns with a bottle of something claiming to be white wine. He then sets down two large tumblers and puts quarter of a bottle into each. 1 – clink – 2 – glug – 3 – slams empty glass back on table. Knowing that I am now fighting for the honour of queen and country, I follow suit then stare unblinkingly at him whilst emptying the rest of the bottle into our glasses. 1 – clink – 2 – glug – 3 – slam!
A second bottle goes the same way and I am wondering how long before I am a jibbering wreck on the floor. My rescue takes the unlikely form of two more drunken soldiers who arrive to join the party – Sasha and a friend so inebriated he seemed to have forgotten his own name.
It was only at this point that I realise they thought I was American. “That explains a lot” I think to myself. My driving licence is swiftly produced to disabuse them of this notion and a more jovial atmosphere descends.
There are many more details I can share over a drink but brevity is the soul of wit so I will finish the anecdote by saying I stumbled back to my cabin some two hours later and declared, “thatshh gonna be great furrr my blog!”