Russia By Rail: Trans-Siberian Traditions | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Russia By Rail: Trans-Siberian Traditions

A Trans-Siberian train can feel like a lonely place.

One night, on hour five of a 24-hour leg from Yaroslavl to Yekaterinburg, I stood in the corridor outside our cabin, looking out at peaceful emptiness. A half moon lit the blanket of snow that stretched into the distance.

There are occasional intruders.

A young train worker clamored by carrying cans of "pivo" — Russian for beer. His wobbly walk suggested drinking the pivo was far more fun than doing his job of selling it.

Then came the freight train, pulling box cars and oil tanks, zooming loudly west. By night and by day, other trains pass perhaps every 5 or 10 minutes. In those moments, you're reminded that this is a bustling highway cutting across an otherwise frozen, quiet landscape.

I now understand why the literature describes getting into a Trans-Siberian mindset, where you spend the long journeys gazing out the window, thinking. You're eager for the next stop, where even the smallest things are thrilling: Will there be a "babushka" — an older Russian woman — selling tasty dried fish? Or jam? Or homemade pies?

It's an environment that makes you eager to make friends, which is indeed a Trans-Siberian tradition.

Somewhere west of Yaroslavl, we ventured over to a nearby cabin, where Janna Rutskaya was sitting along the window, with two other passengers. "We just met, two hours ago," she tells me.

They were sharing a compartment with four beds. By day, the two lower berths serve as couches.

Rutskaya was on a nonstop, five-day trip from Moscow to her home, Chita, in Russia's Far East. It's Russia's frontier, a city that grew up on silver mining and was heavily secured during the Cold War — foreigners were forbidden — because so many military personnel were based there.

Rutskaya works in a hotel in Chita, and her husband was in the military. Moscow was only a stopover for her — she was on vacation even farther west, in the former Soviet republic of Belarus, visiting her parents for the first time in two years.

Flying to see her family is too costly. The train ticket is expensive enough, so she goes home to Belarus only seldom.

The long train rides, she says, are a time to relax and indulge in a favorite pastime — reading detective novels. And she loves the camaraderie.

After we chatted for a while, I told her and her cabin mates that we had some food if they were interested. Not realizing I had just offered the cue to begin a Russian tradition, Rutskaya smiled, saying, "We are ready, too."

Sharing food on the train is how friendships are cemented.

She opened a jar of "khren and smetana" –- horseradish and sour cream. It was homemade, from her parents. She sliced off a chunk of Belarusian dried sausage, spread the horseradish concoction on the meat and handed me my first taste. It was my first of many -– delicious.

I went to our cabin to grab whatever we could offer -– grapes from a store at the train station in Moscow and Clif bars from America.

Our new friends politely accepted and thanked us. But I know we had gotten the better end of the deal.

We've got to do better in this department. Finding some fresh, tasty offerings to share is priority one next time our train makes a stop.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

For The Autumnal Equinox, A Poem As Chilling As The Fall Weather

Tuesday is the first day of fall. This time of year reminds critic Abigail Deutsch of Stephen Dobyns' "How to Like It" — a poem about a man who ponders his lost summers and fleeting dreams.
NPR

Keeping Heirloom Apples Alive Is 'Like A Chain Letter' Over Many Centuries

Scott Farm in Vermont grows 100 apple varieties, some of them dating back to the 1700s. These apples may not look as pretty as the Red Delicious, but what they lack in looks they make up for in taste.
WAMU 88.5

New Anthony Brown Video Accuses Opponent Of 'Hiding' And 'Lying"

Democrat Anthony Brown unveiled a new web video today alleging that Republican Larry Hogan is "hiding" his positions on contentious issues like abortion and gun control.
NPR

Retailers' Customers Cautioned As Cyber Attacks Continue

Home Depot says some 56 million card holders were possibly compromised in a cyber attack. It says there's no evidence that debit PIN numbers were comprised or that the breach affected online shoppers.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.