I'm writing this from Astrakhan, deep in the South of European Russia on the Caspian sea. But as this is my first chance to sit down and write a blog since leaving London, I'm starting with an account of my trip from London to Moscow…
I had a leisurely departure from London at 3pm (which contrasted greatly to many previous mad morning rushes) followed by a few hours on the Eurostar to Brussels and a very comfortable German ICE train to Cologne (where all announcements were in *four* languages - French, Flemish, German and English). I spent my two hours in Cologne wandering along the river and having my last proper meal before 30 hours on a train. I grabbed some beers and other last minute supplies, and found my way to the night-train at 10pm.
When I got to my coach I was immediately greeted by an umsmiling, no-nonsense, Russian man, who took my ticket, asked if I spoke any German (to which I replied "Ein sehr klein"), and pointed me in the direction of my sleeping compartment ("funf und zwanzig"). One thing to note about joining the Moscow night train in Cologne is that because it is going so far East it doesn't even list Moscow as a destination, presumably because they assume no-one would be mad enough to travel that far in one go, and so the listed destination was Warsaw, despite the carriage I was travelling in clearly belonging to Russian Railways.
When I arrived in my compartment I was greeted by a portly gentleman in his sixties. We quickly determined each other's nationality - he Russian, I English, and neither sharing more than two words in the other's language. This barrier only fuelled the friendliness between us, and as the train departed Cologne we quickly started learning as much as we could about each other with the use of my (very limited) Lonely Planet English-Russian dictionary, and a pencil and paper (for numbers and diagrams).
Pavel (as I soon learnt was the man's name) was a retired military man. He'd studied in military school in St Petersburg, and his career, as some kind of military scientist, had taken him as far afield as Algeria. He had been visiting his son Artem near Utrecht, where he lives with his Dutch wife and 8 year-old son (Pavel's grandson). Artem is a software engineer and moved to the Netherlands 12 years ago. I wondered to myself whether there are lots of parents in Russia whose children have moved away for jobs abroad (just as Eugene is about to do when comes to London with Loco2).
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