Friend­ships forged rat­tling through Rus­sia

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Wendy Knee,

This week’s win­ner is who misses her com­pan­ions on the Trans-Siberian rail­way

I’ve been home for more than a week and slipped back into my old life. But things have changed. I’ve changed. Be­fore I left for Moscow to catch the Trans-Siberian (or more ac­cu­rately the Trans-Mon­go­lian – we dipped south to Bei­jing) I thought that it would be the last big jour­ney I’d make. Now I know it isn’t.

The train was sec­ond class in ev­ery way, but it was early days and we were off to see Moscow: the Krem­lin, the trea­sures in the

Ar­moury and Lenin ly­ing in his tomb was a con­trast to so much wealth. Back on the train, where we slept close to­gether for four nights pass­ing through end­less sil­ver birch trees, the land­scape was flat, which sur­prised me. The train had a lava­tory ei­ther end that stank un­less you got there just af­ter the car­riage guard had cleaned it.

Back home I miss my trav­el­ling com­pan­ions. Mon­ica, an In­done­sian, and I slept on op­pos­ing bot­tom bunks. We used to wake up early, lift­ing the blind to watch the sun ris­ing through sil­ver birch trees as we rat­tled across Rus­sia to­wards Siberia. I would slip out of bed and get some hot wa­ter from the samovar for our first cup of tea. Mon­ica would pro­duce a bis­cuit or

bread from her bag of good­ies and we would smile ac­knowl­edge­ments so as not to wake the other two asleep above us on the top bunks. A gen­tle snore from one and then the other. Mon­ica and I would silently gig­gle.

At first I won­dered how I would cope liv­ing in such prox­im­ity with peo­ple I’d never met be­fore, but it turned out to be a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. The shared meals, the spe­cial ap­ple juice we laced with vodka, the con­ver­sa­tions.

I thought I’d had enough of dis­com­fort and be­ing on the move, learn­ing a few

I en­joyed he con­ver­sa­tions and the ap­ple juice laced with vodka

words in yet an­other lan­guage, mas­ter­ing an­other cur­rency each time we crossed a bor­der. I missed my com­pan­ions.

I re­call the gen­er­ous hos­pi­tal­ity and gut­tural singing in the lit­tle vil­lage on Lake Baikal, where any day now the wind will come from the Arc­tic north and the lake will freeze so hard that you can drive a car across it. The peo­ple said it was a great time to be by the lake, but the lava­tory is out­side in a lit­tle hut and the banya has to be fired up by a log-burn­ing stove.

In Mon­go­lia we had an overnight stay in a yurt out in the hills. The Mon­gols are gen­tle and kind. I en­vied them their no­madic life, but the young are choos­ing to live in Ulaan­baatar.

On to China, the bor­der cross­ing tested us as we sat un­der strip light­ing wait­ing for the wheels on the train to be changed. Cut­ting through the high hills and gorges we caught a glimpse of the wall.

The tem­ples of Bei­jing pro­vided some so­lace against the city chaos. This was the last stop and I felt ready to go home.

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