Friday, August 29, 2008

Leg 2 (Russia)- Non-Capp Thoughts

Following on from that remarkably unpithy update from Scandinavia, we carried on to start on places that don't require you rummaging around for saleable organs, but are a bit more concerned about why in the name you're there. By this, I'm trying to say, we went to Russia. I'd been about 6 years ago, but was on an a voluntary workcamp where everyone spoke French, and I only nearly got robbed on the last day in Moscow. This was a bit more of a challenge- trains across Siberia on The Trans-Mongolian, where you have to deal with the less than amenable service industry, and maybe even learn a bit of the language. Thoughts...

* We gave the world tartan, and the world used this to decorate big synthetic bags used for smuggling God knows what in. You see thems at border searches the world over, but Tyumen was a new level. It must have something to do with Bonnie Prince Charlie's escape- they know to check the tartan nowadays.

* Bus from Tyumen to Tobolsk- a lot of burly coppers rush on at a particularly obscure stop, shouting blue murder, manhandle and handcuff the boy sitting right next to me. No idea what he'd done, but I was visibly shaken by this- it would have been standard Renton fare for a case of mistaken identity (or just a polis not knowing his left from his right) to strike, and me to get a somewhat undeserved kicking.

* It was grand to see Max Churikov from the aforementioned workcamp again, in Moscow. Nae gags, cheers for your hospitality if you see this, Max.

* It was also grand to get one over a giggling, non-negotiating child of a taxi driver in the dead of night on a dual carriageway in Tyumen. We told him to stick his 500R up his jacksie, and were vindicated when we found a boy charging half that. The youngster goat the fingers immediately (once we were a safe distance away).

* Hermitage in St Petersburg: 3.5 hours queueing, 1.5 hours perusal.

* Watching Claire's fear factor rise from the moment Valery and Luda, our hosts in Khurzhi, Lake Baikal suggested we go for banya at 11pm. It reached its peak with half an hour to go as we sat round the fire and Luda put an arm round her, singing My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean; Claire really thought she was going to be assaulted by more than just birch twigs.

* Fair play to the local down-and-out in Krasnoyarsk, who used the city's local talent contest as an opportunity to get out her (his?) face on cleaning products. The high-nrg dancing to the young Celine Dion impersonators' tones created quite an impression; I've never been to a concert before where more than half the crowd was facing away from the stage, snapping away on their cameras at something far more entertaining than the entertainment.

* Fair play to our Tuvan friend Mingy on the train to Irkutsk- I think he had every part of the pig up on the table for his and our delectation. Once the aircon stopped and the butcher's smell really kicked in, I had no choice but to put my foot down... so I spinelessly suggested we clear the table and play cards, true to form.

* My uncanny ability to attract the attention and empathy of elderly winos isn't failing me yet. In one day in Tobolsk, I had one old boy (Anatoly, his name was) chatting to me in Russian about Sir Walter Scott (I got the proper nouns); the bone carving master Minsalim (an ageing David Crosby impersonator) getting me (us) photographed with himself and sundry objects from his workshop (a gramophone??!); and the icing on the cake, as we waited for a bus to get us out of this particular frontier town, was the fella at the bus station, who looked like he'd had his face panned in with some form of cudgel roughly 40 years ago, who asked every person in the waiting room for money, except myself, who he invited to join him in what can only be described as a 'soul shake'. I'm well on the way to begging myself, and challenging scruffy bastards' self-esteem in this way.

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