We have landed in the East Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk after another 18-hour haul on the Trans Siberian. We boarded the train in Irkutsk at 6:30 a.m. and stayed on until our arrival here at 11:07 p.m. I hate arriving places at night, so it helped that in these long Siberian June days there is still a little light around 11 p.m.
The highlight of the day’s journey was meeting our next-door cabin neighbors, Tiffany and Damien. They are doing some traveling after living in Beijing for seven years, though she is from the San Francisco Bay area and he is from Antibes, France. Damien does mostly field work in anthropology and archeology, while Tiffany has her own practice in art acquisition, increasingly focused on contemporary Chinese art. They will be returning to China later this summer. By bizarre coincidence Tiffany has recently applied for a job at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, where she met our friend Lars, who is the director. Sometimes, even on a train in Eastern Siberia, it is a strangely small world.
They taught us to play a fun French card game called “Tarot,” which uses a deck of cards that includes all the regular cards (with French names like “roi” for “king”) plus an additional face card in each suit (the “valet”), plus 21 special Tarot cards, numbered 1 through 21, and something like a joker that is called “l’excuse.” We spent a good few hours learning and playing. Tiffany won the first game, really crushing Jim and me. I was actually leading the second game when we decided to call it quits for the evening.
On previous stretches of the Trans Siberian railway, we have opted to spring for the first class car, meaning that we have a private cabin for two, which is pretty nice for sleeping at night. Since this wasn’t an overnight stretch we decided to save some dinero and take a chance in a second class car, meaning you are in a cabin for four people. On the plus side, you save money, and there is always a chance you’ll meet interesting people. On the minus side, you lose some comfort, you might worry about your stuff if you sleep, and of course you never know who you’ll get as coach mates, or what kind of mess they’ll make, snoring they’ll do, or smelly food they’ll eat.
We hit the jackpot, since our two extra seats (like many on the train that day) remained unoccupied the whole day. In the next-door cabin Damien and Tiffany weren’t so lucky. They roomed with a middle-age local guy, who, frankly, had some serious B.O. issues. (I’d heard about this problem, but did not fully appreciate it until I passed by him once in the hallway. It was bad.) And he lay across one side on the cabin sleeping for vast stretches of the day. No wonder they were so eager to hang out in our cabin and teach novices to play Tarot!
After spending a day as tourists in Krasnoyarsk today, we’ll do another, somewhat shorter, full day ride tomorrow to Novosibirsk. We’ll board early in the morning again, but this time we’ll arrive in the early evening after only 13 hours. Once again, we’re gambling on the second class compartment. Let’s hope for the best.