Thursday, March 1, 2012

U.S.S.R - Pennie's Memories - Trans Siberia Railway - Moscow to Nakhodka - 13.6.1070 - 24.6.1970

From my Notes:

Leave Moscow on Trans Siberia Railway.                 10:05am

I now have a gap in my notes of about one week...  and no photos or course so I will have to leave the next 7 days note free, but here are some of my memories.

Cabin:  We had tried to book our passage on the Third Class carriage but we were told it was full, it wasn't but it was three bunks high with no divisions, I'm glad we didn't get beds there and I guess the powers that be realized that 3rd class was a bit uncomfortable for us Capitalists.
Our cabin was quite comfortable, just 2 sets of bunks, a small table and a window which opened.  David and I slept on the left side,  a Sydney Taxi Driver slept on the top of the right side of the cabin and Torsten Peterson a retiree from Sweden who was a small person, (I don't know what the politically correct name is for him now, midget and dwarf seem to be wrong) ... anyway Torsten was much much smaller than I was and on his way to visit his 6'2" twin brother in the USA.   We kept in touch with Torsten and in 1972 he came to Australia to stay with us.  Torsten loved to garden as you can see in this photo at the bottom of this post.

Dinning Car:  The Waitress really liked me... I mean really liked me... she would be chatting away to a couple of men and as soon as she saw me enter the Dining Car she would roughly drag some man from the best table put a nice clean white table cloth on the table and serve David and I immediately while the Russian blokes looked on and waited politely!  Although what they were saying in Russian may not have been polite.  She gave me the creeps a bit so I never went in there without David.

Food:  Was okay, I remember Bifstec, (a steak) was good but as the trip went on the food started to run out until the last few days and all that was left was Soups of goodness knows what.

Washing:  There was only a toilet with a tiny hand basin at the end of the carriage.  The weather was quite warm and I needed a shower so what I ended up doing is stuffing a wash cloth into the plug hole, (we never saw a plug in any of the hotels or trains in the U.S.S.R.)  undressed, filled the hand basin and with the use of a plastic cup I had with me I would fill it and pour the water over me, soap up, and pour more water.  The drain hole did the job and I felt refreshed!

Russian People:  On all accounts were delightful, happy, and helpful, even the guards, KGB and officials were pleasant behind their serious face.  From when we first set foot outside our hotel in Leningrad, (and in every other City we visited) on our way to a bank to change our US$ into some Roubles, we wouldn't be in the street long before a young man would sidle along beside us as if overtaking, and say... Change Dollars?  which we would for 2.5 Roubles to the US$, then he would disappear.  We were warned by our guides, not to take any Roubles out of the country but I did manage to sneak one and a few Kopek.  It was interesting to hear the English spoken by both men and women we met, you could tell who had taught them... an English man or an American... those accents came through, we never heard an Aussie accent though.

I did have a few embarrassing moments with women taking a fancy to me, a real fancy and I was told by someone that there was a large population of Lesbians because so many men had died during all the wars and revolutions... who knows but this is the only country I've ever been in that I did feel uncomfortable by their insistent approaches.

Hotels:  Were absolutely luxurious, some with enormous marble staircases, Persian carpets, chandeliers, enormous rooms... wonderful wonderful stuff especially for these two Aussies who had spent most of their married life sleeping in the back of a London Taxi or in separate rooms in Youth Hostels.  But... on every floor, in every hotel sat a woman at a desk who would look you up and down, follow you with her eyes and then furiously write something in a big book.  I wonder if this woman ever slept, maybe they did change but they all looked the same to us.  We would always smile and say hello but we got the impression that we were disrupting this person's very important job!

Foreigners:  We met a few Aussies, Brits and Americans, it was always nice to chat about what we'd seen, where we'd been and so on but only a few of these stand out.  There was one American, a doctor I think who was on our train, he was very loud in his complaints, whinged about everything, argued with every official and we dreaded having to see him, he was also going to Japan on the same ship as we were.  When we got to Khabarovsk he was making a real ruckus at the Hotel but we went our own way...  the funny thing was... we never saw him again... he didn't catch that boat!  The mind boggles as what happened to him... was he an undercover KGB trying to make us say or do something or was he just what he appeared and was sent to the mines in Siberia?  We will never know.

A couple of Brits stood out.  The last part of the train trip spends many hours beside the Chinese border but the Russians wouldn't allow Westerners to see the border so we all had to spend a night or two in Khabarovsk and catch a night train to Vladivostok.  This young couple of Brits spent the whole night and several rolls of film taking photos out the window in the pitch dark!  I took one, just in case something did turn up :-)  funny now!

Clothes:  Everywhere we went people wanted to buy our jeans, they'd say... Want to sell Levis?   we could have made a fortune if we'd known but then again what would we have done with those Russian Roubles, there was nothing much to buy and they were worthless outside of the U.S.S.R.

There was one amusing incident in Khabarousk, we were sitting on the bus with a whole lot of other non Russians and waiting to be taken to the train for the last leg of our journey when the Intourist Guide announced that some clothing had been found in one of the rooms of the Hotel and she held up this one daggy singlet!
I'd managed to persuade David, as a Wedding Anniversary present to me, that he throw out his string singlets!  I couldn't bear the things they were so ugly!  Anyway he threw about 5 singlets into the rubbish bin in our room.   This was one of those singlets our Guide was holding up, the other four having found homes already I suspect.   David and I sunk deeper and deeper into our seats, trying not to be seen.  The Intourist Guide persisted announcing the room number, then one of the Americans looked at us and said in a loud voice... Hey! that was your room wasn't it!   The Guide looked at me and I just shook my head and told her to throw it out.  Phew!  Thwarted we were  :-)))

Engines:  We had several Engines pulling our carriages, one steam which made opening the window a bit dirty and gritty.  Beside the tracks were workers and just as many woman wielding big hammers or picks keeping the track in good order.  Each station we stopped at there was an Ice Cream seller which was a treat especially in the hot weather.

Scenery:  This was spectacular, beautiful forests, wide expanses beautiful indeed and the towns we visited were interesting if a little bleak and everyone watched us go by.  It was summer time so we didn't see any snow and not much rain for that matter.

The trip is 9,258 km or 6,152 miles long it takes about 10 days and about 12 to get to Japan.

 Torsten Peterson, in our garden in Turramurra beside the old house, that's next door's washing on the line.  Both ours and next doors old houses were pulled down long long ago and replaced with bigger brick homes.

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