THE TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILROAD ACROSS THE USSR

Leaving the city of Irkutsk around 8:30 in the evening, I found myself in a "hard" sleeper. It was not really "hard" in the same sense that 3rd class trains were in China or India, it was actually pretty nice--especially the samavors at the end of each car with hot water to brew tea. My "room-mates" on the train were a 40ish lady named Zeva, who said she worked for the RailRoad and was able to get passes all the time to visit her daughter in Moscow, and a man, Vladimir, also in his 40's who was a welder at a government plant on the Kamshatka Penninsula, taking a spring vacation also to visit family in Moscow. We got along famously, using my phrase book and my newly-learned meager Russian to communicate.

Since I'd been away almost a year by now, much had happened in the United States that was of interest to both Zeva and Vladimir, but of which I knew nothing. They immediately asked me about Jim Bakker and Tami Fay. I'd never even heard of them. They showed me newsclips in the Russian paper--I tried to translate. They remained unbelieving the entire trip--I must know of them! It wasn't until I'd returned to the US that I finally did figure out who the Bakker's were, and what they'd done.

The trip itself, and the scenery along the route, was uneventful. At any point along the route that the Russians didn't want things in the distance seen, a heavy thick barrier of birch trees was planted. The landscape changed very little as the train passed through the Urals. There was barely even a noticable rise as we crossed the Ural divide from Asia into Europe. Only a low stone monument along the tracks marked the spot. I was allowed to get off of the train and walk around the various stations, but could not take pictures.

Coming into Moscow after over 3 days on the train, I felt that my roommates were also my close friends. We had exchanged addresses and photos, promised to write to each other, and were feeling sad about going separate ways once we reached Moscow. I had taken many pictures of them, of the countryside, and towns along the way. About one hour away from the city, Vladimir seemed disturbed about something, and said that since I had taken so many photos, surely my diary and camera would be confiscated before entering Moscow. He had second thoughts about his name and address being written in my diary, and asked me to rip out that page. I did. He immediately burned it in the ash can at the end of the train car. Coming into Moscow, the the weather had turned more dismal and grey. Snow was on the ground and it was windy, raw, and cold--Siberia was nice in contrast.


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