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The Tajik and Olga

Thursday, September 30th, 2004


The Tajik and Olga
In Irkutsk, when we find our seats on the train to Ulaan Baatar, we find a good-looking 40 year old Muslim man from Tajikistan in our cabin. He has studied English in school when he was a boy by showing us how tall he was, and remembers a few words. He shows us pictures of his wife and four kids back at home in Tajikistan. We show him pictures on the computer of our trek in 1996 in Kyrgzstan although aware that the Kyrgeez and Tajiks don’t really like each other very much.

We are able to figure out that he is returning to Ulaan Baatar to operate a “caterpillar” at a gold mine after a three-month summer break with his family. We soon put our sausage and cheese and bread on the little table and he pulls out his bottle of Vodka. He is charming and has a wonderful smile and a quick laugh…I like this man.

The next day Olga, an energetic middle-aged blond, begs to move from her assigned seat near the toilet at the end of the carriage so she joins us…immediately kicking the mellow Tajik up to the top bunk and spreading her belongings from one end of the cabin to the other. Fluent in English, she says she gave up her doctoral studies in Chemistry in 1993 because there was no work in her field, to become an entrepreneur and she makes the trip to Mongolia and China every few months to buy merchandise…”everything for health” she says. She instructs us where to get a cheap hotel in Beijing and gives me an empty bottle to have the Chinese traditional pharmacist fill for my psoriasis.

Soon she and the Tajik are really going at it in Russian…the bluster again…and I ask her what they are talking about. Olga is incensed: “He leaves his wife in Tajikistan to work in another country but when I ask him if she works he says no she has to stay at home and only leave when she is with him!” This goes on for awhile and is actually quite entertaining to watch…then she non-plusses Bob by showing him a picture of man (XY) and woman (XX) and showing him that with an unfinished “X” (referring to the “Y” that “there is a mistake!” When he objects she says “well maybe women are more clever. He just looks at her.

Queuing In Russia

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004


Back in Irkutsk we watch women walking swiftly always carrying a plastic shopping sack or two (ovoiska from the Russian ‘ovois’ meaning ‘just in case’) of varying brands that have to be purchased)…a hold-over from Soviet-era shopping methods that, according to the British journalist Fiona Fleck who described in the ‘Guardian’ how Soviet era panic buying of bread, rice, cereal and flour affected the ordinary Russian even in late 1990’s: “whenever they go out they are constantly dropping into shops when passing by just in case something had arrived, sometimes joining queues in the hope that something will eventually arrive that day.

Queuing has always been a life-principle for the Soviet shopper and is enshrined in what must be the most roundabout way of buying in the world.” Even now at one consignment shop Bob had to stand in line to choose an item at which time the clerk wrote out a voucher that he was supposed to take this way and that way and then this way and that and then to stand in line to pay a cashier stamped the voucher indicating the item had been paid for and then stand in the first line again to show the stamped voucher to the original clerk and obtain the item. In Soviet times people would buy in bulk and shop in teams, often paying someone a little to stand in line for them.

Today, the queuing of cars is a machiavellian event . We are amazed at the ability of cars to “crowd” their way into a queuing line for example lanes merging into each other. When our driver to Olkhon Island arrived at the Ferry we were second “in line.” In the course of an hour there were about five lines across all waiting to crowd, inch by inch, into the two lanes that would lead onto the ferry. Apparently this is the accepted modus operandi…however we did see one car full of women get out of their car and take on the driver of another…yelling and gesturing and taking down the license number. The scene made me vow to never get into an argument with a Russian woman!

People have no trouble crowding to get onto a bus…in fact it sometimes becomes a matter of who can push harder. If you stand back and wait “your turn” like the nice people we learned how to be from our first grade teacher your reward will be to end up standing on the street with no ride.

Hiking Olkhon Island

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004
Urr0g6ZfQ7ttYL19duYJfg-2006170133924757.gif Back at Nikita's "resort" I spend half a day taking care of monkey business while Bob goes hiking around the island. It is the end of September but Siberia lives up to it's ... [Continue reading this entry]

Hanging Out On Olkhon Island

Sunday, September 26th, 2004
Urr0g6ZfQ7ttYL19duYJfg-2006170133924757.gif After hanging out a couple days...glad to be off the train...Gregory, a former University teacher of German, drove Bob and I, three Germans and a Pole on a half-day excursion to the north of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Five Hours to Olkhon Island

Saturday, September 25th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif The next morning we are picked up at our homestay in Irkutsk by a sullen driver who drives us five hours over pot-holes, through the taiga and across a bay of the beautiful blue ... [Continue reading this entry]

Irkutsk…”Paris of the East”

Friday, September 24th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Off the train again, we dump our luggage at Nadia's, our homestay and look for a cafe where there just might be an English menu. We find one...not too expensive...that looks full of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Goodbye to Vladamir

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2004
Vladamir makes crying motions with his fingers running down his cheeks as we prepare to leave him on the train. Astrakhan in 2--5 he writes on a piece of paper...Astrakhan in 2005 we say to him as he helps ... [Continue reading this entry]

To Irkutsk With Vladamir

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif The evening we are to leave Yekaterinburg on the train, Bob loses his change purse containing a credit card getting out of a mini-bus. Olga's son drives us in his car to the ... [Continue reading this entry]

Hot Train Carriages

Monday, September 20th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Most carriages are of East German origin solidly built and warm in winter. Each carriage is staffed by an attendant whose "den" is a compartment at the end of the carriage. She ... [Continue reading this entry]


Sunday, September 19th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Yekaterinburg is most famous, however, as the place where Tsar Nicholas II and his wife and five children were murdered by the Bolsheviks in July 1918. Having seen where the bodies were interred ... [Continue reading this entry]

Falling Out of Bed in Yekaterinburg

Sunday, September 19th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif This autumn of 2004, our second time around the world, our train wanders through a rolling fairy-tale landscape in Siberia filled with gentle grassland (steppes) and Birch trees (the forest is called taiga) with ... [Continue reading this entry]

To Siberia & Lake Baikal

Saturday, September 18th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Video We boarded a Moscow train at midnight. We are headed across Russia on the trans-siberian train system. However we will be breaking up the trip by getting off in Yekaterinburg and ... [Continue reading this entry]

Free-Wheeling Moscow

Saturday, September 18th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Video 2004-09 Like in the big Central European cities we visited, there are cranes everywhere... old soviet buildings built during the Stalin era are scheduled to be razed and new one modern ones put up. ... [Continue reading this entry]

In The Metro Never To Return

Saturday, September 18th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Our homestay in Moscow is in the "burbs." Tanya works for a French men's underwear company and later admits that her son is the wholesaler and she works for him under the table. ... [Continue reading this entry]

Red Square Moscow

Friday, September 17th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Local police don't allow anyone in Red Square until 10 in the morning so when Bob got there the Square was jaw-dropping empty...the Kremlin and Lenin's Tomb on one side, Gum's Department Store the ... [Continue reading this entry]

Forest Mushrooms and Vodka

Friday, September 10th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif The night before we leave St. Petersburg, Elena and her childhood friend, Dula, breathlessly excited, bring home bags and boxes of forest mushrooms. Bob and I haven't eaten and we hope the ... [Continue reading this entry]

A Day With Sasha

Wednesday, September 8th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif I had watched "Russian Ark," a movie about the history of the Hermitage before I left home so I was excited when we found Sasha, a university educated art historian, to take us ... [Continue reading this entry]

On The Street In St Petersburg

Tuesday, September 7th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Video We hail down a minibus, just like we did in Viet Nam, which takes us across the Neva River to Nevsky pr (like Rodeo Drive in LA which has to have some of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Beslan…Russia’s 9/11

Monday, September 6th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif St. Petersburg, Russia September 6, 2004: We had been monitoring the hostage crisis in Beslan, North Ossetia, all through Europe...but was one day late to witness a demonstration in Palace Square on Monday where 40,000 ... [Continue reading this entry]

St. Petersburg Homestay

Monday, September 6th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif A Homestay has been arranged for us by our tour company, White Knights, with Elena who lives in (and owns) a 3 room very cluttered flat four flights up in a poorly maintained government ... [Continue reading this entry]

Traki, Karaites & Kibini Pastry

Sunday, September 5th, 2004
Trakai, on the outskirts of Vilnius, Lithuania, is a small settlement placed in the middle of five large lakes that is home to about 350 members of the Keraites, a minority community originally from Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) who later ... [Continue reading this entry]

Life Becomes More of Adventure

Sunday, September 5th, 2004
Old Town Vilnius is now on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sights. Some graffiti seems significant in this country where a staggering 91% of the 64% of the population who turned out to vote gave a resounding yes ... [Continue reading this entry]

Exact Center of Europe

Sunday, September 5th, 2004
On the outskirts of Vilnius is European Park where The French National Geographic Institute places the center of Europe at 54 degrees North Latitude, 25 degrees 19' East Longitude. Recently a monument was erected that is topped with golden stars ... [Continue reading this entry]

Interesting Lithuania

Saturday, September 4th, 2004
The Baltics...Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Are these in Central Europe or do we call this Eastern Europe...where is the line? We stop a few days in Vilnius Lithuania on the way to St. Petersburg Russia. It is ... [Continue reading this entry]

Bob & The Europeans

Wednesday, September 1st, 2004
There is something in the European demeaner/attitude that brings out my anti-establishment posturing. On the flight from the U.S. to Frankfurt (Lufthansa Air) my seat was broken. "No problem," said the sweet little blond frauline in braids. ... [Continue reading this entry]