Day 45, 8:00 am local time - Train 81, 1,419 km from Moscow - 15,894 km traveled
I haven't a clue where we are. All seemed good at about 3:00 this morning when we stopped in what was presumably Yekaterinburg, though we were awoken there by someone trying to open our compartment door and thought our days of privacy might be over. They seemed to quickly move on to the next compartment, however, and the train carried on into the night.
Now that I'm awake, though, none of the kilometre posts line up with the descriptions in the guidebook anymore and I've realized that none of the remaining stations on the schedule posted in our carriage appear on the guidebook maps or vice versa. Either Russia, over the past few years, has systematically renamed all the towns within a day's travel of Moscow, or I guess we're taking a different route.
It seems a curious route though as we're currently crawling along a section of only single track that is crossing what seem like new bridges. We also keep passing little guard huts surrounded by barbed wire. Where are we I wonder? As long as the numbers on the posts keep going down, we at least know we're still heading for Moscow...
I took a walk to the back of the train yesterday—the second train I've tried this on—and got the same result in both cases: strange, almost intimidating looks from a few passengers in the open carriages and unfriendly glares from the carriage attendants at the back of the train, even when I made it clear I was just stretching my legs or taking a photograph. I guess Russians don't walk around trains, a fact confirmed by the almost deserted restaurant car last night.
They had an English menu, but it had only three choices on it so we decided instead to decipher the Russian menu with the help of Google Translate and our phrasebook. Identifying sections called Soups, Salads, Second Dishes, Sides, Sauces, and Desserts (how's that for sibilant alliteration?) we picked out two promising second dishes: one talking about pork tenderloin and onions, the other potatoes and mushrooms. Despite [thanks to?] the layer of oil, they tasted quite nice, but we may have misunderstood something and it's a good thing we don't mind sharing because, as you can hopefully tell from the photograph, neither was large enough to constitute a meal and a dish of potatoes can't really count as a more than a side dish, surely. At £18, we didn't feel we were getting great value. For now I think I'm just going to stay safely in my compartment.
I suppose we'll need to start adjusting to higher food prices though, as we should be officially back in Europe now: the obelisk marking the highest point in the Urals is at kilometre 1,777; we basically crossed the Urals in darkness but should have passed that point shortly after leaving Yekaterinburg. We're really looking forward to four days each in Moscow and St Petersburg and only a few meals of porridge and instant noodles stand between us!
[We are now running at a reasonable speed again and back on dual tracks... still a mystery where though :-)]