As soon as we were called to board the transiberian, we started to look for the first class car. Sure, we were ready to rough it in Mongolia but it would be another week before we reached Ulan Bator, so we decided to treat ourselves to a comfortable train ride on an expensive first class cabin. We hauled our suitcases for the length of the train until we reached our compartment. The moment we stepped in, we figured someone had made a mistake somewhere as our car looked identical to the other nine we had just walked by. Two facing seats--metro style--and a tiny table between them, so narrow was the space between the seats that when we sat down, we touched each other's knees under the table. We immediately called the attendant and asked her with an air of indignation, "Is this First Class?" to which she said, "Da."
First class it was.
We constantly bumped into each other, knees, heads, elbows. The table was not big enough for two laptops or two books or two anything. So we took polite turns.
I have to admit, it was impossible to escape each other's physical presence and I began to wonder how many transiberian journeys ended in divorce. We needed a drink. Quickly, we discovered that there was no bar on board (a discovery of apocalyptic proportions for me) and the only place selling alcohol was the restaurant located nine cars away from ours. But we were thirsty and stubborn and determined to digest our new accommodation with the help of some high octane concoctions.
The restaurant seemed to have been closed for years. By the kitchen door, sat an old woman with sad blue eyes that told stories of deprivation, imprisonment, gulags, fear. She extinguished her cigarette and hurried to our table, happy, almost surprised to see tourists at the restaurant. She brought us two warm Baltikas and a menu in Russian (we had left our dictionary back at our "first class" cabin). We resorted to mimicking. Tom did a shabby cow with his hands sticking out of his forehead--the horns-- as he let out a clear mooo. Nyet, she said amused. No meat. It was my turn. I did a ridiculous chicken, both arms flapping against my rib cage, and a pitchy cackle that didn't sound at all like a chicken. After several attempts at this exhausting charade, she got it. Nyet, no chicken either. We would have to hunt and gather at every train station across Russia for the next seven days. Problem solved.
Then came the shower issue.