Existential Train Journeys

… A glimpse into the Russian soul

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Monotonous landscapes. Crossword puzzles and trashy Harlequin novels. Endless black tea and discarded bowls of pre-cooked noodles.

Train travelling in Russia takes its time, the carriages drifting slowly across the never ending tundras like afternoon cumulus. Along the way we stop in small, cheerless towns with names one rarely remembers, where the local people scrape a shabby income from selling homemade dumplings and other foods to passengers on the platforms.

For most Russians, journeying by train remains the only affordable option.

People are polite but not overly social—somewhat jarring for the foreigner hoping to prod the occasional social interaction, perhaps over a pocket-size bottle of vodka and some zakuska. Only a rare few engage in conversations with fellow passengers whilst the majority of the wagon prefers to be left alone in their private worlds, a mental substitute for actual personal space. Weary babushkas take to their shaded bunks.

As I wake from a short night’s sleep, the new sun reaching at the horizon, it occurs to me that the Russian soul is a romantic one. Some passengers spend their time day-dreaming, while others either huddle over crossword puzzles and women’s magazines, or abandon their kiosk wares entirely to stare pensively out across the passing landscapes imagining perhaps alternative realities in some parallel dimensions.

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