Crashing in Yekaterinburg


This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, August 03, 2004 was originally posted on August 10, 2004.

DAY 290:  The No. 118 train continued to cruise eastbound to the outer limits of Europe as the sun came up to start a new Trans-Siberian day.  Despite the stereotype that there’s nothing in the region but snow, it was starting to get sunny and warm — after all, it was summer.

For breakfast I did as the locals and avoided the pricey dining car (400 roubles [about $13] for a soup!) and bought food supplies from the babushkas (Russian women with scarves wrapped around their heads) on the train platform during station stops.  You could get anything from pre-wrapped chicken to dried fish to a bucket of forest berries, but I just stuck to the staple:  dried lupsha, or ramen noodles, since each car provided hot potable drinking water.

The Russian family that had shared the compartment with me was replaced by another family, a mother and two restless girls who kept kicking each other while trying to read Mickey Mouse comics or do word searches.  We rode the train all day, cruising passed villages, small lakes and forests (picture above), listening to the conductor’s choice of music to put on the speakers:  a medley of Russian boy bands, Russian hip-hop (with a horrible Russian version of ODB’s “Brooklyn Zoo”), and the ever-popular song from the Romanian boy band O-Zone, which was sweeping all of Europe — even my cousin Hans-Georg and family had the CD. 

I continued to write until my 8:24 p.m. arrival in Yekaterinburg, birthplace of Russia’s first democratic president Boris Yeltsin, on the eastern edge of the Ural Mountains, the natural boundary between Europe and Asia.  As soon as I exited the car, I was staring at a sign that read “Mr. Trinidad” in beautiful Roman characters.  Holding the sign was a tall, young Russian guy that could speak English named Sasha, sent from the Yekaterinburg Guide Center — partner of my Trans-Siberian tour agency, Sokol Tours, who had set up my train tickets and homestays.  Sasha gave me my ticket for my second leg of the train trip.

“You will be staying at our flat,” he said as we walked down the platform and out of the station.

“So, are you from here?” I started with the small talk.


“Born here?”

“No, I come from a smaller village called,” (he paused for a second) “Asbestos.  Because of the mining.”  I chuckled.  “Everybody laughs when I say that,” he said.  The Asbestosian and I hopped in a taxi and rode crosstown to his apartment building.

YEKATERINBURG, RUSSIA’S THIRD LARGEST CITY, was not a city that looked like it was in the middle of nowhere like I originally had conceived; it was a fairly big modern city with old and modern buildings juxtaposed to each other and a mass transit system of trams, buses and air pollution, and the world’s smallest Metro system as registered by the Guinness Book of World Records:  one line with just six stops.  The taxi took us through the city to a quieter and greener residential area on the east end of town, right near Ural State Technical University, Boris Yeltsin’s alma mater.  Sasha’s apartment building was a humble one, a high-rise building with his apartment on the fourth floor.

When I originally decided to do homestays through Siberia, I had this image of staying with a “traditional” family unit, with a father and mother and a couple of kids in a small house or cabin, all bundled up to go ice fishing or wrestle polar bears.  Instead, I was staying in a spare room of a college apartment on a warm summer night — which was still fine by me because it gave me that nice “Dude, I’m crashing at your house” feeling.  Living with Sasha was his girlfriend Tonya, who greeted me at the door.  Both of them were English language students at Ural State Educational University, not too far away.

Sasha and Tonya had all the regular things in any American apartmentkitchen, sofa, TV — and my only “authentic” experience came from the fact that there was no hot water that particular day.  Sasha and Tonya had to boil me water to put in a basin in the tub for me to blend with cold water for a makeshift bath — something I hadn’t done since my last homestay in Quito, Ecuador — which I didn’t mind at all.  (I had been warned by Artour at Sokol Tours that this might be the case.)

MY YOUNG HOSTS EXTENDED THEIR HOSPITALITY by offering me slices of watermelon with me in the kitchen.

“So what do you think of [Yekaterinburg]?” Sasha asked me.

“I’m actually surprised that there’s a city this big here,” I said.  “I think most of the people in the States think there’s nothing but snow.”

“Poor Americans.”

We chat over watermelon slices about this and that.  He almost fell off his stool laughing when I told him that I had spent a whopping 400 roubles for a bowl of borscht in the train’s dining car.

“Well, I got a beer too.”  More laughter.

SASHA AND TONYA TOOK ME to a pizzeria just off campus so I could grab a couple of slices and a beer — for a much cheaper price than soup in a train’s dining car.  We almost didn’t make the place before closing time of 11 p.m.; when it doesn’t start to get dark until about 10:30, it’s hard to adjust to the schedule of daylight, particularly when I had come from two time zones in the past.  Afterwards, the three of us were pretty tired and just went home to crash.

After a day of ramen noodles, pizza, beer and crashing at a college students’ pad, I closed my eyes, feeling like I was twenty-one again.

Next entry: Grudka

Previous entry: Body Language

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Comments for “Crashing in Yekaterinburg”

  • Excellent - fun times… having that college experience transcends cultures! smile Pizza and beer!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/10  at  07:54 AM

  • pizzer and beer…yummy…i’d just go for the beer….

    did you know that sasha is the nickname used for alexander?

    NOELLE - can you shed any light on that?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/10  at  05:28 PM

  • I wonder if Boris Yeltsin went to that pizza restaurant after he did a few keg stands.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/10  at  07:43 PM

  • So, how was the Russian pizza?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/10  at  09:09 PM

  • Sasha is a nickname used for lots of people - Slava, Alexander, and for some reason I’m drawing a blank now on the others. But, we say Alexander with almost a Z sound in it - they say it with a k-S sound - so when children are little, maybe it’s just easier… Other than that, nope.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/11  at  02:09 AM

  • CHRISTY:  Russian pizza…  pretty much just like any other…  minus the really really good stuff…  It’s no Two Boots on Bleeker (NYC)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/13  at  05:27 AM

  • Cool bee. I’m one of those SBR’s now, mad bizzy right now with the woman from Oz (yes, the one I told you about before). She’s here for a month, and all is well for now (I’m livin’ on 82nd street now as well).

    Anyhow, glad to hear that you’re doing well in Russia.

    Word Life!!


    Posted by MOMAN  on  08/13  at  09:31 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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