Train number six takes me from Moscow to Irkutsk and is the longest single leg of the journey. As I will spend four days on this train I find myself wishing for an interesting and personable companion to share my cabin (and hoping I do not end up with a 28 stone itinerant yak herder returning to Lake Baikal for the rutting season).
What I get is Katya.
I assume this is her name as it is the only word she speaks to me all evening. She is about 25, blonde with fashion model good looks and when she sees me she adopts an expression as though someone has asked her to share a cabin with a warthog. We share no common language and any attempt at communication is met with a frosty glare. I am intensely worried by this development; how will we manage the basic requirements for privacy in such a small space for a sustained period? How will I cope with the frosty silence and what will happen if I snore? This is going to be a very long four days.
We reach a silent agreement to make no further attempts at communication; I sit on my side of the carriage and do manly things while she reads vogue. Meanwhile I am finding the luggage situation intriguing. I have tried to pack lightly for the trip; nevertheless my bag weighs over 20 kilos and contains food for the journey; cold weather gear; a first aid kit; a towel; a collapsible bowl (my personal favourite) and several books about Siberia. All Katya seems to have with her is an expensive handbag and a department store carrier with a new pair of boots in it. This is very odd; I have done my preparation for the journey by compiling a list from the Bear Grylls survival manual; she has done hers in the fashion footwear department of Harvey Nicks. I feel strangely deflated; I expected a trip across Siberia to be more, I don’t know – butch!
To cap it all I am unable to sleep as Katya snores like a chainsaw.
Fortunately, at 3am, the train pulls into a remote rural station and Katya disembarks; I am massively relieved. This morning I sit in splendid isolation in my cabin looking out on the countryside. It is minus 12 outside and we are passing through dense forests of beech and pine; there is three feet of snow on the ground. The sun is brilliant and glitters off the crystal ice formations in the branches; it is all quite beautiful. To cap it all I have found a plug socket that works and I can recharge my laptop – I feel quite ludicrously happy.
Despite everything that has passed I find myself hoping that Katya’s empty berth will be taken with another occupant before the end of the journey; I am rather hoping for a 28 stone yak herder.