The Provodnitsa on a Russian train is a carriage attendant. Ours is a woman of about 40 with short bleached blonde hair and of a rubinesque appearance. She looks after the carriage and its passengers very well.
Her job is to clean the train twice each day – sweep floors, clean windows, hose out the toilets and remove garbage from the bin at the end of the carriage. She makes sure everyone is back on the carriage at each stop. Ocassionally she even smiles (Russians are very serious people). Yesterday she was kind enough to plug the charger for my camera battery into the powerpoint in her little cubicle / office to recharge. I offered her a chocolate from the small box we bought in Vladivostok to say thankyou and instead of taking just one or two, she took the whole box. This time, I smiled!
We have three compartments between our little group on the train. David & I reserved one between just the two of us. Pat, Margaret and Tony are in another with a man who works for the railways at Harbarovsk and is taking his annual free train trip to visit his 97 year old mother in Moscow. Kostya, our Russian guide, is in another compartment with three other local people. This works out rather well as when anyone wants a break from their own place, they come and visit us in our compartment and take advantage of the extra room.
We have struck up a conversation with Dimitri, who is 21 years old and on the way back to Moscow having completed his three year army service. Every Russian male has to spend time in the military. He learnt English at school and while it is rather rudimentary, it’s better than our Russian! We managed a conversation over a beer for an hour or so. He was stationed on the Chinese border as an armoured personnel carrier driver, and it appears that life in the Russian services can be a bit bleak.
While some of the other atendants on the train will smile or nod as we walk past, the only one who really seems to have a fun personality is the one in the restaurant car. She must think we are funny foreigners when we use our two or three Russian words on her over and over when we all arrive in the restaurant car..
Compared to yesterday, today has been cool and rainy outside. We were around the town of Yerofey Pavlovich when we woke up this morning, and, as we write this, our last stop was at Mogocha. Most of our stops are only for a minute or two each. Others are for around 15 or20 minutes, which gives passengers a chance to strech their legs and buy supplies from locals selling their produce on the platform. Most towns have abandoned and ruined buildings (including Soviet style concrete factories/industrial structures) and little signs of commerce. They all have active railway sidings with parked goods carriages, and it seems that the railway is their only significant lifeblood. They must be very cold places in winter.
The scenery outside has changed a little – today we are higher up, and passing through coniferous forest and hills. The rivers we pass are swollen, and it looks like it has been very wet recently. It’s very impressive scenery, but Dimitri is not interested in any of this – he has declared outside to be quite boring!