Up at 5am and a brisk walk to the train station. Our carriage attendant didn’t like my ticket and kept pointing to something which in the early morning darkness I couldn’t see. He checked Al’s ticket, smiled and led us onto a spotless empty compartment. On our first overnight train, our Russian travelling companion had declared “this train is not comfortable. It is not a Russian train” and now we understood what she meant. The compartment was bigger with a longer bed and more headroom underneath the top bunk. The table was bigger and we were given sheets, a towel and a comfort pack with a toothbrush, toothpaste and a shoehorn. There was also a menu in English for our included evening meal. Pleased, we rolled out our mattresses and settled down for sleep.
We roused about 9 and at 9.30 a small plump man appeared in our doorway with a ramshackle patched up trolley. He grinned at us revealing gold teeth and said in English “Cold beer” We laughed. “Cold Russian beer?” He asked. We laughed again. “Cold beer?” His face looked confused as he didn’t seem to understand that at 9.30am we didn’t want a beer. He walked off despondently.
We read and watched the birch trees roll past with their yellow leaves thinning and were jolted at 3.30 with a knock on the door. A lady appeared with our free meal. Beef goulash for me and chicken stroganoff for Al. It was warm and free.
The light fades. Our golden toothed friend appears at our doorway again. “Cold beer?” He asks. Its the only English he speaks. We indicate positively and he hurriedly shoo’s us back into the compartment and wheels in his merchandise. He closes the door and digs out two cans of Baltika, hidden underneath dried fish and unidentifiable beer snacks from the bottom of his trolley. We pay him and he adds our cash to a huge wad he pulls from his pocket. The whole transaction seems very dodgy and I can’t ever remember buying a beer under such covert circumstances. He leaves and indicates we should close the door. Cold beer, crisps and the compartment to ourselves. Bliss.
The China lonely planet comes out and we chat about where we should go. Later our friend is back. He opens our compartment door and walks in without knocking. The cabin fills with his odour. “Kozel beer?” He asks demonstrating his increased vocabulary. We pay and he disappears to return 5 minutes later with a supermarket basket with a tea towel in. Under the tea towel is a brown paper bag and in that is another brown paper bag and in that are two cold kozels. He indicates we should hide them rather than drink them and leaves.
Beers sunk we wrestle our duvets into their covers and sleep very soundly.