Crossing continents at Ekaterinburg

Alex seemed to be the most popular name in Russia, as nearly everyone I met there ended up being an Alex.

I was still out of breath having rushed from the hostel to the Kazansky train station through the Moscow metro, when I boarded the train to Ekaterinburg. I squeezed through the cabin door with my backpack when I met yet another Alex.

Although he didn’t speak any English and I only mustered a Russian vocabulary of less then 10 words, we managed to communicate using our phones. Me with my Learn Russian app, and he using Google Translate. I met a lot of travellers and people who frowned upon using technology on their travels, I however think that when used the right way, it can be a great tool to help you learn and communicate with complete strangers.

It first started with a simple introduction, then I had to look up numbers to do some small talk about how long it would take and at some point we were sharing food and exchanging stories and presents. He told me about his business trip to Ekaterinburg, in order to do quality assurance of plastic parts his company was getting made there. It was mostly through pictures and lots of hand gestures, but we managed.

I slept a lot throughout the journey, the beds were very comfortable and the constant swaying movement of the train lulled me to sleep right away. It must have been after 12 hours when I woke up. The view outside had completely changed. Instead of urban areas, dark forests and wide fields, the snow had turned the landscape into a white winter wonderland.

The hours passed quickly and the sun was setting once again, but we only had another hour before we arrived in Ekaterinburg. Alex and his buddy started to pack up and I followed suit. I asked them in Russian if we were arriving, they both nodded “Da!”

We said goodbye with a firm handshake, and there I was in another city I had never set foot before. I felt slightly nervous but happy at the same time, as the moment I stepped off the train I was setting foot on another continent: “Asia”

I didn’t sleep much during that night in Ekaterinburg. It might have been that I slept too much on the train or because of the massive amounts of food I had indulged on, the night before. I went on a bit of a shopping spree in the supermarket after having only eaten instant noodles for the last two days.

It was 6am and I still wasn’t able to get back to sleep, so I decided to keep awake till 9am, when the receptionist of the hostel had promised to pick me up and drive me to a couple of sights around town.

He was slightly late, but I still had lots of time as my next train won’t leave till 5pm the same afternoon. We started off with the new Asia-Europe monument that marks the border between Europe and Asia. Although the monument itself was pretty underwhelming I still felt a bit excited to stand at the edge of two continents, especially the ones that make up my heritage. After that we headed to the old Asia-Europe monument, which seemed to had been located too far off the main roads and explains why they relocated it to the new location. We finished the tour with the Ganina Yama monastery, a compound of a dozen wooden Russian orthodox churches built on the grounds, where Russia’s last Tsar Nicolai Romanov and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks.

As I was sitting in the train station waiting for the train to Irkutsks I thought back at the things I had seen today. “A bit underwhelming” I thought to myself. That was also when the announcement came that the train number 2 is expected to depart from platform 1. Once on the platform I could hear the whistle from far away. There it was: “Rossiya” one of the legendary Trans-Siberian trains taking me to my next stop: Irkutsk.