Ulan-Ude, Buryatia Republic; Siberia, Russia

One or two people made fun of me ("overkill!") for packing a pair of crampon-like spikes for my hiking boots for walking in Russia; however, I promise you not even Russians have mastered walking on sheer ice, and here my spikes are far from overkill. I've already seen a couple locals take hard falls, and the roads and sidewalks are far worse than in Vladivostok. Today I walked for miles on ice without even once feeling like I was walking on anything but solid, dry concrete; that is, until I thought I didn't need my spikes because, Hey, I'm only going like half a mile. It reminded me of that seatbelt PSA from my childhood where the newly licensed teen didn't need to wear a seatbelt because he was going only around the block: doom doom DOOM.

This afternoon I made my way to the train station and bought my ticket out of town. I'll be leaving Ulan-Ude on Saturday around 23:30 and arriving in Irkutsk about eight hours later, the next morning. I am not sure if it is the same timezone in Irkutsk. I've already adjusted to the railway system always being on Moscow time, regardless of what city you are in. But I do know (i.e. think) the trip is about eight hours.

Buying railyway tickets is a huge pain. Even Russians, you can tell, are frustrated by the confusion of it all. They're constantly asking each other questions about which queue is correct, and they love to butt in line. I made a few friends waiting in line, and one very old hunchbacked man praised me effusively after I told him, in Russian, that I don't speak Russian. He grabbed my hands with both of his, held them against his cheek and rubbed them, saying a bunch of things (in Russian, of course, so I had no idea what was happening) and continuing to shake my hands and rub them against his face. Finally the woman behind me in line took my phrasebook, and looked up the word for "wife," at which point it was clear the man was praising me for landing (what he presumably thought was) a beautiful Russian bride despite my speaking no Russian. The same page in the phrasebook had a generic phrase for, I'd like to introduce you to my... followed by a list of relationship types. I was tempted to jokingly say, I'd like to introduce you to my wife, but I was afraid the humor would fall flat, and at the time I was focused entirely on the difficult task of buying a train ticket.

It's a tricky balance: I don't want to buy too many tickets because each one is an ordeal, but if I don't split the journey up into pieces, which means a ticket for each leg of the trip, it means I'm back on the train for another 67 hours or more, and frankly I'm not sure I'm ready for that again, at least not yet. The prospect of only eight hours on the train feels like a walk in the park, albeit a Russian park, but with spikes, of course.