Saturday, 12th September, 2015
- Day 11/298
A long stopover in Chita turns into an entertaining day, full of surprises.
We arrive at Chita at 6:30am.
I say we, because I have discovered that Wanna is on my train.
We’re not quite halfway to our destination to Irkutsk, but we have ten hours to kill here and there’s no way we’re spending it in our bunks.
We stumble off the train and stare in wonder at the awesome, domed church opposite the train station. The towers are pastel blue and the golden domes are like oversized Christmas ornaments, placed just out of reach of small hands and paws.
Near a beer tent outside the station, a random man wanders over and hands me a half-empty hip flask of Kak CtekAblLLIKO vodka, with a Welcome to Russia. He looks unkempt and I assume that he is homeless and that the vodka is cheap and nasty. I won’t be rushing to drink it, but I thank him anyway.
Excited at the possibility of digesting something other than my eclectic train picnic, my stomach starts telling me that it’s breakfast time.
Walking up the main street, we find a small grocery store cum deli that has just opened. With the best intentions, I somehow manage to walk out with a chocolate ice cream and a drink that I hope is cola.
The ice cream comes pre-served which, I happily find, means that the filling is packed all the way to the bottom of the cone. This is good news, as the ice cream is delicious.
The cola, however, is not cola. It has a weird flavour, which I can’t quite place – perhaps something nutty. The label is in cyrillic and uses a friendly typeface on an impressively shiny golden background. But I have no clue what it says.
The architecture is a mix of the ultra-conservative and the quietly artistic.
Hulking great buildings, with small windows, tower over infinite plazas. There is an overabundance of concrete, and ominous statues stand guard over established systems and remind everyone who is in charge here.
But elsewhere, ornate tiles and fancy window displays challenge the mundane. They prove that life exists here, and that the people are both perceptive and reflective.
There are also a lot of cool posters to look at.
There is a classic Russian illustration depicting family time in a sauna. American sci-fi movie posters rock alien glyphs like backward N’s. Men and women with fancy hair pieces pose with otherworldly instruments. Siberian tigers roar from circus flyers, and there is a whole wall of advertising for stage plays that look like they deal with the gritty issues of life and history in Russia.
There’s even a humble noticeboard, the heart and soul of any community. It is strange to see that tear-off tabs are also used here, to share contact details. I thought that this was something that they only did in New Zealand.
And then, a diamond in the rough.
In the midst of it all, a hipster, hiphop, espresso oasis. It feels like I’ve just walked into a trendy suburb in San Francisco.
My hairdresser is called Germin. He is the hippest hipster in Chita, with DIY piercings to boot! And he is utterly professional, snipping and shaving my shaggy grey hairs away with great care. I feel like a million dollars.
Afterwards, I order an espresso from the lovely lady who I assume is his partner, lucky Germin.
Meanwhile, Wanna has fallen asleep in her chair, clearly unimpressed by all the boring boy-talk. Poor dear.
Not content with simply giving me a great haircut, Germin also tells me where I can buy a local SIM card, with data.
Leaving Wanna to walk off her boredom, I find my way to the nearest MTC phone shop, which is small but busy.
I’m totally out of my depth in the language department, but a very patient and professional young salesman takes the time to walk me through the package and the Russian contract. Eeek! Apparently the montly MTC “Smart” Universal (opens new window) plan includes 3GB of 3G data and I need to deactivate something before I leave Russia..
I nervously sign my life away, but am relieved to have some cheap local data, paying only 500 Rubles (just under NZ $12) for the entire package.
My stomach is calling again, so I meet up with Wanna and we head to an interesting hole in the wall, literally.
It contains all manner of bready treats. Despite the goods being stacked in the window, this is one instance where window shopping certainly isn’t going to cut it, and we buy a selection of things.
Consuming these one by one, I conclude with a chewy custardy thing which is encased in crunchy pastry, sprinkled with icing sugar. It is pretty tasty, but I am starting to get bread head!
Next stop is the local brewery, FISH BEER. The poster caught my eye hours ago. For starters, it’s pretty hard to ignore a smiling bear holding a frothy beer. Plus, I remember nature documentaries, of bears scooping fish out of rivers. At least I think I do. Perhaps they add fish to the beer, to appeal to the local bears?
Once inside, we are confronted with a wall of taps. It’s great to see such variety, but I’m disappointed to learn that there is no fish in the beer, no fish anywhere. I buy a beer anyway, as I expect that everyone does. Wanna passes up the offer, as she usually does, but concedes a small sip.
Just as we are finishing up, a friendly woman comes in. We learn that she works at the local newspaper. She is interested in our story and invites us to do a radio interview, but unfortunately our train is leaving soon.
So much for being world famous in Russia. Obligingly, she pulls out her small and fiddly camera and takes a picture of us, before sending us off with the bag of fruit and vegetables she has just bought.
After expecting so little, it is a little sad to leave Chita.
We locate our train and get comfortable for the long ride to Irkutsk. We’re both keen to get a glimpse of the famous Lake Baikal, tomorrow.