The Gentleman From Finland: Adventures On The Trans-siberian Express
7 journalers for this copy...
I can't wait to put my eyes into this one. But it will still have to wait for a while.
Thank you! I really appreciate your generosity.
It's now traveling to Finland, after the "wish list tag game". It sounds like the perfect place to go :-)
Now sending forward :)
** reserved for kirjakko
CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:
The book will travel on to kirjakko as soon as I find a 'courier' (or get tired of waiting & just send it by mail...)
Ilka, the helpful male Finn should of course be Ilkka. Foreigners often have problems with our double consonants (not Arvores, I'm sure). Ilka is a German female, probably not helpful at all.
I am just starting the chapter "Colonel" which brought back memories of my one and only visit to a party at the then Soviet embassy in Helsinki. I live in the neighbourhood and had got to know a Russian couple who worked there and had a yellow labrador retriever, Aura. All other Russian dog owners avoided talking to Finnish dog owners, but Slava and Katja (short of Katarina) often walked with a bunch of us and wanted to learn more about dogs, labradors in particular. Slava's Finnish was very good, with Katja you had to guess what she was saying. Their time in Finland was coming to an end and they were returning home.
I was at work when I heard part of a curious phone conversation.
"Who? This is a veterinary clinic. You want to speak to whom? I don't understand. Who?"
In the end she said it is probably for me, some foreigner. It was Katja, explaining that they were having a small farewell party and would like me to come as well. They would like to give me a card and could I come to the park in the evening. I agreed and wondered how many clinics she had called from the yellow pages before finding the clinic where I worked. I didn't ask what the card was for if I was going to see them anyway, but with Katja's Finnish it was better to wait and see.
It was a printed invitation to a party at the Soviet embassy!! Addressed to Neiti Kaisa (Miss Kaisa), as they didn't know my last name. Five other dog owners were invited as well.
I forgot to take my specs when I went to the party as I don't use specs at home. The party was in the old embassy building, which is rather grand. I would not call it a small party, although without specs I had difficulties recognizing people. We dog owners stayed together like lost sheep and the others told me which politicians they saw. Ilkka Kanerva and Erkki Tuomioja were there, but can't remember who else, my interest in politics is not very big. Slava and Katja merely said "Hi and welcome", but they had to entertain their other - more important - guests. That is when the military stepped in. One at a time elderly army officers approached us, medals clinging (like the Colonel in the book had had), asked how we were and gave each of us their calling cards. I don't know if this was customary, but we of course didn't have cards to give and even if I had had a card I'm not sure I would have wanted to give it to the Red Army...
A few days later I run into Slava in the park and asked if he liked going back home. He said:
"Well, home is always home, but who would want to return to a country where nothing works, where politics suck and which has no food."
I was a bit surprised by his openess as this was still a time when we were only guessing that things weren't as rosy as the facade the Russians were trying to hold up. And there was no freedom of speach, this sort of comment would have meant big trouble for him had the rumour spread.
Unlike Chania, I am very happy I can read about the trip in my own warm bed, not having to face Russian hospitality and so called food. I have never been to Russia, I am not likely to travel there voluntarily, but I have met Russians working in customer service in Estonia - you would think Winter War was still on by their happy faces and kind words.
It is hilarious that they think Bob is Finnish! And I can clearly picture the conversation between Bob and the hotel receptionist, who told him to stop speaking Finnish and then accused him for not being able to speak English!
The guide at Lake Baikal gives them false info. Lake Saimaa is also a lake with seals - nerpas - living in it. The gentleman from Finland should have corrected him...
Bob keeps repeating "freshwater lake". I first thought him a moron, as even small kids know that seas have salt and lakes do not, but then I remembered the old Lucky Luke cartoon "Salt Lake City". Perhaps there is a salty lake in the US and he wants to point out to fellow Americans that Baikal was not only deep, but also a freshwater lake.
Pic: Faulty Towers Dining Experience, London 2019. Manuel on the left, Bob looked more like the original Manuel.
I do remember the time when people travelling to the USSR or Estonia took extra pairs of blue jeans and nylon stockings along to perk up their travel budget, but as stated also here, the ruble shops had nothing worth buying and in the tourist shops you had to have foreign currency. Vodka and Russian champagne (which should not be called champagne at all, but tell that to Russians) from the black market was almost the only thing one could buy. And sometimes people went blind having bought black market vodka which was made of alcohol not meant for human consumption. Apart from selling stockings they should also be given to the old ladies superwising your floor at the hotel.
Mom had a friend who tried to help some Estonians she knew by taking clothes and some household things over, but people there thought that westerners lived like kings and had money up to their eyeballs. They were able to see Finnish television and their authorities claimed that K-market's Väiski was merely western propaganda, Finns didn't have anything more in their shops than Estonians. They knew that wasn't true, so they actually believed buying anything advertised on telly was no big deal for us and began to ask Mom's friend to bring them a washing-machine or a car. So what started out as a well-meant help left everybody unhappy - the helper thought her effort was not appreciated and those who had received nice enough parcels thought she was a miser.
Yesterday I visited a friend of mine in her eighties, who used to work at the English pocket book department of the Academic Bookstore. She told me that one day a small man came to her and asked if they had The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby.
"Indeed we do", she said. "It is sold out from the publisher, but we still have two copies. Then she went on explaining him the plot and that the ship he had sailed on was Finnish and blaa blaa."
Having told him all that the man smiled and shook her hand.
"I'm delighted to meet somebody who knows my book so well. I am Eric Newby." He then apologised for being a bit hung-over from spending the previous night with men from the Intourist office. He had contacted them telling he wanted to ride the Trans-Siberian railway and write a book about it. They now saw face to face and he was told what he cannot do during the trip. He said that he won't be permitted to get out of the train almost anywhere and the list of other not-to-dos was as long as his arm.
He made that trip in 1977 and wrote a book about it (Bob mentiones his book a couple of times) and I borrowed it from my friend. I already have Paul Theroux's The Great Railway Bazaar, so I will no doubt return to Siberia from the warmth of my bed in the future as well.
I used to interrail when I was young and usually I travelled through Europe as fast as I could (three days non-stop) and spent most of the month riding trains in Britain. I remember how dirty one feels having travelled day and night without taking showers. In Britain distances were so short I never took a night train (if they even existed). Cornwall, Wales and up to the north as far as Wick in Scotland, I've zigzagged around the country. It was the time of those old trains where you had to push the window down to be able to open the door from the outside, the door could not be opened from the inside. And you had trains where you stepped right into your compartment with four seats facing each other and a basketball net -looking thing hanging over your seat for your luggage. And the trains were always running late, but the connecting trains would still wait for you. It was very much like something out of Agatha Christie's books.
Natives were friendly and you could make yourself understood. You could listen to the conversations of your fellow passangers and understand the train announcements. I would have hated to travel like Bob, not having a clue what was said around you and trying to draw how AIDS was transmitted. Yuk.
CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:
The book will soon be returning to its spiritual home, Finland.
CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:
I too hope to make the Trans-Siberian journey and maybe already this year.
I haven't travelled in Russian platzkart or kupe, but only in commuter trains from St Petersburg to Vyborg and to Pskov. I will try kupe soon when I'm going to visit Moscow. If I have read this book then, I'll give it to my friend who works in Moscow now or wild release it to Yaroslavsky Railway Station.
A little update. I’ve been reading this very slowly. I don’t think it’s the fault of this book, but I have some phase that I don’t know what I want to read and I read about five books same time and all of them slow. Normally I only read one book at the time.
It is interesting to me that mr Goldstein made his journey during wintertime. I too I’m planning to travel Trans Siberian on October or November and it’s not exactly tourist season then. Of course things have chance since 1987 but the landscape is the same and maybe I can get some hint from the atmosphere there is in the Siberian train during winter.
It was a new fact to me that it wasn’t possible to enter Vladivostok back then and that is why foreign travellers usually went to China from Irkutsk (the city on the west bank of lake Baikal). Even nowadays it’s more popular for tourists to travel Trans Mongolian or Trans Manchurian than to travel Vladivostok. Nowadays it’s easier to get tickets to Vladivostok, they can be bought online, but tickets to trains that go to Mongolia or China need to be purchased through some travel agency.
IF I’m travelling the Trans Siberian, I’m going to Vladivostok because I plan to take a ferry to Japan from there. I’m moving to Japan with my husband in the end of this year.