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Western Russia

©Marie Négré-Desurmont

I told everyone that I wasn't really happy by this World Cup settled in Russia, as everything would be more expensive and full of tourists. But finally we are in the final. I'm French, so I'm shifting my plans and wait for Sunday ...

In this huge city, full of 4-lane roads, I meet Petre. He greets me at his house, an hour away from Moscow in an old building. Petre is a young orthodox conservative Georgian with strong convictions. You better agree with him, otherwise, it means you're wrong. He's not an easy men and our talks were explosives. After explaining that Satan was in Conchita Wurst, he listened to Aznavour on his radio, a glass of whiskey in his hand, and sings to me his love for France. He tells me about Burgundy, and asks me to read passages from the Bible in French ... but didn't forget to mention that the french football team was more like an african team. Then he moved to the ground to leave me his bed. The Slavic soul ...


The day of the Finale arrives, I settle in the huge fan-zone that overlooks the stadium on a hill near the university. As our countries have the same colors, I ask a young Croatian woman to paint me the flag of France on the face. Of course she was not very happy about that.

After having tasted the euphoria of this huge place filled with thousands of fans, framed by the army that prevents another thousand fans from returning, I take the half-time to go taste the atmosphere of the city. Everywhere I see green screens, on phones and TVs, and I hear the game comments, in restaurants and their kitchen, echoing windows. I finally stop my wanderings in a trendy Moscovite bar, which has views on the Cathedral Saint Sauveur, and I wait with a Spritz the 4th goal of the french team.


End of the game, end of the Cup, the curtain falls.

And I'm waiting for something to happen, I see that in Paris we go crazy, but here, it's like there is nothing to celebrate. I go to Red Square thinking that this is where the French fans would go. Some people take a picture with me and my French flag on the cheek. I scroll through my Facebook, Instagram, even Snapchat news feed that I thought was dead. Friends call me and I can see them shouting on the Champs-Elysées, I know that I miss something. I cry sitting on steps.

While I am distressed, imagining myself making a round trip Moscow-Paris, two French push me to the Embassy of France where I just need to show my passport to celebrate the victory of Les Bleus! On French variety (obviously), Aznavour (still him!) And Daft Punk, I dance until the sunrise. 


Monday, July 16th, my train is at 23:05. The taxi drops me in front of a station and after passing the controls and arriving on the platform, I realize that I'm not in the right station. It's 22:56. I have 15 kilos on my back and bags of food, I run desperately (wondering where I'm going to sleep tonight at the same time), finally find my train station and then, miraculously, I jump on my wagon. Here I am, 50 hours in the legendary Trans-Siberian.

It's a train that has a special attraction in the minds of Westerners, who often portray Siberia through the adventures of Michael Strogoff and the stories of Chekhov. Anton Chekhov who said, while discovering these extraordinary landscapes, massive place of silence, "I have so much enthusiasm that I'm getting dizzy" More than a century has passed and the same mysticism surrounds this country of the end of the world.

The first rails of this train were laid at the end of the 19th century, and it's the work of Bogdanovich who wanted to solve the problem of famines in Russia of Europe, by routing the Siberian cereals to the West. The meaning of history can sometimes be surprising ...

But time has changed since rifles were given to travelers at stops so they could go hunting to feed themselves. Today, each trains car has its Provodnitsa : they take care of everyone, clean, distribute the sheets and warn you when it's your time to get off the train. Mine is a young lady who strikes on WhatsApp and tickles my feet when I'm lying on my bed. 

The Trans-Siberian experience is a life experience, an ode to slowness. The train crosses forest oceans at 37 mph, and reveals what looks like infinity. Immeasurable landscapes, wooden stations, extraordinarily miserable boroughs, and me, waiting, meditating, reading, sleeping. The first time I took that train in 2016, I didn't know how to organize my day and got up to early around 8am. I got dressed, had a quick breakfast, visited the trains car and took some pictures. At 9:30 I had nothing left to do until bedtime. Today I know that you better sleep a lot, read, slowly, take your time for breakfast and enjoy every bites. Wander in his thoughts and get lost a little. The whole day and every second belong to you, and that's a luxury that you might learn to tame again. 

At 5 am and a few in the morning, I arrive in Novosibirsk, capital of Siberia. I will tell you a word about this city, but since then I have taken the train again, and I arrived in Tayshet. It is very late and I asked for a place to sleep, somebody took me to a large building where a lady in a blue blouse greet me. There are bars at my window ... to be continued.

À 5h et quelques du matin, j’arrive à Novossibirsk, capitale de la Sibérie. Je vous dirai un mot de cette ville, mais depuis j’ai repris le train, et je suis arrivée à Tayshet. Il est très tard et j’ai demandé en Russe un endroit où dormir, on m'emmène dans un grand bâtiment où je suis accueillie par une dame en blouse bleue, il y’a des barreaux à ma fenêtre … affaire à suivre.

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