Archive for the ‘Trans-Siberian Express’ Category

I seem to have fallen into a long stupor after several virtual vodka parties with Hagrid and Harry, and neglected you, my dear Trans-Siberian readers. So today I present not one, but two, fascinating cities on my route: Perm (Пермь) and Yekaterinburg (Екатеринбу́рг).

Perm, which was renamed Molotov (Мо́лотов) after Vyacheslav Molotov between 1940 and 1957, sits on the bank of the Kama river (claimed to be one of the most picturesque rivers in Russia) and is home to almost a million people. In the shadow of the Ural mountains, the area boasts a large network of smaller rivers and tributaries and is a major access route for shipping, whilst the city itself has a long history of being a centre of excellence for science, engineering and manufacturing. And whilst this may not be the birthplace of post-Soviet coiffures, which would have made a dreadful pun anyway, it is a fast-growing cultural centre that is sometimes considered an avant-garde counterpart to St Petersburg!


P is for post-modern Perm (П): This local landmark is affectionately known as ‘Big Red’ apparently! (source: blog.wherebrands.com)

Yekaterinburg was initially named after Empress Catherine I (Yekaterina), the wife of Tsar Peter the Great, but was later renamed to Sverdlovsk (Свердло́вск) between 1924 and 1991 after the Bolshevik party leader Yakov Sverdlov. Home to Boris Yeltsin, and with a solid reputation as the leading educational and scientific centre in the Urals, it is the 4th largest city in Russia (with approximately 1.4 million inhabitants). Most notably, this is also the city where most of the Russian royal family (the Romanovs) breathed their very last at the hands of the Bolsheviks in the grounds of Ipatiev House (which was sadly later demolished by Yeltsin in 1977). Yekaterinburg is also well-known for producing lots of famous Russian bands and features as a major centre for Russian rock music along with St. Petersburg.


Already proud of Russia's first ever monument to The Beatles, Yekaterinburg has since added Michael Jackson to their pantheon of pop. Cha'mone!

It’s been a few months and 100 hours of study since my last update here, but they haven’t flown by completely without progress. During this period, I’ve managed to move my reading skills up another notch (rising from 84% to 91% in reading tests), polish off a second novel, and can now comfortably take part in basic conversations.

Yakaterinburg on the map

Uli enjoys sticking his head out the train window to catch the wind in his feelers and peruse the odd black-market DVD...

Most recent reading test results: 91% (+7%)
[first 100 words taken from “Дневной Дозор”, Part 3, Chapter 5, p. 609)

Distance from the next station, Tyumen: 220 km.


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I’ve been ill over the last month, so you could say I’ve been forced to stay in my virtual Kirov a while longer than anticipated, waiting for the wagon to be repaired.

I should actually be up in Aberdeen right now, celebrating my cousin’s wedding in Fyvie castle (flights and hotel all booked), but sadly won’t be able to make the festivities and indulge in a bit of Scots as planned…

Phew! That's the lawn finished. Now for the windows...

Keep playing Dùghlas, the guests are bound to arrive soon...

*big sigh*

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Over the Volga and onto the Vyatka river, my next stop is Kirov. Initially known as Khlynov, and later changed to Vyatka by Catherine the Great in 1781, the city was once again renamed (along with Kirovohrad, Kirovakan, and Kirovabad) in honour of the popular Soviet leader Sergey Kirov who opposed Stalin and was consequently assassinated in 1934.


A procession in Ки́ров (Kirov): Billy Elliot took the wrong turn and ended up at a completely different ballet school.

What a Smarties tube of colourful mini-successes I have to pour out on the table this week! Firstly, I’ve studied over 150 hours of Russian this year (), with the result that my listening, speaking and reading skills have all levelled up a notch to B1 (as assessed by a Russian native speaker). Secondly, I’ve read and listened to my first Harry Potter book in Russian (which has been on my shelf for ages and has finally found a purpose beyond collecting dust). And as my order for the full Harry Potter collection in Russian has finally arrived in the post, it looks like I’ll also be reserving a seat on the Hogwart’s Express (which I’ve ridden in real life, but sadly not as a wizard)…

Other noteworthy mentions include joining the next round of the “Read More or Die” Tadoku Challenge (starting on 1st July), completing the first season of “Лунтик” (all 80 episodes), and finally but not least, I’ve had my first ever dream in Russian!

As for the listening and reading sessions, I find it takes me several pages to really get into the swing of things at the beginning (approx. 5-10 minutes of audio), but then something clicks back into place in my head, and it’s as though I zoom out from the text a bit, put on some imaginary cosy reading slippers, and take in the meaning of whole sentences from a distance along with the flow of the narrator, rather than individual words and phrases nose-to-print. I certainly don’t understand all the details yet, not by a long chalk, but I do find that the more I relax and let go of what I don’t know, the more I pick up and comprehend.

Kirov on the map

With the Kremlin behind him, Uli Ulitka started to gather speed...

Today’s reading test results: 84% (+3%)
[first 100 words taken from “Дневной Дозор”, Часть третья, Глава 3, стр. 580)

Distance from the next station, Perm: 479 km.

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Already half a dozen hours into my Russian literary journey, I’m ready to report from my first virtual stop in Yaroslavl, the city where Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, went to school. Ura!


Яросла́вль (Yaroslavl): the Church of St. John the Baptist (pictured here) also appears on the 1000 ruble banknote.

Listening and reading is no easy ride in the beginning: partly because I need to get used to processing Russian at the same speed as the narrator, and partly due to my embarrassing lack of vocabulary. Reading the English translation in advance is a big help here though, as it enables me to follow the plot with just the help of a few pointers here and there. Yet on the whole, I still feel a little lost: more like a mere speck, as seen from above, in a vast ocean of foreign words, bobbing up and down on the waves with Cyrillic flowing in and out of focus. I keep having to remind myself at this stage to keep the faith and not panic – it’s only very early days…

With limited resources at the moment, I’ve decided to try and get more out of each book by listening and reading twice through, once in tandem with English, and then just with the audiobook. Maybe I’ll quickly give up on this idea out of the frustration of having to repeat each story 3 times in all (especially in longer novels), but it’s worth seeing if the positive feeling that comes from understanding the text better on a successive reading outweighs the negatives.

So far I’ve gone through two waves of listening and reading with “The Little Prince”, and am already several chapters into “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. As predicted, I found “The Little Prince” a lot easier to understand the second time around (final reading score: 96%), which really lit up my day. The rest of the Russian Harry Potter collection is on its way from Grant and Cutler, so every time the letterbox rattles, my heart leaps in hopeful anticipation like a wee waking bairn on Christmas morn.

Yaroslavl on the map

First stop on my virtual journey.

Today’s reading test results: 81% (+1%)
[first 100 words taken from “Дневной Дозор”, Часть третья, Глава 2, стр. 566)

Distance from the next station, Kirov: 574 km.

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Trans-Siberian Express

A wee dram for the road...and off we go!

Despite it’s illustrious name, the Trans-Siberian Express is no Shinkansen or TGV when it comes to speed; on the other hand, the ride is steeped in over a century of Russian history and reported to chug along the longest railway in the world. Connecting Moscow with the far eastern port of Vladivostok, it faithfully crosses 7 time zones at its own pace, passing through hundreds of towns and cities and 9,289 kilometres of Russian countryside along the way.

Trans-Siberian map

Glad I'm not taking the bus...

So what have trains got to do with language learning? Well, along similar lines, I feel I’ve hit the beginning of a long unhurried intermediate stage in my Russian studies too, not unlike the Express. The initial journey from St Petersburg to Moscow was swift and exciting, a whirlwind romance taking my vocabulary and reading levels up to 80% and beyond. However the honeymoon period now seems to be dampening down a bit, and my progress has long since leveled off along with the fizz. Once again, I feel unsure of myself, and the path ahead looks long and daunting…

Slow coach

In the reassuring words of my friend Buttons, 'sometimes life just gets in the way'.

But this is neither the time to feel despondent about being a slow coach in Russian, nor an excuse to run off with another fancy language in search of new thrills and chills. This is rather the time to deepen the relationship into something more serious, turn everything back around to face in a positive direction, despite daily obstacles, and embark on a fresh adventure together!

So in the spirit of the Trans-Siberian express, I aim to read and listen to as much Russian as I can over the weeks to come. The journey will require patience and dedication, and I’m not even sure whether I’ll make that much progress compared to other more efficient methods. Nevertheless, it’s certainly worth a good try to see where the ups and downs will take me with massive exposure to this beautiful language.

Following the route illustrated below, I plan to spend a minute on listening and reading for every kilometre of the journey, stopping to report on my progress at each of the 16 virtual stations along the way, starting today with 0 km from Yaroslavsky Terminal in Moscow, and ending up hopefully in Vladivostok 9,289 listening and reading minutes (and approx. 1,000,000 words) later. My methodology will be straight-forward: I’ll just read a section in English, and then re-read and listen to the corresponding section in Russian (probably starting off with chapters back-to-back). And just like traveling on-board the Express, I’ll also try to speak and watch some authentic Russian along the way. So all aboard, and hope to see you soon in Yaroslavl!! *whistle toots*

Trans-siberian route

In stops and starts, Ivor pushed up the hill...pshtk...pshtk...

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